Kids are amazing observers … little eyes and ears soaking up everything around them. Which is sometimes hard to believe, like when your 8-year old insists he didn’t hear even one of your three requests that he clear his plate from the table. But they hear us, and, even more importantly, they see us. At the youngest ages, we are their role models. As they grow older and become better critical thinkers, they decide to what extent they want to be like us and what things, because they watched us, they will do differently.
I am a mom to three boys, twins aged 8 and a 20-month old, and the wife of an amazing husband. At this young, tender point in their lives, he is their role model, their super hero. Truth is, he’s my hero too. No, he’s not perfect. Nobody is. As my boys grow into young men then adults, I pray that their observations of their dad and their experiences as his sons, will inspire them to make parts of this amazing man their own. What follows is a letter to my boys sharing 10 things I hope they are learning from their dad.
1. Listen First
I mean really listen. It’s easy to hear words, but strive to understand their meaning. Only then do you succeed in really hearing them. Instead of thinking about what you are going to say next, pay close attention to what the other person is saying to you. Your dad listens. He listens for the thoughts and feelings in your words. And only when he thinks he’s heard you does he respond. You might not always like what he has to say, but most of the time you know you’ve been heard. Becoming a good listener takes practice; your dad practiced too. But, you will have better relationships if you follow your dad’s lead and listen first.
2. Come Home For Dinner
Work can be hard. Work can be demanding. When you have your own wife and kids, sometimes making money and following through on your work responsibilities can compete with your family for your time. Dad comes home for dinner whenever he can. Sure, there are days he has evening meetings, but he is home at least twice each week to sit down, eat with us and talk about our days. In fact, you may not know this but he sometimes goes back to work after you go to bed so he can spend time with you around the dinner table. I know this matters to you because I see the disappointment in your eyes when, after asking if Dad will be home for dinner, I respond no. It’ll matter to your kids too.
3. Put Integrity Before Personal Gain
People who lie, cheat and steal to make money or otherwise get ahead in life are always found out eventually. While being honest might seem like the toughest choice in the short term, truthfulness will always be rewarded in the long run. Being honest and doing what you know is right teaches other people to trust you. And trustworthiness is one of the greatest gifts you can give your friends, the people you will work with, and eventually your wife and children. Your dad has incredible integrity — he is truthful, even when telling the truth is hard. This is one of the reasons why he is successful in his career, why I love him so much, and why our family is so strong.
4. Lead With Your Values
Figure out what is important to you, what really matters in your life, and let that guide your decisions. Your Dad loves God and uses his faith as a compass for his behavior — it tells him which direction to go next. There will be times when you don’t have people you trust to ask what you should do, and other people pressuring you to do things you know you shouldn’t. Use your values, what you know is right and what’s wrong, as your compass. Life hands us some tough choices, and without a value system to weigh your options against, you have little guidance helping you decide which way to go.
5. Bring Your Wife Coffee in the Morning
If she doesn’t like coffee, do something for her you know she loves — first thing in the morning everyday. I love coffee. And when your dad brews the coffee and brings a hot cup to my bedside every morning, the first thing I think about is how much he loves and care for me. I couldn’t think of a better way to start my day.
6. Admit When You’re Wrong.
Your dad will be the first to tell you that real men admit when they make mistakes. When dad says something he shouldn’t have, or doesn’t do something he promised he would, he tells you he’s wrong and asks for your forgiveness. I imagine this has taught you to respect him and trust him. We all screw up. But it’s what we do after that matters most. Admitting you are wrong teaches other people to trust you — they learn to depend on you and know that you will come forward if something goes wrong.
7. Don’t Forget How to Play
As a grownup, don’t get so bogged down in being an adult that you don’t make time to play. Dad plays with you — he did since you were itty-bitty boys. He played next to you on the floor when you stacked your first blocks, ran beside you when you took off your training wheels, and taught you how to pitch a baseball. One of the reasons you are so good at sports and such confident players is because Dad takes time to play. There will always be more work at the office, a lawn to care for, and things to fix in your house. But when you’re a dad, your kids will only be in your care for a short time. While they are young, make time to play.
8. Make Memories
Your annual excursions to the Boundary Waters camping and canoeing and to Lac Vieux Desert to ice fish — you look forward to these trips more than any other. Your dad intentionally makes great memories with you. They aren’t expensive, elaborate vacations. He chooses activities he knows you and he both love, and makes them special. He chooses activities that allow you to spend real time together — talking, laughing and learning. When you’re a dad, make memories with your kids when they are young. They’ll do the same with their kids and the tradition will live on.
9. Expect Your Best
This is what your dad has written on his desk at work: What do the best in the world do? What do we do? Where’s the gap? And how do we close it? While he could say that the city he runs is small and settle for less, he strives for better. He sets his goals on the best. Your dad is successful and is able to provide for us because he expects the best of himself. While emptying the dishwasher and your homework seem like small potatoes, he expects your best. He knows that making a habit of giving your all now will ensure you won’t settle for the status quo later when the stakes are higher.
10. Let the People You Love Know They Matter
You, your brothers and I all know that dad loves us. Sure, his hard work and the time he spends with us show his love. But, he also tells us. He says, “I love you” lots. He also tells us that we are important to him. And he gives us compliments and hugs. He tells you how proud he is of your hard work in school and sports. He tells me how much he appreciates what I do for our family. He says these things a lot. These positive messages are like muscle juice for your heart and your spirit. You are stronger when tempted with bad choices because of the positive messages your dad uses to build you up. Don’t assume people know how much they matter to you. Tell them, and tell them often. It makes them stronger.
I don’t know when I’ll pass this letter along. I swear my twins were born older —but then again their dad was too. Old souls from day one. But today is probably too early. One day, they will seem mature enough and I’ll slip this under their pillow, or perhaps use it to replace the bookmark in whatever they are currently reading. And we’ll talk about it. We’ll talk about their dad, and discussing these things out loud will hopefully make them more likely to apply these things in their day-to-day lives. Because these lessons their dad models everyday are too important to leave to chance.