When my wife asked me what I wanted for Father's Day, I wistfully replied, "A day without shaving, zero chores, my choice of pizza toppings, any videos that aren't Disney, absolute control of the remote, an uninterrupted nine innings of baseball and the house all to myself."
"So you basically want what guys without families have," she said sarcastically.
I didn't think asking for one day of blissful indolence was too much, especially since I take my marital and parenting responsibilities pretty seriously the remaining 364 days. But perhaps Father's Day is time to reflect on what fathers give to their families, not what they get from them.
In an age of disappearing dads, deadbeat dads, domineering dads and plain old dumb sitcom dads, it's tough to be a darn good dad. There's a lot of father-bashing out there, some of it well-deserved, but today's culture rarely portrays fathers who are faithful, hard-working, caring and involved. Instead, we see images of abusive, domineering patriarchs or over-involved fathers manipulating the athletic or artistic careers of their children or caricatures of good-natured, or sometimes mean-spirited, bumbling morons like Homer Simpson.
Most of the fathers I know are trying their best to juggle work and family. Some cooperate at home. Some participate in parent-teacher conferences and assist kids with homework and school projects. Many volunteer for sports and scouting. Many watch the kids so Mom can attend PTA meetings and parent education workshops, shop for groceries and take care of elderly parents. Most love to be with their kids when they can find the time and energy.
Is there room for improvement? You betcha. We need to deal with the national disgrace of fathers who abandon or abuse their children or the children's mothers. We need to enforce child support and reinforce co-parenting. We need to attract more fathers to parent education programs and help them build skills for successful parenting.
But for Joe Average Dad who is trying to make ends meet, teach his kids to shoot free throws, keep two cars on the road and be a companionable mate, here are some smaller stepping stones to more fulfilling fatherhood.
Spend more time with your children
Time is the greatest gift fathers can give their children. Finding time for children may mean setting limits on work hours or sacrificing a night at the gym or playing cards with the guys. But your children grow up very quickly and if you spend their childhood at the office or on the golf course, you'll miss it all. Try playing Stratego with your son or teaching your daughter how to fish and discover firsthand the mutual pleasure that comes from spending quality time with your children.
Share your interests and skills with your children
There's a lot that kids can learn from Dads. Dads have job skills, home skills, hobbies and expertise which children find interesting. Get your kids involved in your leisure activities, teach them useful skills and share your work with them. You will be helping them learn and grow, while building a positive relationship with them.
Serve as a volunteer
When you volunteer, you not only help your kid, you help everybody's kids. Volunteers are desperately needed for sports programs, scouting, school activities, church youth groups and in other community organizations. When your kid calls you "Coach Dad," you realize the unique impact of volunteering for youth - your own kid sees you through the eyes of his peers and you look pretty cool after all.
Support your children's education
Let your kids know that you think education is important. Stay informed about your child's progress in school and other school news. Get to know your child's teacher and attend parent-teacher conferences. Provide support for homework and other school projects. Participate in the Parent-Teacher Organization and other school-based committees whenever possible.
Share household responsibilities
Fathers who share household and parenting responsibilities accomplish two goals. First they ease the stress on mothers who tend to shoulder much of this responsibility and thus prevent mother burnout. Secondly, they model for their children what family is all about - sharing, cooperating and working together.
Show respect for the children's mother
Whether living together or apart, fathers and mothers can respect each other and co-parent successfully. Learn how to handle strong feelings and conflicts peaceably.
If my wife asks me again what I want for Father's Day, I'm going to say, "Let's go to church, eat breakfast at the diner, ride our bikes to the park, barbecue burgers, then get some ice cream." Then, when Father's Day is just about done, and the family's all tucked in, I'll have the remote all to myself.
Source: Tim Jahn, Human Development Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County