Here are some of the things I admire in my husband's fathering:
1. He is a loving and attentive husband. Yes, this is relevant to being a dad. By treating me well, he shows our sons how men treat women, and he shows our daughters what to expect from men.
Beyond the example he sets, he knows that a strong marriage is at the center of a family, and if anything besides God becomes more important than the marriage – and this includes children! – then the marriage will suffer, and then so will the children. If you want to be good to your children, work on making your marriage stronger and happier.
2. He lets them see him praying. Religion is not some kind of squishy, girly thing at our house. It’s an everyday practice that is up for discussion at any time.
3. He apologizes when he is wrong -- and not the old “Yelling, Part II” type of apology, where you apologize for losing your temper and then proceed to explain all over again exactly why the apologizee caused the apologizer's temper to be lost. He admits when he makes a mistake, and works hard to correct it or avoid it in the future.
4. He routinely calls the girls “beautiful.” Yes, he also praises them when they do something good or smart or responsible. But most girls need to hear a man tell them they are beautiful, and if they don’t hear it from their dad, they could easily seek it out from men who don’t actually care about them.
5. He values what I offer as a mother as much as what he offers as a father. After dealing with one of them, he often asks me in private, “Was I too hard? Did I overreact? Was that fair?” – and if I’m the one who’s being harsh or unreasonable, he lets me know that, too. He doesn’t see his masculinity as a corrective to my feminine influence on the kids. Instead, we talk constantly about who needs what, who can be pushed further, who needs to be cut a little slack.
6. He sees our kids as individuals, not as an undifferentiated mass of offspring who all require the same response from him. He at least feigns an interest in whatever makes them enthusiastic at the moment. He may not know their shoe size or when they had their last shots, but he always has ideas about what they would like for birthday presents, what books or music to recommend, or which movies they would enjoy, because he knows them.
7. He needs their help. Well, maybe “needs” is stretching it a bit; but nothing brings out the best in kids like being involved in a necessary project, like changing spark plugs or fixing a door frame, or even keeping him company on a trip to the dump. It increases kids’ confidence when they feel needed, it builds camaraderie, and it gives them ownership in the well-being of the family.
8. He makes them work, at school and around the house, and expects a lot out of them. He organizes chores, figures out who’s capable of what, sets up systems to make sure everything important is getting done, praises them when they’ve done a good job, and retrains them when they’re being lazy or going off the rails. And he sets a good example, by working hard himself.
9. He hugs the boys, not just the girls. Yes, he also roughhouses with them and teaches them that it’s their job to protect the weak. But boys need physical affection as much as girls do, and this is not a sign of weakness.
10. He protects them. They know that even if the mess they’re in is their fault, he will stick up for them first, and will deal with their responsibility later, in private. This is true if the aggressor is a kid or an adult. He’s got his kids’ backs, and they know it.
Bonus: He likes them. Most dads naturally love their kids, and are willing to work to support them. But it would be a shame to leave it at that. Dads should do whatever they can do learn to enjoy being with their kids. It’s important to work on improving and training your children, but it’s also important to simply have a nice time together sometimes. Simple and pleasant days are what kids will remember all their lives, more than elaborate vacations or expensive gifts.
There are a good many variations on the theme of being a good dad. Some fathers emphasize self-mastery or hard work, some are more joyful and relaxed; some are more formidable, some are more approachable; some are more physical, some are more cerebral. What all dads have in common, though, is that their children are no accident. They were given to them, specifically and intentionally by God, because of the gifts they have and because of the virtues they need to cultivate.
No man can have a perfect relationship with his kids, with no misunderstandings, regrets, lost opportunities, or screw ups. It’s common for men to correct the mistakes their own fathers made by making a whole new set of innovative mistakes. But kids don’t need a perfect dad. They need a dad who keeps trying.