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Real Dads Are There

Real dads being there. It’s a familiar theme in movies, television shows, music, and books. A child desperate for the approval and attention of his father is crushed once again to find out that Dad won’t be able to attend some special event in his life. In half of the movies, the child looks up at the last possible moment and makes unpredicted eye contact with his dad, signifying the drastic change their relationship is about to go through for the better. In the other half, the child looks up and the dad doesn’t show up. He doesn’t bother. He doesn’t care. Nothing gets better. This generally represents the beginning of a troublesome time for the child.

Cliché or not, there is a reason this subject keeps showing up disguised under the label of entertainment. It’s a subject that hits a nerve with people. It strikes a painful, guilty, upsetting, or even grateful chord within those that see it. Many are brought to ponder the way their own fathers were absent throughout their lives. Others are left grateful for a father that showed up. For some, it’s a reminder of the type of father they don’t want for their own children.

No matter what story is being represented, it’s always portrayed under the same blanketing moral. It’s always being discussed as an aphorism that nobody disputes. Good dads are there. Period.

While writing this, I’ve been trying to think of even one time my own father wasn’t able to be at something that I considered important.

As a young child, I was a member of Santa’s Frosty Follies, a children’s Christmas choir. I remember standing on the bleachers, belting out The Christmas Song. I also remember looking down and seeing my dad wedged between all the other parents as we crooned about chestnuts and Jack Frost. I remember him coming to my seventh grade play Oklahoma, even though I had no significant role. I remember he showed up to every band concert, choir concert, and Boy Scout Court of Honor that I ever had. He was there every time I played volleyball or basketball in our church leagues. He was there as I competed in Pinewood Derbies as a child, and he was also there the morning I got on a plane and headed for college.

He didn’t just make appearances at these events and call it good, either. He didn’t just come to my basketball games. He also spent countless hours shooting hoops with me on our fissured driveway. He didn’t just come to the Pinewood Derbies; he also spent hours with me, carefully sanding, crafting, weighting, and painting those little cars each year. At age eight he was there, awkwardly giving my brother and me the sex talk. At age 15, he was there discussing the joys and dangers of dating as I sat squeamishly in an overstuffed chair.

He always took an active interest and role in my day-to-day. I can still remember him leaning over my shoulder as he helped me work through perplexing algebra homework, and there wasn’t a night that he wasn’t available to help me, whether it was a shop project or a writing assignment. He made sure I was able to work my way through it.

Even when he was gone on business, I still remember the excitement I felt every night when he called home. He always had time to talk to me. He always had time to listen to the adventures of my day. And when he came home, he always handed me a gift that he’d picked out just for me.

As an older teenager, at a time when I (like most teenagers) was trying desperately to establish my independence, he was still there. He was there when I came home from dates, and he was always genuine in his interest to find out how I had faired. He was there when I came home from my late night job flipping burgers at Wendy’s. And, he was also there when the clock struck twelve on Saturday nights, making sure that I made it in before curfew.

That said, there’s something else you need to know about this man. My dad wasn’t just there for me. He was there just as often for all ten of his kids. Yes, ten.

I have nine brothers and sisters, and there isn’t one of them that couldn’t catalogue a completely similar, yet completely different account of ways in which my dad was individually there for them, too.

Everything he did for me, he did times ten. For every one-on-one outing he and I went on together, he went on nine others as well. He went to pretty much every band concert, choir concert, school play, karate tournament, cheerleading competition, basketball game, rugby game, and graduation ceremony that our schools and community put on over the course of thirty years.  He was there. For all of it, and for all of us. Every time.

We also knew he’d be there at the dinner table enjoying family time every night. We knew he would be coming home from work and asking us how our days were. We knew he’d be there for help with anything we needed, really. And even though he wasn’t always physically in the same places we were, we always knew where we could find him, which is just one more way that he was always there for each of us.

When it came to being there, my dad was the textbook definition of a real dad. Some dads, unfortunately, are not.

Some dads don’t get it. They don’t understand.

Dads who don’t understand never comprehend what it actually means to a child when he is there, no matter where there is. He also doesn’t realize just what it means to a child when he is not there. He doesn’t realize the lasting way that his child is affected. He doesn’t realize that not being there says something very specific to his child. I don’t love you, and I don’t care about you.

I could dive into truckloads of scientific studies and data showing the effects that not being an active part of his child’s life might have on that child. I could demonstrate evidence that the children of many such fathers are at a higher risk for poor health, or how they get involved in more insalubrious and dangerous behaviors with their peers. I could show you daunting numbers to prove that they are at an elevated risk for sexual abuse. We could discuss how kids with dads who aren’t there are more likely to struggle with depression, antisocial behaviors, honesty, or drug use. We could even get into the higher likelihoods that their children will participate in criminal activity or, God forbid, kill themselves.

But I won’t. Discussing statistics and data like this is often a pointless endeavor. Fathers who don’t make themselves available for their kids have long ago rationalized why that’s okay. They look at such statistics and they immediately put themselves on the side of the exempt. They tell themselves that their child isn’t one who will be depressed because of it. They tell themselves thattheir child’s behavioral problems certainly aren’t due to neglect. In fact, their child isn’t at a higher risk for anything at all. They, and their children, are always the exception.

Yet, you tell these same fathers that a package of uncooked chicken has a 2% chance of being contaminated with Salmonella, and they make sure to barbecue it beyond its ability to maintain any taste or tenderness. Just in case.

To these dads, I would simply say this. Figure it out. And do it now, before it’s too late.

No matter where there is, real dads must make sure they are there. Always.

Real dads get it. It’s not about them anymore. Once that title of father is theirs, they have a permanent place in the backseat of life for at least the next 18 years, so they kick their feet up and get comfortable with it.

When contemplating all of this, I have to ask myself, how do dads not see that it is their obligation and duty to be there for their children? How do they not see that everything their children will and won’t become is dependent on whether or not they are there for them? Do they not get that every time they choose to watch a sports game or go bowling with the guys instead of to their daughter’s preschool graduation or to their son’s peewee football game, it offers them that one strong, yet precise message? I don’t love you, and I don’t care about you.

Do they not understand that when a child feels that his father doesn’t love him or doesn’t care about him, he will go find that love and care from somewhere or someone else? Do they really want to leave the “somewhere or someone else” up to serendipity? Few kids will land in good places when they do.

Real dads are there. They make themselves available. They cancel other less important plans. They help each of their children feel the special love that only comes while sitting next to Dad, talking through impossible predicaments. Real dads make sure that each of their children looks up and sees their fathers’ outstretched arms each and every time they fall down. Real dads are there every time their children look into the crowd. Real dads leave no other options on the table.

How many more stories must be written before, as a society, we stand up and demand more of the fathers of this world? How many of our children will grow up conflicted, introverted, or shallow because fathers never had the time necessary for their ultimate development? How many more of our children must we watch turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the void of a father who wasn’t there? How many of our children will need to join gangs or end up in prison before we believe in the importance of this concept? How many more of our children must we find breathless and pale before we, as a society and as individuals, put the kind of emphasis on this that it must carry.

Now let me ask you this.

As a dad, what story do you want told about you? If Hollywood were to produce a major blockbuster centered on your relationship with your child, and whether or not you were there for your child, how would you want your character to be portrayed?

Call me crazy, but I’m guessing most fathers wouldn’t want to be made the villain of that story. I’m guessing it would break their hearts to see themselves portrayed as a neglectful, angry, or negligent parent who wasn’t there or who didn’t show up. I’m guessing it would be upsetting for them to watch just how their slipshod and inattentive actions shaped and changed their children’s lives for the worst. I’m guessing they would cringe as they witnessed the bad choices their children made which were directly attributed to them not being there.

No dad that I know would want to be made the villain. Being portrayed as the hero is so much more rewarding and exciting. What dad wouldn’t want the world thinking he’s the cat’s meow? What dad wouldn’t want audiences leaving with moist eyes because of the example he set? What dad wouldn’t want to see all of the ways his child thrived and succeeded in life because he was always attentive, he was always focused, and he was always there?

In all reality, a major blockbuster is being written about every father and his child right now. It’s being written in the heart of his child, in the mind of his child, and in the countenance of his child every day, for better or worse, and whether he’s there or not. The only thing missing is the theme music.

The world will see his child. The people of the world will watch the film which he is producing, directing, and in which he is co-starring. Over the course of his child’s life, every man, woman, and child with whom she comes in contact will watch his great masterpiece. Every teacher, peer, friend, and teammate will scrutinize it. Every co-worker, colleague, and professional will cast their judgment one way or the other. The critics will never be in short supply, and they will always be eager to hand out either grand praises or poor reviews.

So really, I guess the question is this. Over the duration of his child’s life, as the rest of the world experiences who his child is and what she has ultimately become, what does a real dad want them to see? Does he want them to see the final product of a dad who was there? Or does he want them to see the scraps of a child whose dad rarely made it?

I hope that every dad goes for the happy ending. I think we’ve all cried through enough movies about deadbeat dads.

Real dads do what they have to do to be there. They give up anything that might be stopping them from showing up in the scenes of their children’s lives.

For all dads, the winds of life can easily blow them between perceived greatness and looming failure. Challenges and trials will always rear their ugly heads, pressuring any dad to put good fathering on the back burner. These are the times when real dads refuse to take the easy route. These are the times when real dads refuse to not be there. They refuse to abandon their children. They understand that abandonment is always the easier route.

It is no different for me. I must be just as dedicated and careful as any other real dad. Those same winds have thrown me against the rockiest of shores. They have picked me up and slammed me against the walls of life on more than one occasion. There have been times when being there for Noah was the last thing I felt like I could do. There have been times when the overpowering events in my life left me feeling washed out and burnt up. In those times I somehow always found a way to get lost in the life of my son. And I never regretted it, because getting lost in him was the only way I was ever able to find what I needed to get moving again.

Noah is still young. I can guarantee that there will be a lifetime of opportunities presented which will test my true staying power as a real dad. Those tests will be there for every father. And when the time comes, they must pass the test, and they must do it with flying colors.

When fathers are there, and as they do pass those tests, their children hardly even know it. A real dad’s being there simply becomes an expected piece of the puzzle that will never be fully appreciated until their kids are grown and have children of their own. A real dad’s being there keeps them full and happy. This is their reward, and this is how it should be.

If dads aren’t there, however, their children will know. It will weigh heavily on them. They will constantly feel the resulting emptiness and sadness in their lives. They will crave a cure for the missing pieces, and they’ll find their own way to fill the holes.

Real dads make sure they’re there so that such tragedies never happen. It’s that simple.

Several dads may ask, how do I fit it in? What about time for me and the things I want to do? In a later chapter, we’ll discuss the time that real dads should make and give to themselves. For now, real dads shouldn’t worry about it. First, they should worry about being there for their children.

There will be plenty of time for them, their significant others, and all the other important things and people in their lives. Their children don’t have an event for them to attend every day of the week. Their children probably won’t need help with their homework every single night. Their children will grow and become more and more independent. There will be plenty of time for them to have and do everything that is a priority to them.

What’s imperative is that they’re there when they need to be. Every… single… time.

Real dads don’t become clichés. And they don’t let their children become the next sad movie.

Real dads are there.

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

PS. Today’s post is the seventh chapter in a read-along of my new book The Real Dad Rules (which will go on through February of next year).  Don’t wait to read the rest of The Real Dad Rules! Get your own copy today (Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, NookHardcover, or visit the official Real Dad Rules webpage for signed copies). Get it for yourself. Get it for your kids.  Give it as a gift. Just get it, and get in on the conversation!

While I wrote this book to everyday dads (from an everyday dad), I believe that its message can be applied to and appreciated by mothers and fathers alike. And, if you believe in the message of The Real Dad Rules, and if you love what you’ve read so far, please do Noah and me two huge favors! First, please share this page with your friends and family. Second, please take a second and leave a five-star review on Amazon (or Nook/iBooks).

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31 comments
MiriamJane
MiriamJane

Thanks for adding in the end of this one that it applies to moms too. My sons biological father hasn't been around since day one. However at every event sits mom, grandpa, grandma, uncle isaac, aunt jesse, and a handful of other family and friends.  I do my best to make up for the absence of Jim Bob over there. 

vanessajaded
vanessajaded

"Good dads are there. Period."

My dad never understood that when I was growing up. I even tried to explain that 'just being there' was the most important thing, and he would just get angry, and there would be no more talking.

Mrs. Plum
Mrs. Plum

This is so very true. When my husband and I decided to have children we both made a commitment to be here for them. He pushes himself to leave work on time every day so that he can be home for bed time. We have both given up activities outside of the home so that we can spend weekends together as a family. Being a parent takes commitment and sacrifice.
My recent post Sick Babies

Casey
Casey

(cont)

No, I don't think so. I think real dads do the best they can. I think real dads send flowers and balloons to their daughters for their 13th birthdays. I think real dads monitor their leave very carefully so they can take small vacations when their kids are out of school or sometimes "kidnap" the kids so that precious time can be spent when the Army allows even if the school system says otherwise.

Real dads watch via webcam when real moms put together gifts from Santa.

Real dads laugh, and cry, and hold their families extra tight. They just sometimes have to do it at the needs of the military.

Selina R
Selina R

I fully agree with both you, and Dan. Obviously, dads who are serving in the military don't have a choice to whether to be there or not. But the dad in you example sounds like he is doing everything he can to REALLY be there when he's physically there, and when he's not physically there, he makes sure that his kids know he cares about them.

I don't think Dan would say fathers who are away in the military aren't being real dads. It's the dads who come home every night.... but are never REALLY there. Or even the military dads who come home on leave, and aren't REALLY there when they're home, and don't send love to their kids while they're away. Those are the dads that Dan doesn't want anyone to be.

But I'm sure Dan would agree with you that military fathers who are THERE when they're home, and make sure that their kids know they are loved and thought about when dad isn't home, are "Real Dads"
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Casey
Casey

Okay, Dan. I agree with you on this one. Except--

What about Dads who are policemen? Or firefighters? Or, as in the case of my own husband, Soldiers?

He finds ways to be there when he can. He goes to concerts, he goes to little-kid football games to watch our youngest cheer, he is driving our eldest to college (soon).

But often it's not a "choice." I really think you've oversimplified it here a bit. Yes, my husband could have gotten out of the Army. Given the current economy, it's a good thing he held on to his job. Aside from that, he is a dedicated, talented Soldier and the work he does saves lives and protects the country. Do "real dads" give up their calling? Do they put that aside? (2nd comment)

traci whitney
traci whitney

I also find that if parents are there physically, but not mentally, it can be almost as damaging as not being there at all. Your words of wisdom always touch me, so poignant and honest. Thanks for that.
My recent post Veto Power: Coparenting and setting rules in two homes.

Rae
Rae

My dad was similar to yours...he was always there for everything...though he didnt have 10 children, he does have 4..he is still there for everything now for his grandchildren...he is the best...my husbands dad was not there...ever...when we had our oldest daughter, my husband was terrified that he wasnt going to be a good dad because he did not have one to show him the right way to do it...but he is a great dad...he makes the extra effort because he doesnt want his children to feel the way he did growing up. It breaks my heart to hear him talk about it...but luckily he now has my dad who has taken him in and loves him like his own...great post and so very very true.

motherwifeteacher
motherwifeteacher

I had a terrible (abusive) father growing up, and I can say without a doubt that it has had lasting effects on me as a woman. As a young woman, I put up with a lot of crap from men that I probably wouldn't have even thought about taking had I had a father that valued me.

My husband, on the other hand... HE is a Real Dad. He is there. He is involved. He plays with our son on the floor, reads to him, makes time for him, and yes, even changes stinky diapers. I am so thankful that the man I married will give our children the strong father that they deserve, and I am thankful that you, Dan, are out there calling out the men who aren't willing to do the same. Bravo.
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Scott
Scott

The summer after 5th grade we moved to a new town because of my dad's job. He was on his way up in the company and it looked like it would just continue. Then the summer after 6th grade he realized that it was the last little league game of the year and he had not seen any of my games. He resigned and found a new job back in our old town. I was very angry at the time that we had to move again, but looking back and now that I am a father I am thankful that he put me first.

mzbriz
mzbriz

Your dad sounds like an amazing dad just as you are an amazing dad. I didn't have the benefit of a "real dad", but I did marry a man who is a real dad to my kids. Even after divorce, my ex is a real dad. He's had tough times going it alone and as he's just remarried someone who lives out of state, new challenges have ensued but he still makes time for his kids and loves them with all he has. Thank you for sharing this, Dan!
My recent post Desires of the Heart

Anon
Anon

Sounds like your dad was pretty awesome, dude. :)

sassymama23
sassymama23

I love it! I wish more dads would "be there". Especially my kids dad. :(
My recent post It's Just Not The Same

deleted217455
deleted217455

My boys unfortunately, grew up without a Dad.... he was murdered when they were teeny weeny. I just wish I had been present at more of their school functions and outings. I understand now, how important this was to them and I wasn't there. I can't change the past... but I hope to influence/educate my boys now - for when THEY have their own children! Thank you for this wonderful post!
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Zedseverywhere
Zedseverywhere

I actually saw this report on the news talking about daddy bloggers and I was so disappointed when you weren't mentioned. :(
My recent post Tat-Tuesday: No Lips

Michelle
Michelle

Heartbreaking subject for a Real Mom who has given up everything for her children... who wanted nothing more than a "whole" family with a Real Dad, but fell far short of the mark. It breaks my heart to see the holes in my children's lives, and the damage caused by a dad who chose alcohol, anger, and "others" over his family.
I appreciate your posts, and your perspective. It is encouraging that there are Real Dads out there, being There for Their Children. Keep up the good work! Your Noah is a lucky young man... and his future wife and children are blessed by the example you are setting now in his life!

mike
mike

Amen brother!!!! In some ways it feels like I know a secret. I look at friends, relatives and co-workers who don't get it, I feel as if for once I'm gonna win the race. My children will be the "lucky ones". I may never get the credit, but I most definitely do not want the blame. I am the invisible builder of tomorrow.

Running4m=Mama's
Running4m=Mama's

I love this! It is very true! I hate how if a Dad takes the kid to the park or shopping (whatever) on their own then they are just this above and beyond dad. Like it's not something he just does. A mom though, it's nothing extra ordinary, mom's just take the kids where ever, it's expected. I would just love society to get to the place where it's ordinary for either parent to take the kids anywhere. A dad being there (like your post says) should be the norm shouldn't be unusual! Oh, in a perfect world. Nice job, great post!

Andrea
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Hope Floats
Hope Floats

This made me cry...just like the movie Hope Floats does.
Even before my parents' divorce, my "real dad" wasn't there - he hired a coworker to take me to a Girl Scouts Father-Daughter Fun Day.
Now I watch my husband sleep through the weekend, nursing his hangover, so he's not really there for our kids either. Makes me sad.

Anne
Anne

I love this post, but I differ with you on one tiny detail. Being physically present isn't the same as being there. My mom went to everything, but she wasn't very present. We didn't have the talks, practice time, etc. that go along with spending quality time together.
My dad I only saw on the weekends or at those events he could catch a bus to. Those times were very special because he made them really count. Building good memories and relationships is very important, no matter how many events you can come to.

Agro
Agro

I have twin 2 1/2 year old daughters and I make a point of being "there" for them. I dress them every morning, I take them to daycare & pick them up almost every day (my wife probably picks them up once every month and a half or so). Part of it is that I always wanted to be a daddy, from when I was a kid. Not a father, but a true daddy.
I gave up all but the most peripheral involvement with a club that I started and a national level event that I organized for 6 years to be with my girls and while I sometimes miss the social stuff with the club, the HUGE grins and "DADDY!!" when I pick my girls up from daycare has it beat hands down.
Now that they're getting a bit bigger, I'm taking them to club events, trying to get them interested in the same things that I'm into. That way I can do both. But I think pretty much everyone who knows me knows that if my girls need me, no matter what else is going on, I'm there. Adults can handle and understand being stood up for a valid reason. A 2 year old can't. All she knows is that "I needed Daddy & he wasn't there."
Dan, keep up the good work. SDL is the only blog that I read and while not every post talks to me, enough do (especially the book excepts) that I'm still reading.

Cindy
Cindy

My husband is a wonderful father who is involved with our kids (scout leader, chidlcare at church, etc.), even changing diapers in the middle of the night. He's an AMAZING man and dad (the best one I have seen) and reading your article makes my heart happy, knowing there are more amazing dads out there than it seems!!! Thank you!

TLSF
TLSF

As a result of my parents divorce, my father was not there during much of the every day portions of life. I still have a good relationship with him, but I was explaining to a friend how I could feel so connected to a step-parent as I am to my step-father, and I told her "So much of parenting is proximity; simply being there. He was there and present for the good, the bad, and the ugly in my growing up."

kat
kat

Important to note is that a lot of REAL dad's can't be there all the time, due to their work. Military fathers can't always be THERE, but the real ones will find ways to make their children a priority, even when deployed. My boyfriend would call home on skype every sunday to read to his 4 year old... without fail.. EVERY week. He was there.. even when he wasn't.

Ruth
Ruth

This is a definite trial in many lives, but as you said, there are ways. I know of men who record themselves reading books, or singing lullabies so that their wives can play them when they aren't able to ring home. Dads who leave them notes or write them letters...
When the father is unable to be there in person, that is when the mother needs to step up and make sure the love the father has for the child is being felt by the child. Mentioning him in everything they do, including him in activities by having the child make cards or pictures for him, helping them to feel excitement when the father comes home or rings, etc... even if it's just long hours at work.

There is so much we could do, if we would take the time to think of our children and their needs.
-A Military Wife

Crista
Crista

I always think about the "no dad" in the Toy Story movies, and often wonder what they were trying to portray? Was it that its just normal now to not have a Dad in the picture of kids' lives? I certainly hope that is not the case. Are they trying to show that kids can still be happy and a family can survive with out a father? I definitely hope that is not the case either!

One person once just said "you are thinking too much into this, and it is not a big deal that there was no sign of a father, because really where would you have expected to see him?. My answer "lots of places like Andy's Birthday party, yet no dad. A major move to a new house, no dad. A night out with the family the the pizza planet, no dad.

Has anyone else thought about this while watching these movies? If so what are your thoughts on why there is no dad?

Mel-Lady SuperFabulous
Mel-Lady SuperFabulous

I noticed it. There should have been Dad there. I noticed it in the first movie & we've yet to see Dad.

raelo
raelo

maybe he died, left or was never in the picture. It may seem odd for families that have a dad around-
but think of all the kids that only have a mom in their life - now they get to see that there are other families like theirs. Of course, having a dad in your life is important, especially a "real" dad but for so many families that is just not an option. I

JessNic
JessNic

Maybe the father passed away? Maybe he left them when they were younger? Is it the ideal situation? No. Is it common these days? Yes. Can the children still grow up to be well-adjusted and happy? Most certainly, as long as Mom keeps her priorities straight--which "Andy's mom" seems to do a fine job in this animated movie...

julie
julie

We have friends who the dad is there so little, when he does come home, their little boy screams for him to leave the room so he won't take his mommy, who is always there. He is never there so they can have fancy cars and a big house. My husband would rather live in a shack and walk a thousand miles every day than ever have his child not want him in a room. A real dad would make it work. A real dad would rather be broke than not see his child.

Julie
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