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An open letter to all dads

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To dads, everywhere,

What does Father’s Day mean? Put it this way – for me it has nothing to do with presents. I say to my kids every year, please don’t get me anything. I don’t need anything. All I ask is that we share a meal as a family and talk about ... whatever. Father’s Day is an annual reminder that your relationship with your closest family comes first. Daylight second.

Joyful. Proud. The usual feelings – that’s what I feel about fatherhood. Above all there is a profound sense of responsibility. There’s no escaping that you are a model for your kids. And not just when you want to be a model, but all the time, including when you’re tired, irritable, sad, lethargic, impatient, distracted. The way you respond to pressure and the whole gamut of life scenarios is seeping into their make-up. You really want to set a good example. Because you can’t override years of behaviour with the odd lecture.   

Watching them as they show themselves to be good people. That’s the best part of being a dad. Watching them share their things, show kindness and compassion, love their family – young and old – and love their pets. It’s nice, too, when they show themselves to be a lot like you or your partner in some way – a mannerism, a trait, a tendency. But you’re heading for disappointment if you think you’re going to clone yourself when you have kids. In many ways, they may be nothing like you. And that’s good, too. 

It can be challenging, fatherhood. Challenging not living through them. Not expecting them to be proficient in the areas in which you’re proficient. Not tolerating their mistakes and limitations – even though you probably made the same mistakes and had the same limitations when you were their age. Sport was an issue for me. I so wanted my son to do well because sport had been (and remained) important to me. And he loved it, too. But I’m sure I put too much pressure on him sometimes, and I don’t feel good about that when I think about it.

Both my kids have left home now. But they will always ring me on Father’s Day morning to wish me a happy day, and they will always come home later in the day for a meal and to give me the presents I asked them not to buy. They’re not big on saying, “Dad, I love you” or anything like that – we’re not really that kind of family. But I know they do and they know I love them.

Loving. Friendly. That’s the kind of father I’ve tried to be. I never wanted my kids to see me as a scary authority figure who will punish them if they step out of line. That is not me at all and I couldn’t be that way if I tried. I’ve always tried simply to be kind to them, honest with them and open with them.
For those of you who are new to this whole experience, or just looking for a little advice, try to see the world through their eyes. We forget so much about the experience of being a child. Children aren’t little adults. They’re children. They have fears and anxieties that are irrational, but are no less real despite being irrational. When they’re scared, be a softie.

My dad didn’t like to see me getting worked up over calling a girl I liked. He drummed it into me that girls are just people and, even if the one you’re calling doesn’t want to go out with you or anything like that, she’ll still be flattered you called. It was the same with famous people: just speak to them normally, he said. They’re flesh and blood. We’re all just flesh and blood.

Enjoy the day.

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