When I was growing up, my dad was never around.
I don’t mean that he worked long hours or traveled for work. What I mean is that he was physically absent for pretty much my whole childhood.
The last time he saw me in person, I was a toddler. I don’t remember this, but I have a Polaroid to prove it must have happened.
He didn’t call me on the phone to chat or pick me up for daddy-daughter ice cream dates. He didn’t teach me to drive or how to throw a ball. He didn’t come to my middle school band concerts or my high school graduation.
He just…wasn’t there.
Some years, he did send me a birthday and/or Christmas card in the mail. Every time, I’d rip open the bright envelope, excited to see what he wrote. Desperate for some small connection to him.
I wouldn’t even read the front of the card. Or the pre-printed text inside. My eyes would settle on his handwriting. One word: his name.
Sometimes I’d get two words: “Love, Walt.” Never “Dad” or “Daddy.” And never a personal message.
As I got older, sometimes the card also came with a $25 check.
I would have traded all the checks and empty greeting card rhymes for just one “Dad.”
How to Be a Good Father
Here’s the good news.
The experience of watching my husband become a father has been cathartic for me. Healing.
Every time he crouches down and invites one of our girls to run and jump into his strong arms.
When he cranks up Sugar on the stereo, grabs our 7-year-old by the hand, and twirls her around the living room.
The times he sits on the floor with our toddler, building with LEGOs or piecing together a puzzle or taking a pretend sip of blueberry tea from a pink plastic teacup.
That is what a father is supposed to do.
From my perspective, watching my husband grow into his role as a father has made me reflect on how some dads think it’s all or nothing. That it’s the big gestures that count.
Taking the whole family on an expensive vacation. Buying your kid a new car when they turn 16. Working 50, 60, 70 hours a week to get that next raise, that next promotion so you can get that bigger house.
But that’s not what matters most to your kids.
15 Simple Things Dads May Not Realize Are the Most Important Things
Here are 15 simple things your kids want from you. As it turns out, these little things are actually the biggest things of all.
But first, you should know: Just because my dad wasn’t around doesn’t mean I think all dads are useless. Quite the opposite. Every time a commercial like this comes on, every time I see a dad at the grocery store wearing his baby in a carrier, every time I hear about a dad taking his full paternity leave – my heart smiles.
I share this list because I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in the daily routine and miss these simple opportunities. I know because I do it myself. And as someone who deeply appreciates what a good father brings to the table, I share this reminder of what really, truly matters.
- Hang out in the garage. The next time you head to the garage to fix something or build something, bring your kid along. Explain what you’re trying to accomplish, and let them help. It may take you longer to get the job done, but you’ll make your kid’s day.
- Dance with your kids. It doesn’t matter if you can’t dance. Sway side to side, spin in a circle, jump up and down. Throw on an awesome family dance party playlist and be silly. Not only will you have fun, but listening to music together creates healthy family bonds and shapes positive memories.
- Stick to a routine. Something you and your child can do together, every day – or at least every week. For my husband and our toddler, they make a bowl of oatmeal every morning and sit down together to share it. You could meet your kids for lunch, let your child help you get dressed in the morning (pick out your socks or a belt, put your shoes on for you, and so on), brush your teeth together at night. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but the time and regularity will be special to your child.
- Ask questions. Ask about school, their friends, what they’re worried about, what they’re looking forward to. If they share a problem, don’t try to fix it. I know it’s hard, but just listen while they talk. If you must, you can try to gently nudge them in the direction of a solution. But really, they just want you to listen.
- Teach the rules. When you’re watching your favorite sporting event on TV, take the time to explain the rules of the game to your kid. You’ll probably end up with a buddy to watch the next game with.
- Leave messages. If you give your child a greeting card, write an extra note from your heart. Whether it’s a paragraph or a sentence, your words will mean the world to your child. On regular days, surprise your kid with notes in their school lunch box or Post-It notes on their bathroom mirror. You can tell a joke, write down what you admire about them, or just say “I love you.”
- Read out loud. Your kid is never too old to be read to. For younger kids, read a bedtime story. For older kids, you can take turns reading out loud from the same book.
- Surprise your kids. Come home early from work one day, even if it’s just a half hour early. Take the day or the morning off work to do something fun with your kids, even if it’s just once a year.
- Bring your kids to work. Show them your desk, where you fill up your coffee, and the conference room where you have your weekly status meetings. Tell them what you do all day when you’re away from them.
- Tell stories. Your kids love to hear simple stories from when you were a kid. Also, tell stories about when they were younger.
- Go outside. I know you’re tired when you get home from work, but grab the kids and go outside. A few minutes is all you need. Dinner will wait, I promise. Not sure what to do? You can look for interesting bugs together, play catch, or hop on your bikes for a quick ride around the block.
- Make dinner. No matter if you’re the chef of the family or your partner usually does the cooking, pick a night and make dinner with the kids. Involve them in deciding what to make, then involve them in the work of making it. (As an added bonus, they’ll be much more likely to eat dinner that they helped make.)
- Look through photos. Whether you have a physical photo album or a folder of pictures on your computer, sit down together and look through family photos. Relive fun family vacations, your kids’ first steps, and birthday parties.
- Show up. To concerts, ball games, dance recitals, science fairs. Whatever their hobbies or interests are, be there.
- Hug. A lot. It’s nearly impossible to get too many hugs from your dad. Make sure they’re good quality hugs of six seconds or more. Here’s why. If your kids are older and hug-averse, try high-fives instead and work up to hugs.
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What’s something simple a father in your life has done that meant the world? Share in a comment below!