After listening to dozens of young guys share with me their struggles, I’ve come to a conclusion about fatherhood:
It is more important for kids to tag along with Dad as he goes about his business than it is for Dad to tag along with them as they go about theirs.
We parents feel a crushing obligation to fill up our schedules with our kids’ stuff. We run ragged chasing our kids from soccer game to karate practice, piano lessons to birthday parties, play rehearsals to school field trips. We feel as if we’re not being a good Dad if we don’t engage in the chase. The sense of “ought” is seismic in its intensity.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, of course. They can be fun for us too. But I believe it is more important to bring our kids into our world. It’s there that they learn the skills they need to thrive in adulthood.
These are the kinds of things I hear from the young guys I spend time with:
“How can I teach my son how to fix a leaky faucet or build a fence when I don’t know how to do it myself?”
“My Dad loved to fix up old cars. I wish he would’ve taught me.”
“I have no idea what it means to be a man.”
I feel for these guys. They feel ill-equipped. They can never quite shake a gnawing feeling of inadequacy because they were rarely invited into their Dad’s world. The realm of a man. The world in which they’ll spend the majority of their lives.
It would’ve been better had their parents required them to do grown-up things well before they were grown. They may not have liked it at the time, but these guys’ll tell you that it would’ve better prepared them for adulthood.
A Vivid Memory of Time Shared with My Dad
My parents were divorced when I was young, so I didn’t live with my Dad. But I couldn’t wait to see him on the weekend.
He’d take my sister and me out to eat or to the bowling alley for a few lines. Sometimes we’d play catch in the back yard or pitch horseshoes.
But far and away, my fondest memory was the day I helped Dad build a deck on the back of his house.
He showed me how to use a post-hole digger. We mixed concrete in the wheelbarrow. We set the posts and fastened the trusses. I measured, he cut. I held the boards in place, he nailed them.
He taught me to save time by cutting all the treads at once. Much quicker than to cut one, nail it, and then head back to the saw horses to cut another board.
I watched him think and plan his work. And thanks to an errant swing with a 16-ounce claw hammer, he taught me a couple of new words that Mom never taught me.
When the day was done, we stood atop a beautiful cedar deck where just a few hours earlier there’d been none. Dad popped the pull-tab on a PBR and I drank a Coke as we admired our handiwork.
Dad brought me into his world that day. Doing manly things with my Dad made me more of a man. I was richer for it.
Finding the Right Balance
I’m not suggesting we don’t spend time doing things our kids want to do. Just not at the expense of the other. So, how do you find the right balance?
Here’s an idea: for every hour you spend doing things your kids want to do, require them to spend an hour doing things with you…even if they don’t want to. And here’s the kicker: they must do it without complaining.
Have them help you in the yard. Take them to your parents’ house — not to get spoiled by the grandparents — but so that they can help you clean their gutters. Have them tag along as you run to Home Depot. Crack wise and sing songs. Take them to your buddy’s house and tell them that as long as you’re there they can’t beg to leave every few minutes. Let them see how adults have a conversation.
The cliche is true: a parent’s job is to raise adults, not kids. Kids learn how to be an adult when they are required to do adult things.
And there’s no better person to guide them than you.
Questions: Do you agree that kids should be required to do things that they don’t want to do? How do you let your kids know that they are not the center of your home? Share your thoughts below.