Advice to fathers

My daughter and me, 1993Twenty years ago, I became a father for the first time. When the doctor handed me my newborn daughter, I wished he also handed me a manual that told me how to be a father. But if such a manual existed, it would have to be revised monthly. Errata pages would be released on a daily basis, entire sections would be missing, and half of it would not even apply. And who would be qualified to write such a manual? A number of people have tried, and some of them have done more harm than good.

I doubt that I could write such a manual. I know I’m not a perfect parent. In fact, a number of things have happened in the past few years that make me question my own competence. But there is one piece of advice I can give that I know works.

Love your children no matter what.

Love your children if they fail a class, dent the car, or tell you they hate you because they don’t know how else to express their anger. Love your children when they make mistakes, because they will make them. So will you.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discipline your children. Teaching children how to grow up to be self-sufficient, responsible adults is an act of love. This doesn’t mean we can’t be disappointed when they make bad choices. It is also an act of love to let them experience the consequences of those choices.

But you cannot make your love contingent on their behavior. You can’t take it away if they don’t get the grades you expect, or if they quit the varsity football team. You can’t reject them if they don’t want to join your religion or political party. You can’t hate them if they don’t pick the career you want, or if they date someone outside of your social group or of the same gender.

You love your children, not for what they do, but for who they are. They are a part of you. You brought them into the world. You nurtured and raised them. They carry pieces of you, and they will pass them on to the generations to come. Nothing can ever change the bond you have with your children, not even when they move out and start lives and families of their own. Your children always need your love no matter how old they (or you) are.

Still, you will have days that will test your patience, when you say things you regret, when you would rather be in the hospital with appendicitis than deal with the situation. There will be times when you read Facebook posts about how proud other parents are of their children’s achievements, and you wonder how you could have messed up as a parent so badly. Your children will make you worry about them and make you curse them in the same breath.

And there are days where your children will amaze you. When they accomplish great things that make them proud of themselves. When they become the men and women you hoped they would be. These are the days that make all your heartache worthwhile and when you feel you can love them the most. But you can’t love them only on those days. You have to love them all the time, especially when they seem the most unlovable.

Being a father requires patience, self-control, character, emotional strength, good communication skills, a sense of humor, and — most of all — love. There will be times when all of your other skills will fail you, but your love cannot. Love your children no matter what.