Father’s Day – What Makes a Good Dad and What Do You Do if You Don’t Have One?
Father’s Day conjures images of “Best Dad” mugs, fishing reels, and backyard barbecues. It makes most of us think loving thoughts of our dads. For others, it often means writing sentimental Facebook posts about their adored fathers. But what about those who don’t have a warm, loving relationship with their father? For people who have complicated or non-existent relationships with their fathers, Father’s Day can be a painful reminder of what’s missing in their life.
What qualities does it take to make a good dad? It’s easy to be a biological father, but what does it take to elevate a man to the Dad or Daddy status? What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are several qualities that make a man a good dad.
Showing up is half the battle. Show up for recitals, family dinner, tuck-in time, ball games, and science fairs. Be there for events that are important to your kids. Show up for all the little things because the accumulation of all the little things creates trust and a healthy relationship. The little things make up the big thing called parenting.
A good father loves their child unconditionally. They may not like their choices or always understand them, but a good father loves their child no matter what. Tell them you love them, and show them you love them. Love needs to be expressed in words and actions.
Find a way to spend time with them, occasionally carving out one-on-one time for each child. No, it’s not easy. Unfortunately, parenting usually coincides with the busiest period in one’s career, when time is critical for professional life. Something has to give. It might be postponing some personal dreams, such as climbing Mt. Everest, to build the crucial relationship between father and child. You won’t regret investing your most precious asset in your kids.
Be Good to Their Mother
Be a good role model of kindness and consideration towards the mother of your children. This is a challenge if you’re no longer partners with that person, but your kids need to see that positive behavior modeled for them. Whether you are still together or not, keep arguments away from children’s ears. They do not need to hear adult problems, and they do not need to hear criticism of their other parent. Always take the high road, even when it’s fraught with potholes and dangerous curves.
Responsibility can mean many things, and being a dad carries many responsibilities. It can mean financial, emotional, and physical. A good dad wants to make sure his kids live in a safe home and have the material things they need. It means if they aren’t with the mother, they pay child support on time. Responsibility means the dad makes an effort to maintain contact with the children, even when it’s difficult and even when the children are adults. A responsible dad makes sure his kids are safe, well cared for, and emotionally healthy.
It’s not easy being a good dad, but did anyone promise it would be? It can be challenging, especially if there is a divorce. However, your kids deserve a dad, not just a father. What if you’re an adult and don’t have a good relationship with your dad? The way I see it, these are your options.
1. Never give up.
You can keep trying and continue hoping this time it will be different. Maybe your head will eventually get used to being banged on that brick wall. That’s not to say that change isn’t possible, but if there is a lifelong pattern of neglect or abuse, chances are slim it will change unless there is intense counseling for both parties. To quote Dr. Phil, “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.” (I can’t believe I quoted him, but even a broken clock is right twice a day.)
2. Ignore the holiday.
Father’s Day can be painful for people who have complicated or non-existent relationships with their fathers. You can ignore the day by going to a movie (the new Top Gun is really good!), keep busy, and avoid the card section at Walgreens. Forbid yourself from looking at Facebook and reading all the mushy Father’s Day postings. Envy isn’t a good place to wallow.
3. Write a letter.
Write a letter to your father saying exactly how you feel. Pour out your hurt and your pain with no holds barred. Cry, yell, and eat ice cream while you rant, rave, and grieve. Don’t mail the letter. Or at least let it stew for a few months before deciding whether that letter should be sent. It might be cathartic to write it but probably not helpful to send.
4. Remove toxicity.
Recognize that your father is just a person, full of flaws and their own hurts. They are fallible. However, they don’t deserve to be in your life if they are physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally abusive. It’s OK to recognize that some people are toxic and should not have a voice in your ear or a place in your life, even if you share genetics. You’re an adult, so you get to decide.
5. Get counseling.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but some parents will never love you like you need to be loved no matter what you do. That does NOT mean you aren’t worthy of being loved. It just means you didn’t win the parenting jackpot. A counselor can help you sort out all those feelings. As corny as it sounds, sometimes you must learn to give yourself the love you deserved but didn’t get from a parent.
6. Find the Middle Ground.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Find a middle ground between being best friends and total estrangement. You can choose to keep a dysfunctional parent at arm’s length on the periphery of your life if that is what fits your situation and your comfort level. Do what works for you and be willing to adjust in either direction if the strategy stops working.
If Father’s Day is challenging for you, you are not alone. That may or may not be a comfort to you, but it’s a fact. Estrangement between parents and adult children is not uncommon, but it’s painful. If you decide to ignore the holiday and go to the movies, be sure to get the popcorn with extra butter before the movie starts. Once Top Gun: Maverick begins, you’ll be riveted to the screen!