6. Say “I love you” often, and mean it every time. You simply cannot say “I love you” too much to your children. They will have many voices vying for their attention as they grow. Let the dominant voice be your voice, echoing our heavenly Father: “You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.”
7. It is okay to let your daughter paint your nails and brush your hair. Dads, get over yourselves. If letting your little girl paint your nails makes you question your masculinity, you have much bigger problems to deal with. Let your daughter lavish you with her love the best way she knows how.
8. Answer every question your children ask with utmost seriousness. One sure way to tear down a child is to treat them as though they are not important. If your child asks you a question, do everything in your power not only to answer it, but to answer it well. This shows your kids that they are important to you, that the things they have to say are worthy of your attention, and you might just learn something along the way.
9. Don’t shy away from talking about “big things” with your kids. Some of the most challenging conversations I have ever had with any person (adult or child) I have had with my daughter and son. We have talked about death, heaven and the resurrection of the dead, the Trinity, the Crucifixion, you name it. Don’t underestimate your child’s capacity for understanding. Talking to your children about important things will challenge you to communicate well, using language that is accessible without diluting the content. And who would you rather they hear this stuff from? Society is already telling your child what they should think about big questions. Are you?
10. Be your child’s biggest fan. I am unashamed in my overwhelming support of everything my kids do. We try to praise all of our kids’ accomplishments, big or small. I’ve heard the argument that this makes praise cheap. I disagree. I think it makes praise a precious commodity. When we praise our children often, we not only instill in them a sense of confidence, but we show them the proper source of affirmation is the family. They will be less likely to seek that affirmation elsewhere in destructive relationships or behaviors if they receive it adequately at home. There is a caution that comes with this, though. Praising your kids for their accomplishments does not mean giving empty praise. That leads to the phenomenon of the “American Idol generation” where people with no talent whatsoever can’t understand their failure, because their mom has always told them they were the best at whatever they pursued.
11. Embarrass yourself often. My kids will come to loathe this, I am sure, but I have no qualms whatsoever about embarrassing myself for their sake. If I can do something ludicrous (but safe and legal) that will get a smile out of them and endear me to them in any way, you better believe I will do it.
12. Fight for your kids (and their mother). Never allow anyone or anything to come between you and your family. If there are other things vying for their attention that cause stress in your relationships to one another, fight with all your might against those things. Part of fighting for your family is loving them extravagantly. Part of this fight is also waging war against those things that can tear a family apart. Dads (in particular) this means workaholism, sexual misconduct (including pornography), friendships with the opposite sex, sports fanaticism, etc. If what you do threatens your family in any way, flee from it!
13. Be present for what matters to your kids (i.e., birthday parties, concerts at school, etc.). I have had to learn this lesson the hard way. At the end of my life, my children will not remember or care all that much about the things I have accomplished. They will not care how much money I made, how many letters I have after my name, what my research focus was, or how good my golf game was. They will care about and remember the time I spent with them. Be present for every important event in your child’s life, if at all possible. And when you miss such an event, make it up to them by spending extra time with them, doing something you both love. There were times growing up when I told my parents I didn’t care if they came to this or that event. No matter what your kids tell you, they notice and care if you aren’t there.
14. Learn to dance, especially if you have a daughter. For many Dads (myself included), this goes hand-in-hand with #11 above. I don’t know why this is so, but believe me when I tell you that your daughter (and probably your son) loves to dance with you. Dancing always leads to joy and laughter.
This post is adapted from Practicing Fatherhood: 20 lessons from a young dad by Isaac N Hopper.