It’s Father’s Day, 1991. It’s 12:47 in the morning. In the Sonoran desert skies, three planets align to form an ultrabright “star” in the western sky. It just adds drama to the already dramatic events taking place with me, in me and around me that night.
I became a father on Father’s Day. Jonathan was born, all arms and legs. His birth was like unfolding a ventriloquist dummy from a suitcase. Long, black hair, leaving me asking my mother if one of my Saxon/Welsh ancestors had ever dated a Navajo.
Little goober didn’t even give me a card. He played the “I’m a psychologically undifferentiated newborn” card.
This year, Jonathan’s birthday fells on Father’s Day. Though there was some doubt about me getting a Father’s Day card today, too.
I tried my hand at composing The Father Pocket Primer. Simple, short, to the point. Here we go …
1. Admire your children!
Children need to be admired. So, admire them shamelessly. Openly. Let them hear The Wow in your voice. Let them see The Wow pour from your eyes. From the moment they open their eyes, let them find and hold your gaze. Stare at them with warmth and wonder. When adults, let them remember the constancy of your delight and encouragement in their discoveries, learnings, accomplishments, budding motor skills, each personal competence — physical, emotional, social, intellectual — they add to their growing selfhood. Whether it’s learning to use a spoon, or learning to hit a curve ball.
Memorize the word “wow.” Use it generously.
“But what do I do when my children do something I don’t admire,” you might ask. Then insist they stand truthful, responsible and accountable for their actions … and admire their efforts to be truthful, responsible and accountable for their actions.
2. Touch your children!
A strong man is a gentle man. That is, only a strong man is strong enough to be gentle. To soothe and nurture. Touch your children. From the moment they are born. Touch them. Don’t ever stop touching them.
Be a part of dressing and diapering. Be a regular part of bath-time rituals. Take your turn at dressing skinned knees. Pat their head. Tousle their hair. Let them feel the weight and strength of your arms around them after a bad dream. Cuddle in bed. As they grow older, get down on the floor and wrestle. Let them ride on your shoulders.
Oh, sure, there’s a stage of development when especially your sons will shrug off your touch. You must at once respect this … and not give up. They come back around, I promise.
Don’t you dare let puberty be an excuse to stop touching your daughters. It’s normal, common to have a few confusing thoughts and feelings about the budding woman who was once your baby girl. But she needs your touch.
In some ways, more than ever.
3. Pay attention!
Just because you’ve worked hard all day and you’re tired does not in fact give you an excuse to come home and be irritable and impatient because your children would like your attention. Get over yourself. Pay attention.
4. Master your anger!
Ask yourself: When and how is chronic impatience, irritability, criticism, disdain, scorn, contempt, or profaning your children good for their souls? How is it possible that we could debase and humiliate our children with words, tone and volume? Or want to?
There is nothing manly, let alone loving or even useful about making your children emotionally afraid of you. Psychologically afraid of you. Physically afraid of you. You have no right to lay your hands on them in aggression or violence. Good fathers aren’t bullies.
Yes, from time to time, it is good for children to hear their fathers’ thunder. Like, two to three times per year. Maybe. Beyond that, your anger is poisonous and destructive to your children.
5. Be accountable!
Fathers forget to admire. Forget to touch. Forget to pay attention. Lose their temper. But good fathers account for that: “It’s not OK the way I just spoke to you/treated you. You deserve better. I’m sorry.”
Now, there’s a manly move, indeed.
6. Cherish their mother!
Your children take copious, psychic notes, every time they watch you interact with their mother. Never, ever forget that. If you are an open, selfish jerk with their mother, and your children witness it, then it is not merely your wife from whom you will rightly seek forgiveness.
Are you a father? Then be a man. And be honored and grateful.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.