Dear Dads: you matter

Dear Dads:

You know the doubt. That wondering if you’re making a difference with your kids. Does what you say and do really matter? Most of the time, you’re not sure of what you’re doing and feel like whatever you choose to do turns out to be the wrong thing, the wrong time or the wrong way. You seem to say the wrong words, your timing is always bad, and when you reach out, the kids just pull away. They reach for their mother and listen to what she says, but you so often seem to be this extra adult in the room who doesn’t mean anything. Nobody told you how you’re supposed to be a father.

Know what? You’re not alone. Guys don’t like to share feelings with each other, but I can tell you that nearly every dad I’ve worked with has expressed similar doubts and thoughts. Even the guys who seem to have everything else in life all together wonder how to measure success as fathers. I’m a dad, too, and I know how it feels to lie awake in bed and agonize over something I said, or something my child said to me during an argument.

Hey, it’s tough. Kids expect a lot. They want us to always have the right answer, to know how to do everything, and to have advice that works perfectly. When we fall short of their expectations, their disappointment is obvious and painful, and we feel like failures. We know all too well that we’re not perfect, but it hurts when we realize they also know it.

They push away from us as they get older, too. Not because we’ve done something wrong or are less than we need to be, but because it’s a natural part of growing up. They’re discovering who they are and preparing to make their own way in the world. It’s hard when they want to walk by themselves, but have you noticed that they frequently look back to make sure you’re still there? They need you, even when they’re too proud or stubborn to admit it.

Know this. Ours kids learn more from our example than our advice. How we treat other people (especially our wife) teaches them
how they should treat others and how they expect to be treated in turn. We better believe we’ll see our responses to difficulty or frustrating situations mirrored in the way they act when something doesn’t go right. Things as small as the way we treat fast-food employees in the drive-through shape how they’ll interact with other people they encounter,

Here’s the thing though. We can always reach out to our kids and hug them, no matter how old they are. It may seem awkward, and they may resist, but there’s nothing wrong or unmanly about showing them affection. When we’re brave enough to show affection, they will be, too. It’s okay to tell them you love them, because we both know you do. And if something has created a division between you, don’t put off trying to fix it. That’s hard work, but it’s some of the most valuable and important work you’ll ever do.

Most of all, you matter. Whether they’re 4 or in their 40s, you matter more to them than you’ll ever realize. So keep fighting the good fight. Accept that you may not be perfect, and just focus on being the best dad you can be. And if you’re not sure you’re up to the task, or if there are big issues getting in the way, set up a time to talk to one of our professionals. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s an act of courage, and I know you’ll be glad you did.