Young men who are or will soon be fathers:
The thing to remember is that your children, especially your sons, will care deeply about how you regard them and will be watching everything you do.
First, love your wives, serve them with strength and humility, and be attentive, affectionate, and faithful to them. Your kids will notice if you do…or don’t.
Second, in every dimension of your lives, model the attitudes and behaviors–the virtues–you want to see in your children. Teaching by precept is important; teaching by example is even more important.
Third, be present for your kids–physically, emotionally, and in every other way. There are lots of ways to be an absent or distant father. Don’t be absent or distant in any of them.
Your children need to know you REALLY care about them–they REALLY matter to you. You can’t fake that–and it’s more than just an attitude. You need to be around, and not just for special events (or “quality time”).
Fourth, challenge, in order to teach your kids to do and be their best (in school, sports, music, and everything else), but never let your child think that you think he’s a failure or disappointment. Encourage. Encourage. Encourage. When a child does something that makes you proud of him or her, say so. And never hesitate to mention to your kids–including your boys–that you love them.
Fifth, don’t be harsh, but impose discipline where it is needed so that the kids know that bad behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.
Sixth, if you have boys, you and your wife need to raise them to be protectors--to channel what the Greeks called “thumos” in a positive and constructive way. (It’s there, and it will go in one direction or the other.)
You’ll know you’re succeeding when you see your son not only refusing to participate in bullying another kid, but stepping in to defend, or at least befriend the kid who is being bullied. If a kid develops a sense of duty and responsibility, it will be because you and your wife demanded and encouraged it. And it is as profound a gift as you can give a child.
Seventh, if you are a person of faith, make sure your children see that–not in ostentatious displays, but in very ordinary ways. Be at church (or in the synagogue or mosque) when you are supposed to be, and make sure your kids are there with you. Let them see you in prayer, and–especially–humbling yourself before God.
In my own life, it was a powerful experience to see my Dad–the strongest, bravest man I knew, my hero–when I would walk into my parents’ bedroom when they were going to bed, on his knees saying his prayers (usually half out loud).
The lesson I took away was that, no matter our strength, our power, our talents, our achievements, our status, we are people under authority, answerable to a Power–indeed a loving Father–higher than ourselves.