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5 Steps I Took to Be a Better Dad

Becoming a stronger father is possible.

Have you ever wanted to just do better as a dad? I mean mentally, physically, and emotionally? I don’t know your situation, but wanting to do better helped me start to become better. 

Some people think that a father is behind on child support because he doesn’t care or doesn’t want to pay. That may be the case for some people, but it was different for me. 

In my case, I cared very much. I wanted to pay. But I had a tough time. 

I wasn’t balanced, and sometimes I had to choose between paying a bill or paying my child support. I wanted my kids to have nice clothes or shoes when they spent time with me, so I chose to put the payment off. 

Now I see that wasn’t a great idea. But I thought money and buying things was the way to their heart, because one thing I could say about my dad is that he always made sure I had decent clothes and shoes. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought education and having the right credentials, and finding jobs to make money would make me more successful in the eyes of my kids and family. 

But I realized my kids needed more than that. They needed me.

Here are some steps I took to be a better dad:

1. I had to own some things. 

To become a better dad, I had to understand and start with apologizing for what I needed to apologize for. I had to earn trust again, but getting trust back wasn’t easy. My kids needed to know that I would be there and that I was truly sorry for not supporting them or answering phone calls. Or not having the money to give them when they needed just a little extra to have certain things. But most of all, I wanted them to know I was just sorry for not spending time with them. 

2. I had to start listening to the people in my life.   

I listened to my kids and found out that they didn’t just want me for my money; they wanted me to spend more time with them. Also, I had to learn to control my feelings because others in my life have feelings, and they need to be heard. Fathers, listen: Sometimes your kids just want to be around you or be in the same household with you. Most men I know don’t like being told what to do or how to do it. But if you listen, you’ll learn A LOT. I know I did.

3. I had to accept that everything might not go the way I wanted it to go.

Being in and out of your kid’s life won’t make the kids call you “Dad.” So you have to accept it, and you can’t give up; you have to be willing to fight to become what they need. Show them that you will never give up. I’ll always try to become a better dad, no matter what.

4. I had to stay committed to my goals. 

I focused on staying out of jail by keeping a steady job and paying my child support. It was not easy. Still, I was determined to focus and buckle down because my kids needed the better version of me. I was and still am willing to become a strong, loving father.

5. I had to realize that dads make a difference.

For me, First Things First’s Dads Making a Difference class was very important. It taught me so much about life. I thought I was alone (as many men believe they’re alone in certain situations surrounding fatherhood). I had no idea that help was available to help me navigate the roadblocks and teach me to be a better man/father.

Everyone has their own idea for what it takes to become a better dad. It has been a journey that I am willing to take despite criticism and harsh words. I’m determined to become a better father, and these steps are just the beginning. 

Other blogs:

How Kids Benefit from Involved Fathers

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

DOWNLOAD: 10 Things All Dads Need To Do To Help Their Child Be Successful

I know I’m not the only one who finds the task of hunting down the “coolest” and most thoughtful Father’s Day present superbly difficult. Your challenge has probably been trying to find “The Thing” that perfectly encapsulates how amazing of a father your husband is. IMPOSSIBLE. Sure, there’s the Home Depot gift card, or the steak dinner, or the new grill or gadget (not painting a blanket statement on the guys, this has just been my own experience). However, none of these things ever seem to accurately express the depth of gratitude you have for your man! 

I may have a solution that seems simple on the surface but can express what a Home Depot gift card cannot: Words and Actions of Affirmation and Encouragement. 

Joel Wong, psychologist and author of The Psychology of Encouragement, says, “Encouragement can be defined as the expression of affirmation through language… to instill courage, perseverance, confidence, inspiration, or hope in a person within the context of addressing a challenging situation or realizing a potential.” 

A great dad is living into the challenge of parenting your kiddos. And believe it or not, he probably needs affirmation more than you think he does. (And maybe even more than he thinks he does!)

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I feel most loved is when I am acting within a challenging situation and someone on the outside takes my chin and tells me that I’m doing a good job. 

Simplicity can be incredibly powerful. 

So, here are 10 ways to affirm your husband as a dad: 

  1. Write down one way he has been an amazing dad for each year he has been a parent. So, if he’s been a parent for 10 years, that’s 10 pieces of encouragement! 
  2. This one is for the “physical touch” people. Either take your man’s hands, or give him a hug, or cup his face in your hands and tell him that he is killin’ it as a dad and that you’re thankful he is your partner. 
  3. Ask how you can best support him as a father. This question will show your husband that you care deeply about his needs and that you’re there to support him. 
  4. Gather your kids and tell stories about all the ways he has been an amazing father. This could become a Father’s Day tradition! Stories could include daddy-daughter dates or help with homework, etc. 
  5. Think through the hopes and dreams you had for how your husband would parent your future children. Tell him the ways he has either met or exceeded those desires. 
  6. Ask him what his highs and lows of parenting were this year, and then see what conversations this sparks. Listen to him and affirm him where needed. 
  7. Since quality conversation leads to quality sex, this feels like an appropriate lead-in. From time to time, get the kids to bed early, just so you and your husband can have some time alone together (if you know what I mean)! It will make him feel like a priority. 
  8. Challenge your kids to write down some ways they think their dad is the best. You could fold up the pieces of paper, put them in a hat or bowl, and then read them one by one at dinner time. Have your husband guess which kid wrote what! 
  9. Affirm your husband in public as well! An awesome dad friend/co-worker told me that his wife is great at standing up for him when he finds himself at the butt of a harmless joke. “When other moms might make a harmless joke at my expense, like, ‘Oh, he’s taking care of the kids tonight? Think they’ll be in one piece when you get back?’ [My wife] is pretty quick to let them know how capable I am, which tells me she has confidence in me.” 
  10. Don’t be afraid to go big for Father’s Day! Celebrate your man’s dadness with his favorite meal, or by doing something he loves to do, etc. 

Other helpful resources:

Practical Ways to Practice Generosity in Marriage

DOWNLOAD: 30 Days of Gratitude and Love

DOWNLOAD: 25 Family Activities

First Things First Virtual Date Night

When groups of women who work together become pregnant at the same time, workplace conversations usually surround the fact that the department will have a hard time when these women all take maternity leave.

Contrast that response to a story that hit the airwaves about seven firefighters at the same fire station in Oklahoma. Their wives became pregnant around the same time, but no one really commented about how the station would operate while these dads took time off to be with their newborn babies.

While moms are essential to infant care, many people often overlook or don’t discuss the benefits to mom and child when the father is more involved in the caregiving process.

Articles from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) highlight the fact that father-infant bonding is just as important as mother-infant bonding. In fact, delayed bonding can alter the long-term course of paternal involvement as the infant progresses throughout childhood and adolescence. It can also increase the risk of paternal postpartum depression.

According to the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing:

  • Fathers reported that they didn’t start to experience fatherhood until birth.
  • Mothers reported that they started to experience motherhood as soon they discovered they were pregnant. 
  • Although most fathers expect to bond emotionally and immediately with their newborns, some fathers still did not feel bonded to their infants as long as six weeks to two months after birth.  

Successful father-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period offers several benefits for the infant: 

  • It reduces cognitive delay,
  • Promotes weight gain in preterm infants, and
  • Improves breastfeeding rates.
  • Research shows that when the father frequently visits their prematurely-born child in the hospital, babies are more likely to get out of the hospital sooner, develop their brains better and have more psychomotor functioning. The more the father can be there, the better the child tends to improve.

A study by Kyle Pruett at Yale University showed that even for children born full-term, the importance of father involvement is enormous. 

  • A father breathing on the child when it is first born helps the bonding process to occur. It changes the dad’s brain, too! 
  • The sooner the father gets involved with the child, neurons in the male brain begin to develop and connect with each other – mimicking the mother instinct. 
  • When fathers are involved, their oxytocin levels go up and testosterone levels go down, and Dad is satisfied from the emotional intimacy with his child. Mother and child benefit from that, too.

“Father-infant bonding is an issue that is not discussed enough and is just as important as mother-infant bonding during the immediate postpartum period,” said AWHONN’s Chief Executive Officer, Lynn Erdman, MN, RN, FAAN. “It is vitally important for a father to interact and bond with his newborn to help the infant’s development and to reduce the risk of paternal postpartum depression.”

New dads can bond with their unborn children by talking, singing or reading to them in the womb. AWHONN offers these tips to help dads continue the bonding process after the baby arrives: 

  • Jump right in. Don’t be afraid to begin immediately caring for and loving your baby. The more you hold your baby, the more comfortable and natural it will feel.
  • Take a night shift. Once mom is breastfeeding well, she may want to let you give the baby a nighttime meal. This way she can get more sleep and you will have the opportunity to bond with your newborn.
  • Read your newborn a book. Your newborn will enjoy the rhythm and pace of your voice while you read a book. In these early months, it’s not about what you’re reading; it’s about reading itself.
  • Initiate the bath. Bathing your newborn will enhance bonding and provide a multi-sensory learning experience.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. Infants will learn to depend on the consistency and predictability of a nighttime routine.

The research is solid that fathers profoundly impact the lives of their children, even as infants. While you may think bonding with Mom is more important for the baby, you might want to think again. As a new dad, this is actually a one-time opportunity to give your child a gift money can’t buy. That gift is time with you, and more benefits for your family than you realize.

Image from Unsplash.com

Several years ago a company donated Mother’s Day cards for prisoners to send to their mothers, and they actually ran out of cards. The company also donated cards for Father’s Day, but guess what? This time, inmates only used a handful of cards. This shocked the company.

A Pew research piece may offer some insight into why this happened. After analyzing the 2011 American Community Survey, Pew asserted that a record 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

On the surface this sounds like a victory for women, but the report’s details tell a very different story. It shows that two very different groups make up these “breadwinner moms.” Actually, 5.1 million are married mothers who earn more than their husbands, and 8.6 million are single mothers.

“You would never guess from the triumphant headlines in the media that almost two-thirds of the family breadwinners are single mothers,” says Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Manning Up and Marriage and Caste in America. “These mothers are not ‘top earners,’ they are the only earners. Only 37 percent of the ‘breadwinning women’ are married mothers who are making more than their husbands, and in many instances, this is because the husband lost his job.”

A whopping 63 percent (8.6 million) of these moms are single mothers, 29 percent of whom are not working at all. More than half of the children in homes with single moms are growing up poor. According to the report, a growing number of these women never married. Other studies have shown that never-married mothers tend to get less financial assistance from their children’s fathers than previously-married mothers.

The Atlantic responded to the Pew research by saying, ‘Employment and gender roles in the United States continue to shift away from the Leave it to Beaver model. Murphy Brown is winning,’” Hymowitz says. “It speaks volumes that the article’s vision of a single mother is a make-believe character who is a television news star.”

Research still consistently shows that children do better in every way when their two parents are present in the home. So what exactly are we celebrating? It isn’t about who makes more – it’s about helping families thrive.

On Father’s Day, perhaps prisoners took so few cards for a reason. Maybe it’s because so many fathers have walked away from caring for and engaging with their children, although others want to be there. Oftentimes, a father’s seemingly irreconcilable differences with the other parent keeps them from engaging with their kids.

Whatever the case, guess who loses? The children.

An analysis of 100 studies on parent-child relationships shows that having a loving and nurturing father is very important. It’s as crucial for a child’s happiness, well-being, social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

Dad, your kids need you.

Image from Unsplash.com

Dad, staying involved matters. Here are just a few reasons why.

Teenage girls who are close to their fathers are far less likely to become sexually active.

Teenage girls are twice as likely to stay in school if their fathers are involved in their lives.

“Fathers dramatically underestimate the importance of themselves in their daughters’ lives. They withdraw much too quickly, doubt their significance and influence, and grossly misunderstand how very much their daughters need and want to have a good relationship with them.” – Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. Fathers have a direct impact on the wellbeing of their children.” – noted sociologist Dr. David Popenoe

Even from birth, children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections with peers. These children also are less likely to get in trouble at home, school or in the neighborhood. –Yeung, W. J., Duncan, G. J., & Hill, M. S. (2000). Putting Fathers Back in the Picture: Parental Activities and Children’s Adult Outcomes.

Image from Unsplash.com

When Buddy Curry was a professional football player, he thought life was all about him.

“I made up my mind to have as much fun as possible,” said Curry, former Falcon inside linebacker and 1980 Defensive Rookie of the Year. “Toward the end of my 8-year career, all the things I had been doing didn’t seem fun. I wanted a relationship and to settle down.”

When Curry met the woman he would marry, he described himself as young and selfish.

“When we got married I had no clue how to be married,” Curry said. “As an athlete, I had been coddled. Most of the time I got what I wanted and like other athletes I thought the rules applied to everybody but me.”

Within three years the Currys’ marriage was in crisis.

“Every time I saw my wife do something wrong I called her out,” Curry recalled. “I was critical and I hurt her very deeply. Although people loved me because I was a pretty good guy, the state of my marriage made me step back and consider how I would learn to be a good husband and father. I knew I was not strong enough to make the necessary transformation by myself.”

Curry sought out older and wiser men to mentor him—men who would hold him accountable as well as encourage him as a husband and father. Instead of being critical toward his wife, he began serving her.

“Even though she very clearly wanted out of the marriage, I made a decision to learn new ways of relating to her,” Curry said. “My goal was to bless her and allow time for healing in our relationship.”

A pivotal moment in Curry’s life came with the birth of their first son. When he laid eyes on his child, he began thinking, “Do I want my son to be like me?” While he thought he had a lot of things going right in his life, he really didn’t think he wanted his son to be like him.

“I had been making a lot of changes in my life for the better,” Curry said. “When my son was born, I realized there were other areas that needed some attention. Realizing that my children are going to follow me was eye-opening.”

The Currys now have four children.

“Being a father has taught me about my own weaknesses,” Curry said. “I recognize that there is a generational transfer taking place and that I am sending my children into the future. I’d like to help my kids not make the same mistakes I made. I want them to understand the importance of self-discipline, what commitment to something means – even when the going gets tough. I want to teach them how to be a good team player.”

One of the most important lessons Curry learned is that you can have the best of intentions for your marriage and your family, but unless you’re willing to invest the time to make those things happen, it’s just wishful thinking. No amount of success in the world can make up for failure at home.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Once a man took the day off to take his son fishing. His son was thrilled that his father would take a day away from important work to spend time with him, and he considered this day as one of the best days of his life. After the father passed away, his son found a diary among his dad’s possessions and began reading it. When he came to the day they spent together fishing, the entry read, “Took off work to take son fishing. Day wasted.”

Essays written for an FTF essay contest about fathers often described a warm and loving relationship between father and child, but some children were courageous enough to write about their strained relationship with their father. They described difficult circumstances and even questioned their father’s love. However, each of them seemed to hold out hope that their relationship with their father would someday be better.

Many people, young and old, find themselves in a father-child relationship that is difficult at best. Words and deeds from the past continue to drive a deep wedge in the relationship. Deep down they would like things to be better, but they don’t know how to change the situation for the better. In too many instances, one party is waiting for the other to apologize.

If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, here are five steps you can take to restore your relationship.

  • Be willing to make the first move.
  • Forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the behavior was justified. It means you are willing to cut someone loose from a debt and move on with your life.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. Relationships do not mend overnight, so it will take time and commitment on your part. You can’t predict how someone else will respond, but you can choose how to deal with whatever it might be.
  • Accept the person for who they are. Everyone has faults. It’s easy to tell a person how they need to change. It is much harder to accept them where they are with all of their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Celebrate the small steps toward restoration. Even though the relationship may not be all you want it to be, understand that even the smallest move toward reconciliation is reason to celebrate.

Distressed relationships do not happen overnight. Through a series of events, people become wounded and keep a tally sheet; then bitterness grows into anger and relationships weaken. It only takes one person to take the first step toward mending a broken relationship. Even if the other person doesn’t respond, you can allow healing to happen in your own life. If nothing else, you will know that you have made an effort to change the situation for the better.

Don’t let this Father’s Day be “a day wasted.” If your relationship with your father is a great one, be thankful and show it. If your relationship with your father or child is less than what you would like it to be, take heart and know that you can be the one to take the first step to repair that broken relationship.

As you begin this journey it will be helpful to remember the three P’s: Be practical, patient and persevere. You never know what might happen. A bad relationship can become better and a good relationship can become great, so never give up. It may take longer than you would like, but when you least expect it, your relationship could take a turn for the better.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Katy Perry discusses wanting a baby someday. She says,

“ …but I need to really be able to focus 100 percent of my attention on it. I don’t really want to take the child on tour. Not until, like, birth through five is over.”

She then adds that it doesn’t really matter if there is a guy in the picture or not.

“I don’t need a dude … it’s 2014! We are living in the future; we don’t need anything … I’m not anti-men. I love men. But there is an option if someone doesn’t present himself.”

It’s pretty clear that Katy Perry wants to be a great mom, but she thinks that having an active father in the life of her child is optional.

With reams of research indicating dads are not just an accessory, it would be interesting to talk with children with absent fathers to see if they agree with Perry.

There is a great deal of information about what helps children thrive. Research across disciplines shows that children do better when they are raised with their mother and father.

“Some of the toughest athletes I know lose it when you talk with them about their father,” says Carey Casey, Ambassador for Fathers at the National Center for Fathering. “There has never been a guy who said to me, ‘I don’t want to see my dad; I don’t need a father.’ Usually, they say, ‘I would give it all up to meet my dad for just a moment.’”

The last two decades have produced significant research indicating that children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average:

  • at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems;
  • to be victims of child abuse, and
  • to engage in criminal behavior more than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.

Additional research indicates that 90 percent of homeless and runaway children, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 63 percent of young people who commit suicide are from fatherless homes.

While it is highly unlikely that Perry’s child would be financially poor, wealth does not replace the hole in a child’s heart from growing up fatherless. Times have changed, but the reality is, you still can’t make a baby without a man being involved. How then would society come to the conclusion that children don’t need their father?

Does Perry’s kind of thinking perpetuate the problem?

Men have heard women say they aren’t necessary, and media often portrays men as bumbling idiots. Perhaps they actually believe they aren’t necessary. The message is quite confusing when on the one hand society is asking men to step up and be the fathers their children need them to be, and on the other hand they are told they just create problems and make life more complicated.

“Ultimately, a child will ask, ‘Who is my dad?’” Casey says. “It is in our DNA to want to know where we came from.”

Who stands to lose the most when one intentionally decides to have a child with no father in the picture – the adult or the child?