1996 Frederick, Maryland
My oldest son, 3-ish, was finally able to hold a fairly intelligible conversation with adults. It was so cute that he could communicate his intentions, in addition to his wants and needs. What made me smile was how he always seemed to seek my approval by ending a declaration or observation with “Riiiiight, Daaaaaaddy?” Even in some of the home videos you can hear him in the background saying, “So-and-so-and-so-and-so. Riiiiight, Daaaaaddy? Then so-and-so-and-so-and-so. Riiiiiight, Daaaaddy?”
I never imagined that part of my job would be validation and that he would identify his “go-to” guy, at such a young age.
That made me think about my own father, whose bark was terrifying, but whose bite was life-ending. Nooooobody could swing a belt like Darth Daddius.
The Force? Oh yeah, it forced me to sit my ignorant ass down somewhere and act like I had some sense! I don’t know about the Dark Side though. Might want to say it was more like The Last Dragon. My booty had that Glow. But you all know that.
Strangely enough, as much as I dreaded those well-deserved disciplinary sessions, nothing compared to the thought that I might ever let him down. He always taught me that I should aspire to be a better man than he was. Yet to me, I just wanted to be like him. JUST like him. I had always felt that, if at my best, I could be half the man he was, then I’d be doing something special. I wanted him to be proud of me in my endeavors, win OR lose. That is why I never gave up and always gave it my best, no matter the mission.
About 5 years later, at an impromptu outdoor family & friend picnic, my best friend pulled me aside and told me something that caught me by surprise. I had been entertaining the attendees with very animated, age-appropriate jokes and stories for about 15 minutes. Everyone was falling over with laughter except my oldest son, who I then noticed had been sitting upright, smiling, but not moving. I dismissed it as him already knowing most of the stories, which resulted in his so-called lack of amusement. Later, when my buddy Steve got me alone, he made his own observation.
“Have you ever noticed Kenny J (Jr.) when you speak?” he asked.
“Not really,” I replied.
“He studies you. He watches every move you make. He sometimes mimics your actions.”
“Noooo,” I dismissed. “He ain’t tryin’ to be ME.”
“Might not be trying to BE you. But he acts like he wants to be just LIKE you. I noticed that back when he first started spending the night. I listened to how he talked to my son in his bedroom when they were playing.”
I froze in place with the burger suspended above the grill flames on the spatula, waiting for me to flip it and warm its backside.
Could that be true? Did he pay THAT much attention to me? Did he really want to be like ME?
I flashed back to my younger days. Back when I watched my father as he entertained his buddies who’d come over to watch the Chicago Cubs, Bears or Bulls games. I listened to what he said and how he said it. I remembered studying how he ate, how he moved, how he loved my mother and how he treated us. I especially paid close attention to how he received things that upset or pleased him, but more specifically, how he reacted.
It seemed with each generation, it always came back around. Full circle.
Today, I tell my boys (actually, the youngest is 21 now) how important it is for the father to serve in an active capacity in his children’s lives. Not just be present, but be PRESENT. Talking with them, listening to them, playing with them. Teaching and learning with them. Helping them to identify life-lessons and how to interpret them. How to give respect before ever expecting to receive it. How to be a follower, as well as a leader. How to face fear, even when you’re most afraid. How to fear no man, but God Himself – and even then, they should fear God’s wrath, but rejoice in His love.
And that list goes on and on…
I’ve been telling them these things since they were young. And now they’ve got the opportunity to see how this works in their respective worlds because they’re dating adults. In fact, my oldest is finally expecting his first son.
I have no doubt that, as silly as he acts, he’s ready.
I think the point I’m stressing is that as a parent (but speaking directly as a father), your approval means more to your offspring than you can imagine. I think it paramount for you to be the type of father, the type of role-model, the type of example, the personal life-style they aspire towards.
Because they watch everything you do.
They learn it. They internalize it.
They use it.
So fathers, be mindful of the example you set and the impact you have. Understand how your absence deprives them of a gift that only their father can provide. Give them support. Give them love. Give them just as much a reason to be as proud of you as you want to be of them.
It’s what this world desperately needs:
Fathers raising sons.
Good men raising greater men.
Happy Father’s Day
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