If one wishes to hear hurtful and harming words directed towards a child, he only need step into a public place frequented by families and listen for a few moments. It is this very truth that has filled me with a great urgency to write this book. It is this very reality that has brought me to the edge of discomfort more times than I can number, and on more than one occasion has left my face stained by tears that could be held back no longer.
In October of 2010, I wrote and published a piece called You just broke your child. Congratulations. In it, I discussed a situation I was unfortunate enough to witness in which a father purposefully crushed the spirit of his child. I witnessed, apparently debatable by some, physical abuse as he dug his thumbs into his son’s color bones. I witnessed verbal abuse as he shook in anger, threatening his child of the things to come once they left the store. I then wrote a very strongly worded response, calling all fathers to up their game and to stop breaking their children.
The aftermath of that piece filled me with great hope in that it was read and shared by hundreds of thousands. It also broke my heart anew as I read many of the comments which followed, some of which defended the actions of this man. Some readers claimed that he could simply have been having a bad day. Others claim that the child probably drove him far past his limits, and therefore the child should shoulder much of the blame. Others responded that it was wrong of me to defame this man who surely would only do what he did to his child because of learned behavior from his own father or mother.
I have had many months to think about these responses now, and I wish to offer a response of my own, summed up in the following statement.
Real dads don’t publicly humiliate their children. Real dads don’t viciously threaten their children. And real dads certainly don’t inflict physical pain upon their children.
There is never a situation bad enough, a past life hard enough, or a child naughty enough to warrant such behavior. While a man’s past, or the events of his present may make what he’s done more forgivable, and perhaps even more understandable, such actions are never appropriate nor are they ever, under any circumstances, acceptable.
Real dads don’t hide behind the sins of their parents. They don’t believe when society tells them that because of their situation, their income, their neighborhood, or the color of their skin that they are okay or expected to be lesser fathers, lesser protectors, and lesser mentors. Real dads who come from such backgrounds or circumstances recognize the habitual responses and tendencies that have been built into them, and they spend their entire lifetimes, if they must, working to overcome them. Real dads speak softly and with kind words. When it comes to discipline, they keep their voices lowered, and they remain in control.
My father grew up in a generation where corporal punishment wasn’t just the norm, it was expected. His parents, as truly good of people as they were, were quick to pass out criticism to their children. They were quick to impugn and offer strong words to those over whom they cared. They were strict and slow to offer mercy when atrocities were committed.
Things hadn’t changed much by the time I was born. Corporal punishment was still very much the norm. There was very little material evidence against it, very little voice given to it, and very little effort by anyone to learn newer and more effective ways of parenting. My parents started out parenting the same way their parents did. Spanking was very common when I was growing up. Harsh words and yelling even more so.
But then society started becoming much more aware of the negative effects of such parenting. They became more aware of the long-lasting and often permanent damage that accompanied such tactics. There slowly but surely began to be a great push across our culture to treat children with more dignity and love. The iron fist was becoming more and more frowned upon.
When this started happening, my parents were in a similar boat to the vast majority of parents. They had only experienced one method of parenting, and had parented in a similar way throughout the initial span of their parenthood.
Some parents refused to jump on board or to even attempt change. Others embraced it quickly and with little trouble. Most gave it an honest effort, and with time were able to change much of their instinctual reactions. The same were very much real parents in my book. My parents were among them.
As I aged, I watched my parents work on themselves. I watched them learn newer, better, and more loving tactics of parenting. I began hearing far fewer words spoken in anger and far more words of encouragement and understanding. Over the course of a decade or so, it seemed they’d completely reversed the trend, safeguarding themselves from passing it onto the next generation.
My baby sister is almost exactly a decade younger than I. By the time she went through high school, the mainstream of society had made incredible strides in parenting. Parents everywhere knew that there were better ways of doing things. A plentitude of tools were readily available to any parent should they choose to use and implement them. No longer could any parent claim inability, habit, or lack of education as a valid excuse to not improve themselves along with other real parents. The world did well to push parents in the directions it has.
But, sadly, it’s not up to mainstream society to change the individual. You can tell a man not to swat at a beehive until your voice is unable to find itself, but in the end he’ll swat at it or he won’t. And so, even with all of the tools, all of the courses, all of the media, and all of the knowledge that is now available to help parents more effectively parent, there are those who refuse to put in the work and the effort to do so. There are those who refuse to make the changes in their own families and for their own generations. There are those who still have no problem breaking their children, hurting their children, or humiliating their children.
Dear God, I’m thankful that’s not you. Just the fact that you’re reading this book proves to me that you’re a real parent, and that you intend to pass these better methods of doing things down to the next generation.
And here’s some good news. To be a real parent, you don’t have to be perfect in this. Heaven knows just about every parent out there has completely blown it with their kid at one point or another. Almost every parent out there has completely lost it, gone ballistic, or said things so hurtful they could never be taken back. No, making the occasional mistake, even if it’s a big one, doesn’t define any parent. What defines a parent is whether or not they’re constantly working to improve. What defines a parent, is whether or not they recognize their blunders, apologize to their children for their mistakes, and work to make sure the darker parts of history don’t repeat themselves.
Real parents speak softly to their children. They speak kind words to their children.
A real dad knows the damage he inflicts when he is constantly angry or speaks harsh words. He understands that every word he finds rolling off his tongue has the potential to build or destroy his child. When and if they do use words that destroy, real dads make it right, and they teach their kids the correct way of coming back from stepping back.
My grandparents were good people. In fact, they were among the greatest on earth. Some of my fondest memories included them, and I’ll always be grateful for the good they brought to the people on this planet. They kept most of the rules for being real parents, they played with their kids, they were there for kids, and they loved their kids. Regardless of that, they practiced and passed down a societal norm that was unhealthy and damaging to their children.
My parents were blessed to be in the first generation that collectively worked to put an end to it. My parents are real parents, and while they slipped many times along the way, they always tried to improve. They always tried to do better. They always tried to make things right. And in the end, that’s most of what I remember.
There are few relationships that are so damaged and so strained that starting to speak more softly and starting to use kind words won’t drastically improve and eventually find a way to heal them. Even fewer relationships exist in which parents no longer have a chance to leave good memories, soft spoken memories, and kindly worded memories as the memories that will dominate the reminiscences of their children’s minds forever.
How incredible would it be if the fathers of this world looked upon their children as the gifts that they truly are? How inspirational would it be if the fathers of this world didn’t just recognize that they need to change and tweak some things, but truly do whatever it takes to do so? How amazing would it be to see fathers lining up at book stores, eager to buy the latest parenting books? How marvelous would it be to see fathers everywhere sign-up for courses, take counseling, or attend seminars in order to overcome their anger and their sharpness?
A real dad does these things. He works on himself. He watches his tongue, fully aware of the power it harnesses. One of a real dad’s greatest fears is to have his own child fear him.
And while he masters his own words and his own voice, he simultaneously learns to encourage and promote his child in every circumstance, in every moment, and in every opportunity he encounters. He fills his child with confidence, love, and self-esteem. Always.
In a later chapter, we’ll really delve into both positive labels and negative labels. We’ll discuss how certain words have the power to make or break any child. We’ll look at the true power a parent has to push his child into a great and prosperous life or into a lifetime of struggle and challenge.
That chapter and this go hand-in-hand, yet are so fantastically important to parenting, and so intrinsically different from each other, that I felt a need to discuss each separately and in great depth. If you feel that this is an area of parenting you struggle with, it would not hurt my feelings at all if you were to jump straight ahead to that section.
In regards to this side of the equation, perhaps I could passionately state that the golden rule rules the roost. Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.
For some reason, children are so often left out of this equation. Parents often feel that children are theirs to do with as they like. They frequently take no care or thought as to how their words and their actions will affect their children either in the short term or the long. Far more care and thought is given to the words spoken to a stranger than to the tender spirits standing in their shadows.
This is never the case for a real dad. A real dad teaches his child respect by first respecting his child. A real dad consistently steps into the shoes of his child, and he looks at himself through the very eyes that have always looked up to him. He treats his child how he would expect to be treated by his child. He says the words that he would want his own father to say to him, he speaks in a voice that he would want his own father to use, and he retains control just as he would want his own father to do. No father, when truly looking through the eyes of his child, ever looks at himself and desires harshness, meanness, or anger. He doesn’t see himself and wish for criticism or disparagement.
On the contrary. He looks at himself and he is desperate for love. He is desperate for understanding. He is desperate for encouragement. And, he is desperate for tenderness.
A man will be measured by the world when he is old; there is no secret in this. Men strive for this worldly recognition over the course of their entire lives. Yet, what the world remembers him as is of little value if not accompanied by a much greater endorsement. I can promise you that far more significant than the world’s perspective, is how a man’s own child remembers him.
Real dads don’t just step into the shoes of their children now, they step into the shoes of their children a time long from now. A real dad will gaze into the future and imagine himself at his child’s graduation, his child’s wedding, and at his grandchildren’s graduations and his grandchildren’s weddings. He’ll look at himself through the eyes of his child then, and he’ll ask himself what he remembers himself to be. One of a real dad’s greatest fears is for a child to spend her adult life resenting him, able only to remember the disheartening and disrespectful way she was parented. All of the recognition in the world would be washed away as he looked into his child’s eyes and saw only sadness or antipathy.
By continuously checking-in to their children’s perspectives, real dads have very little trouble biting their tongues, closing their lips, and staying their hands against their children. They have little trouble finding the words that will build and edify. They easily find the ability to connect the long-term dots of their actions and reactions.
Most importantly, they are completely loved, trusted, and respected by their children because they themselves took the time to love, trust, and respect them first.
A real dad never takes for granted the permanence of his child in his life, and he certainly doesn’t resent it. Instead, he cherishes his child. And he aches as his time with his child depletes from actuality.
Society has made great strides in parenting. Real dads are always three steps ahead.
Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing
What is your story? Did your dad work? Did he work too much? Do you have memories of him being there when he came home or do you have memories of him working even after he came home from work?
PS. Today’s post is the eleventh 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 ofThe Real Dad Rules! Get your own copy today (Amazon, Kindle, iBooks,Nook, Hardcover, 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 agree with it, please share today’s post.