A Very Special Father’s Day

This is a very special Father’s Day for me because my own son, who is 43, just had his first child, a boy, on June 3. Although we haven’t been able to hold the baby yet, my son and his partner live close enough that we could drive over and see him through the window. The occasion has inspired me to write a few words of advice for my son as he steps into the role of fathering. Much of it I learned from my own father, not through his words, but from his example.

Let him color outside the lines.

This is key to developing his creative spirit. As adults, we’re often so aware of the expectations of others to “color within the lines” that we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to experiment without concern for the results. Give that freedom to your child.

Love him as much as a teenager as you do when he is two.

Although he may not be as cute and cuddly as he was as a toddler, your son will need your love and unconditional acceptance as a teen more than ever. He’ll need to know that he can test your boundaries without risking your love.

Allow him to make mistakes. And when they occur, offer him guidance.

One of my favorite sayings is that “The road to success runs through failure.” Without the freedom to make mistakes, we can never try anything new; can never take a risk; can never grow. Mistakes are an essential part of the process.

Just as important, allowing your son to fail will instill confidence, whereas hovering nearby to prevent a mistake sends the message that he is not capable. Failing—and then trying again until we succeed—is the way to build self-esteem and resilience; qualities we need as adults.

Be stern when necessary; don’t be too easy on him.

Fathers often take on the role of disciplinarian, but it’s important to remember that the word didn’t originally mean punishment; it comes from the Latin disciplina, meaning “instruction and training.” Your son will need you to set boundaries and expectations and to provide instruction and training when they are not met. And remember that many times the best discipline derives from the natural consequences of one’s actions. In that case, all you have to do is not spare your son from experiencing them.

Allow him to be himself.

This is really the greatest gift that you can give your child: the freedom and support to develop fully into the person he was born to be. I encourage you to inspire your son to take reasonable risks and overcome challenges from the security of the loving base that you provide.

My own father—your paternal grandfather—offered all of these things to me. His guidance was always by example. He didn’t attempt to tell me how to navigate my own life. He showed his confidence in me by allowing me to make my own decisions and even to make my own mistakes.

I fully anticipate that being a father will change you as much as it changed me. Already, seeing you with your new son is probably the happiest I can remember you. May that joy continue for the rest of your lives together.

Congratulations to you on this Father’s Day…and to all caring fathers everywhere.


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