Thursday, April 26, 2012

“I want to stir my milk”:  Fathers are role models, like it or not.
I made myself a cup of coffee this morning, putting probably too much sugar and milk in it.  As I’m stirring my concoction, my three-year old daughter says, “Dada, I want coffee.”.  My response is, “No, you can’t have coffee.  You can have milk.”  Then I hear, “Dada, I want to stir my milk.”
The logical part of my mind quickly points out how silly it is for her to stir her milk.  Since she’s not mixing two things together as she stirs, she’s really just wasting the energy she’s expending.  The milk isn’t going to be any different.  But, I just a quickly realize that three-year olds aren’t exactly known for being logical.
I happily provide her with milk and a spoon with which to stir it.  Of course, changing the taste of the milk is not the point at all.  She wants to stir her drink because I am stirring mine.
All fathers are role models.  Everything a father is doing or not doing is being noticed by his children.  They see what he eats, they hear what he says, they pay attention to how he treats others, and they notice where he goes.  His children want to know who he is and who they are.  A father teaches both by his actions.
The good news is that by embracing this principle, a father has a powerful tool with which to influence his children.   He does not need to put the rest of his life on hold or go through some formal training.  This tool is already working, but to often, fathers need to use it more intentionally.
The bad news is that it isn’t easy.  It means  a father intentionally being what he wants his children to be, and doing things he wants them to do also.  It means exhibiting calm in response to tumult, empathy in the presence of conflict, and contrition following poor choices.
That last one is tough.  No father is the perfect role model, but putting on a front for his children is impossible.  In his book All Pro Dad, Mark Merrill says, “by and large, our children can see right through us.  They know if we are the real deal or not.”  When a father makes poor choices, it is an opportunity to display courage and honesty by apologizing to his children.
It is easy to find persons we would probably not want our children to imitate.  Those people seem to occupy much of the media’s attention, some deservedly so and some not.  But is equally easy to find those who have the most opportunity to serve as a child's role model.  They are called fathers.