Dr. Greene’s Answer:
In any bookstore one can find several good resources for fathers, but the most important resource of all is one that is very difficult to obtain. That resource is locked up inside you. By spending some time alone, pen in hand, exploring what it means to be a great father to your children, you can unearth a gold mine.
I would begin by recalling your own father when you were a child, picturing him, and making a list of all the things you most loved about your dad. Remember what you respected and what you enjoyed. Conjure up times that you miss. Make a list of some of the best memories you had together. Take time to treasure moments that touch you deeply when you think of him.
Next, I would make a list of the things about your dad that you wish were different. Remember what irritated you or bothered you – either things that he said or things that he didn’t say, things that he did or things that he didn’t do. Take some time to jot down negative memories from childhood, experiences with your dad (or perhaps where your dad was absent) that are sad memories. What do you wish had or hadn’t happened?
Having taken a good length of time to reminisce, and to explore that foundational relationship, you are primed to dream a little bit. From your perspective, what would a fantasy father be like? What ingredients are key to you? What would this dad do? What would this dad teach? What places would he go? What things would this dad not do? In as much detail as you can, write out what would make the ideal dad. This is what your child is likely to be looking for too.
Now, having done that, there are three things I would do with this list:
- Share it with somebody who is intimate with you – your parenting partner if you have one. Most partners would be thrilled to talk with you about how to be an outstanding father.
- This may be a little more difficult, but read through your list with another father. Find somebody else that you know, perhaps an older man, perhaps a peer, who is a father and who might be interested.
- The first two steps will strengthen and clarify the exploration that you’ve done. They will be a source of energy to carry through the things you’ve been thinking about. The third step is probably the most difficult. Share the list with yourself, not just this once, but every month. Once a month, come back and read through it again. See if fresh insights occur to you. Jot down what you have learned, and new memories that come up as your child has grown a little bit this month. This will provide even more strength and power to be the dad you want to be.
One of the most difficult things about being a great father is that it is not merely a one time insight, but a steady process of being with your child. Steadily being in touch with your own exploration will be a tremendous, deep resource.
When I talk with adults about their memories of their dads, and when I talk with children about what they want from their dads, what comes up most often is that children wish their dads were there more. They just want Dad to be with them. Whether it’s cleaning, playing, working, studying or whatever – they want Dad to be with them in their activities. Kids feel like dads don’t have enough time. Secondly, I’ve found that kids wish their fathers would listen to them. They often feel like Dad doesn’t really understand. Active supportive listening is an incredible gift to your child. Believe in your child. The third wish I hear is for dads to speak to their kids. Talk, open up. Many people feel that they don’t really know what is going on inside their father. Being vulnerable with your child would be giving them an incalculable treasure.
This is a great place to start. Asking this question shows that you are on the right road already. It’s a long one, but you can already sense the richness of the reward.
Last reviewed: March 12, 2009