Born in a share-cropper’s shack, the son of a third generation Mexican American, and a descendant of Scots, Irish, British, French Moravian and Cherokee settlers, Daddy never had a formal education, was never famous and certainly wasn’t materially wealthy, but he was a huge success in one area, an area where so many of today’s men fail—he was a fantastic father. My Dad’s formula for being a father was simple:
1. Be there.
2. Feed your kids.
3. Protect your kids.
4. Guide your kids.
5. Love your kids.
Daddy lived with us. He ate dinner with us every night and talked to us. I know that’s not possible for every dad but having a physical, present, adult male who is vested in you enough to come home and spend time with you makes a child feel–wanted and accepted.
When a father walks away from his kids or is never present, the child may feel devalued. As a teacher, I’ve listened to a lot of children’s stories and I know this to be true. It is a painful thing when a child says, “My daddy doesn’t want me anymore.” I’ve seen a lot of anger in a lot of kids, especially little boys, when they feel their dads don’t value them. Oftentimes, they have no way to release that anger and no one to show them what it means to be a man in today’s world.
That doesn’t mean that kids who grow up without fathers can’t grow up and fair well, but it’s a whole lot harder. I personally think that if your child’s father is absent, then enlist the help of a grandfather or a trusted uncle or some other stable man who can influence your child in a good way.
FEED YOUR KIDS:
He brought home a paycheck, which he promptly handed over to Momma, and then he baby sat us while she got groceries. His checks weren’t always enough to meet our needs, so he also hunted, fished and foraged for edibles in the woods.
Now, I know that these days most people aren’t hunting and gathering, but the point is–a good father makes sure his kids can eat. That may be holding down a job, that may mean watching the kids so his spouse can work. It never means being a man-child, irresponsible and becoming another mouth to feed without contributing to the survival of the family.
PROTECT YOUR KIDS:
My dad stood up for each of us on multiple occasions whether it was confronting the schoolboard over equity or hunting down the pack of wild dogs that threatened our safety.
But he protected us in more subtle ways, too. It was my dad who came to pick me up when I got sick at school and who was there when the pony fell on me in the creek. My dad burnt the motor up in a car while trying to get my brother to the hospital when he nearly cut his arm off and my sister to ER when she burned herself. And it was Daddy who chewed tobacco and put it on our bee stings, tackled a nest of hornets that had taken up residence on the porch, ensured our flu was in working order, sealed our roof from leaking, kept our vehicles running and safe. The list just goes on.
A good father lets his kids know, “I’ve got your back.”
GUIDE YOUR KIDS:
My dad believed a person’s character was what defined them, not the shade of their skin or the amount of money in their bank account. He believed that a person should be nicer at home than in public, that family was more important than business, friends, or acquaintances. He guided me in these values by allowing me to watch him in action, by simply living what he believed.
He taught me about respect by the way he interacted with my mother. He couldn’t provide her with loads of material things, but he honored her and was kind to her and she to him. They had authentic conversations. As a child I listened as they disagreed and even argued on some things until finally, they reached a consensus.
No matter how heated the discussion got, they never belittled one another, demeaned one another, called each other names or talked trash about each other to us kids. They never triangulated us or used as manipulation tools against each other. And, no matter what, one truth remained, their love for each other and for us was more important than who was right.
When you decide to do what’s best for everyone involved, motivated by love and appreciation for each other, more than you care about who’s right, arguments tend to work themselves out without ugly drama and violence.
Through his ability to dream and his excitement over new ideas he taught me that it’s better to attempt and fail than to never attempt at all, that it’s okay to think outside the box (or be oblivious to the box in the first place.) Daddy had big dreams and childlike excitement that was contagious.
He guided me in tangible ways, too. He taught me to bait a hook, to hunt, to scale a fish, to fertilize the soil, to ride a bike, to build a fence, to preserve meat in a smoke house or a saltbox, to store corn for the winter, to make a bridle, to ride a horse, to recognize a tree by its leaves, to forage the woods for food, to split wood and to rick it. In doing these things, he spent time with me and that communicated something else to me—he valued me.
…..DISCIPLINE & INTEGRITY
While my dad was not a strong disciplinarian, he was a consistent one. He had his moral code and he stuck to it. He didn’t impose a lot of house rules on us but he did expect us to work. We had chores. He insisted on honesty. Making a bad choice usually didn’t get us into trouble. Lying about it did. When we went somewhere he wanted us to have manners. Stealing meant we were returning it, admitting what we did and apologizing. He never punished us but he did discipline us. Even when we were “in trouble” with him, we knew he still accepted us and valued us.
LOVE YOUR KIDS:
Daddy would often say, “If you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothing at all.”
He never read that book on Love Languages, yet he spoke all of them fluently.
He spent quality time with us. Daddy didn’t do elaborate things with us. We couldn’t afford elaborate things. So, he ate supper with us every night. He told us stories at bedtime. He watched television with us, and we talked about the programs we watched. He went on walks in the woods with us. He planted flowers with us. He got down in the floor and wrestled with us. He told us jokes and sang to us. Daddy went exploring with us.
My father had little money, yet he managed to give gifts to us and rendered acts of appreciation/service to us. He whittled toys for my brothers and jewelry from cedar for my sisters and me. He went spelunking and brought cave rocks home. He constructed a beautiful flower garden from them for all of us to enjoy. He built a homemade swing set in the front yard out of 100 year old Maple trees, a long pole, and hemp rope.
When I was very young, he brought a chihuahua-pug home in his coat pocket. He set it in the playpen with me. I kept that dog until he died when we were both fourteen. Every year when I had my birthday, my dog had a birthday, too.
Daddy never withheld words of affirmation and touch either. He wasn’t critical, even when he was correcting me. He somehow knew that you could correct a child without demeaning the child or verbally humiliating the child.
I always knew that it was okay to hug my father. He never turned us away when we needed a hug and there was never a day that he didn’t say, “I love you,” to all of us at least once and there were seven of us kids. He would usually say it at bedtime. He’d sit at the kitchen table drinking his nightly coffee and having one last cigarette. We’d all come around and give him good-night hugs and exchange ‘I love yous’ then off to bed we’d go.
We often had cousins in the house. Years later an adult cousin said to me, “I was so jealous of you when we were kids. Because every night your daddy said he loved you. My daddy never said that to us when we were little.”
APPRECIATION FOR FATHERS:
I realize that we live in a different world now, a different time, a more ‘selfie’ kind of time. But the components of being a successful father haven’t changed. A successful father will still be present, feeding his children, guiding his children, protecting his children and loving his children.
I’m thankful to all of you who are fathers that provide, protect, guide, and love your children. Thank you. My dad would be proud of you.