As we dads continue to reflect on the ways we can engage with our children, in order to truly connect with them, it is best to understand how they view us, We should consider how we can best fulfill their expectations. What is important to them? We can ask, “What does their daddy do?” The following chapter from Be There Dad has helped me put that question in perspective.
The Playground Posse
Half a dozen first grade girls were engaged in a conversation on the playground during recess one morning. It was a conversation similar to others that have taken place on similar playgrounds many times before. Like the other exchanges, this one started with a simple question of curiosity offered up by one member to all in the group. “What does your daddy do?” Willingly, this small assembly of close friends began to reveal and compare the details of their daddies’ lives. The answers came one by one in progression around the circle. “My daddy is an accountant.” “Mine runs a business.” “My daddy is an engineer.” On and on around the circle.
Finally, it was my daughter’s turn. Like the others, she was proud to report about her dad. She announced, “My daddy is a lawyer.” Then, she paused a moment, and added with enthusiasm, “but he used to work at McDonald’s”. To a group of young ladies whose favorite meal still came in a box with golden arches, that was the most impressive disclosure of all. Immediately, they leaned into the circle and a series of follow-up questions came. “Really? Did he cook the hamburgers? Can he fry the fries? Could he make a Happy Meal?” My daughter responded confidently, “Yes, yes, and yes.” “Wow! My dad can’t do that. Your dad is great!” I am proud to say, that at that moment, my reputation within my daughter’s first grade posse rocketed above the rest of the dads. For that moment, my daughter had the “coolest” daddy of all.
Hamburgers and Fries
One can only imagine the looks on the faces of moms in car pool line and dads at dinner tables that evening when their daughters reported with admiration that, “Emily’s dad used to work at McDonald’s. He can cook the hamburgers and fries!” Some other daddies may have felt discomfort as the tone of their child’s voice implied, “and, what can you do?”
The moms and dads of those girls, like me, tend to measure dads by their “real” jobs. Accountant. Business owner. Engineer. It seems easier for us to measure grown-ups by their titles and earning capacities. But children have a different perspective. Children see adults and value their qualities in terms of their needs. Ask a playground full of children, “What does your daddy do?” and you will get responses like, “My daddy does magic tricks. My daddy can juggle. My daddy sings songs.” Ask again and you may get, “My daddy takes me to school every day. My daddy reads me a bedtime story every night. My daddy plays catch with me. My daddy comes if I get scared at night.” Such descriptions confirm what our children truly value.
If we are to fulfill our roles as Be There Dads, we must understand our children, and then see through their eyes. In particular, if we want to build strong relationships with them, we must live our lives so they see us as Be There Dads. If we want our children to talk to us, they must see us as trustworthy. If we want them to come to us for help, we must look like heroes. If we want them to listen to our advice, they must see us as having something to say. We must do more than just wear the hat and the shirt of a dad. We must show them that we can “coach the team.” If we want our children to think they can count on us, we must always be present. We must do the things that are important to them.
Be a Hero
So, how do you look? What do you really do? Can you see yourself through your child’s eyes? What does your child say about you to her playground posse? How does she describe you? Do you know? At the next back-to-school night, look more closely at the details in the picture she has carefully drawn of you. Perhaps you could ask her teacher how she describes you. Listen carefully to the chatter from the rear seat as you drive her and her teammates to soccer practice. Read carefully what they write on your Father’s Day. They all tell a story.
Get Down Off Your Horse
When my children were toddlers, safety experts gave us some advice. They said, to safety proof our home we should get down on our knees and crawl around the house. Doing that, we would see our home from the viewpoint of our children. Down there, we could see the hazards we could not see from above at adult level. When I coached kindergarten soccer players, I repeated the exercise by walking around the field on my knees. I was enlightened both times. The same applies here. Get down off your horse and see things as your child does. One look may open up a world of understanding for you. Knowing how you look will help you engage and relate to your children.
Your kids know who you are. They love you as their hero. Think about what they value and what they need. Be there for them.
I love you for who you are; not the one you feel a need to be