Originally published in The Telegraph, June 21, 2015
Writer’s note: In my years at The Telegraph, I wrote something to do with fathers 132 times. This is one of my favorites.
Father’s Day is a mixture of — in the words of Frankie Beverly and Maze — “Joy and pain. Sunshine and rain.” Being a father is an awesome God-given responsibility, but no matter how painful it can be at times, the joy is beyond my vocabulary. To look at another person and know that he or she would not be here if not for you, is priceless.
Fathers and mothers look at their children and see their legacies, their gifts to the world. They see years of hard work completed and bask in the joys and pains of that work. I can’t speak for all fathers, but I do believe all want to be good ones. Some, however, are just not up to the task. Being a father means sacrifice. It means making sure your children have what they need before you get what you want. Some men can’t handle that. They want what they want when they want it. They allow their own selfishness to dismiss their own importance in their children’s lives. They heap the burden of being a father onto the shoulders of the mother. She’s not made for that.
Children learn by modeling. Certainly, they hear what we tell them, but they are constantly watching us. Is it any wonder they end up talking like us? If we use bad English, they’ll use bad English. If we dress like thugs, they’ll dress like thugs, and think it OK. Mothers, if you leave the house with curlers in your hair, expect your daughter to do the same. And if you dress like a hoochie mama and have a revolving front door for every Tom, Dick, and Harry, don’t be surprised by what your daughter brings home.
Back to fathers. Father’s Day is our day, after all. We don’t have to be a biological father to be a father, and not every biological sperm-donor earns the title of father. If my life is any example, I’ve been influenced by thousands of men who were no blood relation to me. My swimming coach, Stan Rasmussen didn’t know beans about swimming, but he was there. He gave of his time. He kept us in line, and we figured out the rest. There was Charles “Bud” Behrens,” my band director at Edison Senior High in Stockton, California. He taught me how to listen and appreciate all kinds of music. I also learned to understand cussing in German. He demanded excellence — and he pulled it out of us.
So, what do you have to do to be a good father if it’s not just a biological function? First, be there, and I don’t just mean physically, although for some that’s a pretty good start. Be into your children mentally. Figure them out and help them figure themselves out. Be a good role model. Always know they are going to copy whatever you do, be it good or bad. When you tell them you’re going to do something — do it. Children have good memories. Don’t disappoint them. If the situation changes, tell them why and reschedule. They learn from us how to keep their word, because we have always kept our word to them. It takes more time but involve your children in your projects. If you’ve got to change the oil in your car, let them help. Need to change a tire, show them how to do it. Notice, I didn’t single out these activities for sons. Girls need to know how to change a tire, too, and boys need to know how to cook and clean.
Spend time with your children. That’s part of being there. Think of experiences that will enrich their educational development —places to go and museums to see. They won’t know what you were up to until they have children of their own.
Fathers, make your children know that you think the world of them. In other words, love them to pieces. Tell them, over and over that they can achieve anything. Let them see how interested you are in their lives — every day. They should know you expect the best from them and understand there are consequences when they disappoint. Teach them how to respect your authority, and they will respect the authority of others. Love on your children’s mother (not plural) and show them how a man is supposed to treat a woman. Your daughters will grow up expecting the same kind of treatment, and your sons will copy you, too.
The best part of aging is seeing the success of your offspring and knowing they understand your sacrifice and the deep-down satisfaction of knowing you did a good job. A toast to the real fathers in Middle Georgia.
Written by: Charles Richardson