The Finer Points of Fatherhood

by | Jul. 21, 2004


When you think about it, it’s amazing how many people play some influential role in shaping your children and their little minds. From the moment they run out the door, until they finally plop down on their beds at night, they have countless interactions with scores of different people. Of all the influences upon them, of all the people who speak to them and teach them, of all the friends, teammates, coaches, carpools, and neighbors, as a father, you have a connection that no one can match.

Your role, with all its little efforts, seen and unseen, is much more important to your children, and much longer lasting, than any father probably wants to fully know. In today’s world, each one of your children needs you more than ever. They need deep love, sure advice, enduring kindness, and some one strong to rely on when life’s certain struggles slowly move in.

Remember your dad and how stable he made your world feel? Do you remember how much you relied on him to simply make things work? Your children are relying on you now, and with or without your own dad’s little ways of making things all better, you’re now the batter-up. The finer points of fatherhood are what made your dad the greatest guy in the world—and if he had to give you a list of what he did to be such a great dad it may include some of these points.

Great Fathers Talk

Even in your own mind there are a few solid memories of when you had that little talk with your dad. There was a magical clearing of the clouds, the planets finally lined up, and somehow the old man who had been moving his mouth in your direction for most of your life suddenly came in loud and clear. It’s the time when you decidedly believed what he said, you trusted him, and you actually did as he advised. It’s a moment in your life you’ll cherish—and it wasn’t really such a big event—it was just a strong one.

Great fathers stop and talk. Talking to your children may be a little easier than getting them to talk with you, but there is no doubt that the connecting moment that comes from a conversation with good ’ole dad is worth a million smiles. And as a great dad, the first thing you’ll need is some creative ways to get your child to talk.

As a parent you already get the occasional urge to sit down with your children and ask them to open up to you. You almost beg them to tell you about their lives and how things are going. They often shrug their shoulders and hurl single words out like “fine” or “idunno.” You could do what comes natural to you and say “I was your age once…” and perhaps burden them with the incredible knowledge of how there were no computers when you were a kid, or something else that needlessly emphasizes the giant gap between the both of you.

Or perhaps you could try something new and fun…like, take your child out for a drive and bribe him. That’s right, bribe him. Why not offer him something you’ve never offered before? Tell him “I will buy you any hamburger you want in the entire state if you will just promise to tell me all about how things are going with you.”

Almost certainly he’s going to name a burger joint somewhere on the other side of the state. Don’t say no! This could be the best memory of his young life if you simply said “okay.” He will be in elders quorum someday telling a group of grown men how his dad once offered any hamburger in the state if he could just have the pleasure of talking to his son.

If he does take you up on a far away place, you win! It will be the greatest road trip for a burger you’ve ever taken. If he just wants to go around the corner, you win! At least he’ll get the hint that you’re not half bad and although you seem to enjoy pointing out all the little things you didn’t have as a kid, he’ll see a cool side of you that is spontaneous and, heaven forbid, crazy!!

Talking to your kids does not have to be a sit down interview in the family den. Occasionally go to their level, show interest in their world, and take the talk to them. Buy a burger, go catch lizards, build a fort—talk to your kids. At least once, you could show them what your dad once showed you: that it is almost unforgettable when a child is able to see the heart of his dad through the window of simple conversation.

Great Fathers Are Careful

Is there a harder thing to hear than really solid criticism from someone like your dad? These days, you could spend as little as five minutes on isle nine in any busy grocery store and hear a barrage of insults, jabs, and criticisms between parents and children, and even between both parents. As a father, you hold one of the most cherished keys to a child’s heart—and that is the key called Dad.

There are some things you say to your children that will go directly to their souls and linger for a long time. As a great father, take the lead in your home in stopping harmful criticism. Like when you were a child, and like now as an adult, your children are going to make mistakes—and really big ones. But remember when your dad let you off the hook for something you thought was really bad? He surprised you with mercy, and gently showed understanding. The world will not be very easy on your child as she continues to make various mistakes. But you could be the one place she turns to when she needs advice.

There is an old story published in a magazine called Flight Operations that demonstrates how a big mistake can lead to a great lesson. It’s about a pilot who nearly lost his life one day. Bob Hoover was a test pilot and famous performer at many major air shows throughout the country. He flew a beautifully restored WWII propeller fighter plane to the delight of thousands of spectators.

One afternoon, he was returning to his home in Los Angeles from an air show he had just completed in San Diego. He had no sooner taken off when, at only three hundred feet in the air, both engines suddenly froze. Hoover struggled to keep control of the plane. Even as a skilled test pilot, he was barely able to get himself safely to the ground. Although no one was hurt, the plane was badly damaged.

The first thing Hoover did when he landed was to go straight to the engine and check the fuel lines. He found that his suspicions were right. Someone had fueled his plane with jet fuel instead of the gasoline it required. He stormed into the airport hanger and demanded to see the mechanic who fueled his plane. A young man, not yet twenty years old was brought to the hanger in tears. He was sick with the thought of what his mistake had caused. The boy was standing in the hanger surrounded by seasoned pilots, mechanics, and airport staff workers as Hoover approached.

You might imagine how Hoover’s anger could play out in front of all these people. He would have been well within his right to scold the boy and teach him a lesson; after all, he almost killed someone. Instead, perhaps remembering something he had learned from his father in years past, Hoover walked over to the boy, and standing beside him, he put his big arm around him. In front of the crowd he said to the boy “I’m sure you’re sorry for the mistake…and so am I.” The hanger fell silent. No one knew what to expect. Just then, Hoover went on to say, “I’m so certain that you’ll never make this mistake again, that I don’t want anyone but you to fuel my planes from now on when I fly.”

As fathers, we often forget how many mistakes we have been allowed to make (and get away with). Go slowly with your children. Since there is no way to avoid making mistakes in life, why not teach your children how to deal with them when they happen. Your daughter is going to have many people throughout her life that won’t let her forget her many of her mistakes. The one thing she is always going to need most is the friendship of a dad who loves her and likes her—mistakes and all.

Great Fathers Are Builders

As fathers these days, it seems that the most common role is that of a builder. Fathers build all kinds of things…they build businesses, homes, pinewood derby cars, careers, and if they’re clever enough, they even build retirement accounts for when they can no longer build things. However, as a great dad once said “No success can compensate for failure in the home.” Nothing you build in life will compare to the stature you build in your own little children. And nothing builds little kids more than generous amounts of praise and appreciation.

Fathers have a unique way of helping their sons and daughters feel lifted and appreciated. Remember when you did something for your dad and he pulled a quarter from his pocket and rewarded you with it? Your glossy eyes focused on the approaching coin as your dad stretched forth his hand, but your little heart was soaring with the delight of the reward itself.

Young minds need the strengthening influence of feeling important and needed. You may not have noticed this the last time you put something together in the garage. It was the time you had a bag full of screws and your son asked you if he could put one of them into the wood. From your clenched teeth and sweat covered frown you mumbled the words, “No…this is hard.” One by one, as you pulled each screw from the bag, your little boy asked again…“Can I put that one in?” His little eyes were only inches from yours as he watched and admired your hard work.

Great dads slow down at times like this and look for a more important thing to build than a bookshelf or TV stand. Take a moment to let your child help you. Let him feel the pride of working together with his dad to make something for mommy. Let him feel success at an early age and he’ll never forget it.

There are countless kids in gangs, or even in jail, that were looking for what could have been found in that bag of screws: a feeling of importance and appreciation, a feeling that someone as big and cool as a real live dad, likes them, includes them, and wants them to be a part of their world.

If you’re going to build something this weekend, why not build a really strong impression on the heart of a child? Make it something your kid will remember someday as an adult…and something to make him happy just from the memory of it.

Great Fathers Are Teachers

There’s an art to teaching that only the very best dads seem to figure out naturally. The rest of us occasionally need a little reminder. It is found in the well-used phrase about teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish. Great fathers know that if you don’t teach a kid well, he’ll be back again and again. One great father referred to it with the words, “Teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

As a young boy, you may recall the time your dad taught you something that you immediately realized was a “good idea.” It might have been a little trick to getting something to open, or an easy way to save yourself some time when working on a project. This type of thinking, this type of teaching, can help kids learn to think for themselves.

Remember how you grinned and looked at your dad with regained realization that he really is the smartest dad in the whole world? Although your wife may know of a few minor areas where you could still use a little training, your daughter is convinced that you are the king of the world.

Use this time in her life to gently talk to her about the things that matter most. Help her see your personal conviction of the gospel, education, working hard, and being kind. Take her with you and show her how important these principles are to you. Impress in her heart the finer things that will help her easily catch fish for the rest of her life. She believes you, and she needs the foundational lessons that will carry her into her independent years.

She is going to govern herself with whatever you give her, so give her correct principles. Give her your patient, gentle encouragement in matters that will shape who she becomes.

Don’t forget, you are the giant that you thought your dad was. Your children love you, cherish you, fear you, and admire you as much as you did your dad. They want your acceptance and appreciation and they will gladly go where you want them to go, if you simply ask them as their trusted dad.

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