How to Not Suck As a Father

father & daughter

I’ve been a Dad now for 18 years! Yippee! Yeah, 42 year old men can, and do, say yippee. I have 2 beautiful and smart daughters that are full of good moral and quality character. I couldn’t be more proud. Fatherhood is an awesome journey for me. As the journey continues with my “girls” entering adulthood, I sometimes sit and think about how I’ve raised them and if I did a good enough job.

I know it’s not all about me, but a man can’t help but wonder if he’s made a difference. As I reflect I realize that I’ve learned as much on this journey as they have.

Before I get started, I want to make one thing very clear. I didn’t title this “How To Be an Awesome Father”, or “How to be Father of the Year” for a reason. I’m neither of those things. What I am is a man that learns from his mistakes, and freely shares them with anyone else that want’s to learn from my mistakes.

Smart men learn from their mistakes. Wise men learn from other’s mistakes

Without further adu…..and in no particular order, here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

Set The Example

You want your kids to be honest hard working citizens that contribute good to our society. Are you? Do your kids see and know that you lie (even a little white one) for any particular reason. Even the smallest, most insignificant, lie used to cover an action or prevent an undesired consequence is teaching them that it’s ok to lie sometimes. Here’s the immediate problem, they only know that you expect them to tell the truth while it’s ok for you to lie. I think we all know how that scenario’s going to play out.

This applies to ALL aspects of your life. Do you speed and break other traffic laws? They’re watching. Do you utter those 4 letter words from time to time? They’re learning.

True story: When my youngest daughter was 5, my wife and I were playing “pretty little princess” with her. It’s a board game. After she rolled the dice and landed on an undesired square, she said (without any thought or hesitation) “damn-it”! My wife and I could do nothing more than laugh at how nonchalantly she rolled that out and then teach her that she shouldn’t use those words. Lesson learned.

Listen To Your Kids

New and exciting things are happening to them everyday. They want to share their experiences with you. Listen to them with a child’s ear. Hear and share in their excitement at the new wonders they’ve found. It’s everyday life for us, but to them it’s the newest discovery and it’s super-cool Dad! Don’t let today’s mail battle for your attention. Stop what you’re doing, get down on their level, and show them you’re excited too.

True story: I had just gotten home from work and was reading the mail / bills. My 4 year old begins telling me about the day’s events. I was half way paying attention and replying with the usual “uh-huh” while not even looking at her. After a few sentences she say’s “Daddy? Are you even listening to me?” I said “Of course. I’m just trying to see what bills I’ve got to pay too”. To which she so eloquently stated “What’s more importanter, me or the mail?” Lesson learned

Spend Time Doing What They Want

We all know the importance of spending quality time together as a family. But is that “quality” time spent doing what YOU want to do? Or are you doing what THEY want to do? Of course there are things that are mutually agreeable, but often your kids don’t enjoy the same things as you. Who makes the sacrifice? You or them? It shouldn’t be news that if it’s not what your kids want to do, then it’s not quality time with dear old dad. It’s torture.

As a grown up, you can easily exchange your activity for theirs and reap the reward of time well spent and memories made with your young one. Trust me, when they’re older they’ll remember playing “pretty little princess” with their Dad.

True story: This one could take up an entire post to explain the size of regret and lesson learned. When my oldest was 9 she rode a motorcycle for the first time. I could see the sheer joy on her face right through the helmet. My wife and I decided that we would get her one for Christmas and it would be a great way for daddy and daughter to spend some quality time together. It started out great. She had a blast just cruising along at her own choice of speed and riding through every muddy spot we could find. As her skills get better I begin thinking that she would have more fun if she had more challenging things to do. Going to trails that were not so smooth and finding hills that require effort to reach the top. Nothing she couldn’t do without a little practice.

Slowly, and in total oblivion, I destroyed the fun of riding motorcycles with dad. All she wanted to do was just go out and ride. Nothing extreme or exciting. But I thought that was boring, she would have more fun doing the stuff I wanted to do. She no longer cared to go for rides anymore. I completely lost sight of the goal. The memories that could have been made were not to be, simply because I thought I knew what was fun for her. I was wrong. Painful lesson learned.

Say “Yes”, Unless You Have a Good Reason to Say “No”

Your kids ask if they can do / have something, and without hesitation your answer is a resounding “no”. No time needed to consider the request. Just “no”. Before you say no next time, stop and ask yourself if there’s a good reason for no. I think you’ll find more often than not, saying “yes” won’t hurt a thing. And you’ll bring joy and happiness to their lives.

True Story: (not about me this time – it just really highlights the point). We invited a family to go camping with us a few years back. They had never camped before and were ecstatic to bring their kids camping at the lake. Their 12 year old son was overjoyed. The day they arrived everyone was all smiles and care free. Their kids were full of energy and were running and playing as you’d expect.

All their son wanted to do was get in that water. After all, his friends were already in it. Like a moth drawn to a flame, so was he to the water as any 12 year old boy would be. However, he wasn’t allowed to get in because he was wearing jeans instead of his swim shorts. How frustrating to a 12 year old energetic boy!

My question is “why not”? So what if he’s wearing pants, they’ll dry. So what if the pants get dirty? They’re washable. Getting jeans wet is no big deal at all. Think about the fun he could’ve had playing in the lake with his friends.

Instead, he was yelled at and disciplined for doing what was inevitable. Yes, he got in the lake wearing his jeans anyway.

Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree with my thoughts on the jeans and water. But my lesson learned is don’t suck and constantly say no to your kids fun without a good reason.

Let’s Wrap This Up

I know I’ve just rattled off a rather long post and maybe you just skimmed over as a result, so let me summarize.

Being a father is a truly awesome responsibility. YOU are responsible for molding your child into an adult. Your influence is far greater than you, or I, can possibly imagine. Take that responsibility as a serious one. Do everything in your power to not suck it up and regret later.

Set awesome examples. Get down on your childs level, look them in the eyes and listen to every exciting word they want to share with you. And hope they always want to share with you everything in their life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Do less of what you want, and spend time with them doing what they want. Cherish every moment. Say yes, unless you have a good reason for no. Decide that the next time you’re in the checkout lane and he asks for a candy bar, you’ll say yes. Think of how excited he’ll be. Then tell him he can eat it right away. Oh my!

Photo by B.Riordan.

22 thoughts on “How to Not Suck As a Father”

  1. great advice for a single person like me
    its good that i know these things before i become a father
    its good to learn from the mistakes of others

  2. Thanks for sharing! Your examples were great examples of “how not” to suck as a father. Kind of wish I had these examples when my only daughter was of a tender and innocent age.

    Keep up the good work as every father can take away a lesson or two.


  3. Congratulations for raising your children they way you wanted. Not every parent is able to do that. But there is something that bothers me. Would raising my children that way get them prepared to live in the world out of home? When they choose their path, will they be able to see the pros and cons, and be ready to embrace the first and face the last?

    1. Cait-
      I’t seems as if you’ve gotten the impression that I’ve sheltered my girls from the “real” world. I’m not sure how you came to that from the tips above.

      Somehow you feel that by setting a good example, listening to your kids, playing and doing things with them, and allowing them to do things that there’s no good reason for not allowing it is sheltering?

      I don’t get it.? Maybe you could elaborate.

      1. Sorry if I offended you. I was thinking about the extreme scenario of always giving to them and never teaching them to give.

        “Life can punch you square in the face if you aren’t prepared”. Probably you wrote about this already, but again I want to know: how do I prepare my kids?.

        1. Cait – I wasn’t offended at all. Just surprised that you seemed to think that by doing those items listed would lead to sheltered children.

          I understand your point now. The simple answer to your question is; don’t give them everything.

          Don’y buy them everything they want and expect. Make them do work. Join them in supporting local charities. We help out at a local horse therapy charity that works with troubled and handicapped children.

          We also make them pay for their own gas. Or else they don’t drive. There are other things, but I think I’ve made my point.

          Give them love and affection, a happy and safe home but make them earn all the extras.

  4. Such a lovely and honest post. As a child and family therapist it is awesome to read about someone getting it right with their children and understanding what’s truly important.. I also believe the points you raised are totally valid for any healthy relationship ..
    Good job, well done and enjoy the next phase as its not over yet ;)

    1. Thanks Joanna,

      It’s nice to know that a child therapist thinks I’ve done some things right.

      I’m really looking forward to the next phase. I think it’s gonna be an easier one.


  5. What a delightful post! Thanks for bringing a smile to my face.

    I like your suggestion Say yes, unless you have a good reason for no.

    One summer while visiting friends at the NJ Shore, we had a special dinner where my children and my friends children made dinner for us.

    One of them asked “Can we serve dessert first?” We couldn’t come up with a reason not to, so this began the tradition of the Annual Backwards Dinner!

    Will they always remember their fun dinner? Of course!

    1. That’s a great story Wendy! The Annual Backwards Dinner. I can imagine the joy of looking forward to that every year.

      Leave it to kids to come up with some great ideas.

      You’ll always have room for dessert:)

  6. This is actually an inspiring post. In fact, there is a child in all of us and we carve for these qualities in people we meet. We carve for acceptance, understanding, cooperation and love. And who knows, being a better father also makes you a better human.

    Really inspiring post Sir. I think if fathers don’t understand the importance of inculcating these qualities, children might only grow up psychologically carving them and might also create walls around them to bind themselves. Good one and totally true.

  7. Loved reading your post! my kids are 17, 19 and 21 and I think they are awesome. We did a lot of things right over the years( no TV during the week, sit round the table every night for family dinners etc) , but we also made some awful mistakes ( saying “we’ll see”, rather than “No” way too often and lots more) . As long as you do more right than wrong and you’re a good example – kids will grow up well. I believe the most important thing you can give them is a strong, united bond between the parents.

    Well done – you do sound like an amazing father!

    1. Thank you very much Kirsten. Although I know there are things to improve on, I feel like I suck waay less than I could have.

      We also sit together at the dinner table. A phones are not to be seen or heard! But we do watch TV during the week. Wednesday is called “Survivor night”. We all pile up a big bowl of ice cream and watch the TV show survivor. Fun times.


  8. I’m 61. I spent years, when our two children were at home, attending all their events, coaching their teams, and helping them with their problems. I let my business take a back seat. In fact, I chose to work for myself so that I could have the time.

    Now, I didn’t build what I could have built had I focused more intently on my business. It just wasn’t as important as giving everything I could to them. I’m not saying one should forgo his own life, no. Because I wanted to be a good example of success as well. So, I took care of business.

    But, the time I spent with them was/is precious. I’m so thankful for the decision I made. My children don’t have to wonder where their daddy was and if he loved them.

    Best decision I could have made.

    1. You have my admiration Carmelo. The riches you and your children have gained can never be lost. As the saying goes “no one ever professed on their death bed they wished they had worked more”.

      I believe you’ve set the example of true success and riches. You’ll never go bankrupt!


  9. Excellent post and while the advice is simple, it is regarding the things we lose sight of. That is important stuff. There are so many things I would love to do perfectly but it is more important to just do simple things and be the support and love that they need to thrive.

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