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Young Father’s Guide
“Congratulations! Your first child! What an exciting, crazy, intense time as you juggle the many responsibilities of spouse, father or mother, co-worker, and friend! “
At times, it will feel you have enough discombobulation to fill 29 hours of a 24 hour day! John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
With that in mind, my sons are now your age and we enjoy a wonderful friendship of respect. We value nothing more than just plain old hanging out together. There was a very low time in my life when I didn’t think I would ever see my kids again and it nearly killed me . . . Sent me to the edge of self-destruction (I wrote about those experiences in “A Divorced Parent’s Guide to Seeing Your Kids.”)
Presently, my sons do not have children of their own, so what I’m sharing with you would be what I would say to them . . . you have the advantage of using this information first! In examining what brought my sons and me to this place of a healthy, relevant relationship, I would say the following were critical components to the creation of our bond.
First, we made deliberate, conscious decisions to be together – sometimes despite monumental obstacles and inconveniences on their part as well as mine. I was divorced when the kids were very young and moved 5 hours away to take over a radio station and build my businesses. However, every other Friday, for ten years, I would leave work at noon, drive 5 hours up north to spend the weekend together – driving back late Sunday night, writing sales proposals under a dim, car dome light while my live-in steered us home.
Please, don’t interpret this as a statement of ego or misplaced pride. It’s the realization that without the effort of a couple days together, every other weekend, whether swimming in the hotel pool or eating pizza on the bed, we wouldn’t have had the foundation to spend weeks together in the summer, or extended time after they were able to make choices for themselves.
The quantity of time, no matter how small, is the exclusive way to produce the elusive “quality” time that is ultimately remembered, universally wished for.
Another element is to create an “Insiders Club”. Nothing builds a sense of inclusion/family/value than being a member of an exclusive club, something you do together. My boys and I created a motorcycle club called “The Few” (since there were only 3 of us!). We have T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats (A girlfriend once asked to wear the T-shirt and my son said, “No, that is for The Few.”).
We take lots of pictures and create volumes of memories. We plan rides and activities together and I memorialize these in framed photo collages and plaques for them to hold, share and remember.
I learned the value of this process by experiencing it at a very young age on my grandpa’s farm. He was 80 years old, but he made me feel valuable by doing things together; going to the county fair, helping a blind man read his mail, enjoying a fish fry at the local farmers restaurant. The vast majority of time, it was just he and I, later sharing stories with the other relatives about our exploits, separated generationally by oceans of years, brought together like dorm room buddies through our exclusive “insiders” arrangement.
Another important component is to actively solicit their opinions, desires and point of view. I was not close to my father. He lived his life and forced the rest of us to live the same life as well. He did not ask our opinion and if offered, it would be shot down as inappropriate or directly contrary to his accepted beliefs. We learned to keep our thoughts to ourselves . . . we shut down.
I didn’t want that for my relationships, so I constantly ask my sons what they think, what would they like to do, what is their opinion of a situation. It’s my job to accept their viewpoints, integrate them into the larger picture of life and guide them gently with alternative thoughts they may consider in their own decision-making. They were not born to live my life – I am to enjoy and participate in THEIR life and actively integrate myself through love, acceptance, support, and encouragement.
My son went through a difficult situation. My job was not to unsolicitedly interject advise. I only said, “I have your back, no matter what.” My job was to love him. That’s all, just love him and make sure he KNEW he was valued in the midst of all unpleasantness. After his circumstances had been resolved, he sent a message.
“Thanks for being in my corner. I couldn’t have asked for a better dad during this time.” That note acknowledged – mission accomplished, he survived and is intact, ready for life’s next challenge.
Actively solicit their opinions, desires and point of view. Only then might they see value in asking for yours.
Create unconditional value for who they are and the lives they live. Again, my upbringing was all conditioned on whether I thought, acted, and made decisions like my father wanted, thus, I had no internal, personal value within the home structure. I regularly altered myself to gain acceptance from any particular person or group. I had zero integrity with any relationship because it was based on something other than the truth.
I did not want this for my kids. As a result, from the moment they could understand, and especially as they grew older understanding deeper concepts, I have personally told them with my voice (they need to HEAR you) and supported by writings, notes, cards and hopefully my actions;
“I love you for who you are. Not for what you do for a job or who you are with or whether you go to church or for any other reason than, you have VALUE all by yourself. You never have to prove yourself. You never have to do anything, say anything, or take any action in order to gain my love and acceptance.
I value you without conditions.”
These are just a few critical components of why I think we have built our excellent relationships together. It’s never too early to start.
Enjoy yourself and reap the rewards of consciously making life the way you want it, rather than accepting life the way it is.