Are you a good dad (or a good mom?)

Mary Hasson

Father and daughter by Petr Kratochvil

Father’s Day made me think: what do I know about being a good Dad?  After all, I’m a Mom

Motherhood gives me a certain perspective on what good dads do.  But only a dad can offer the inside-out perspective on being a good dad.

So I tapped into wiser heads than mine and asked some really good dads, “Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give a younger dad on what it takes to be a good dad?”

Charlie, a father of three teens (two boys and a girl), says this:

“First, learn patience—with the kids and their mother. Second, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

He paused. 

“And third, realize that you are not guaranteed happiness in being a father.  It requires self-sacrifice—in terms of sleep, money, etc.—but only through that self-sacrifice can you be happy. 

“I always tell people that the greatest moments of fatherhood are not at Disneyland or at some sporting event.  I remember one time the whole house was sick for a couple of days. The place was a ‘vomitorium.’ I’m doing all the nursing and janitor functions while feeling like crap. I’m nauseous and exhausted, rinsing out a vomit bucket in the bathroom, and it hits me—THIS is what it means to be a father. 

“It felt good.”

The heart of a Dad--progressively emptied of selfishness, bucket by bucket, becomes a heart overflowing with love.

But it doesn’t happen by itself.  Would any of us empty ourselves so willingly, day after day, if we didn’t have to?

A friend of mine lives a wealthy, power-couple lifestyle. Long-married, but with no children, she once told me, “It’s hard for us, with no children, to learn how to be unselfish towards each other.  Everything’s negotiable. His turn, my turn. It’s not the same as being unselfish. I watch you with your children and I’m envious. They teach you to give out of love—to give simply because they need it, even when there’s no benefit to you at all.”

Her wistful words remain fresh in my memory, even after several years.  I think of them when I struggle to give freely--when meeting a child’s need creates a momentary sense of “loss”—lost privacy, free time, sleep, or opportunity. In my better moments, I remember that it’s not “loss” at all, but a gift, to have the chance to love more deeply, less selfishly. 

Charlie experienced the blessing of necessity.  I say “blessing” because ‘necessity’ has the power to change hearts, if we are willing. God, fortunately for us, doesn’t unfurl the scroll of our selfish habits all at once, demanding that we march through the list and methodically rid ourselves of self-centeredness before the sunset of life.

He leads us by the grace of necessity. Our response ‘in the moment’ turns loss into gain and selfishness into love.

All He asks is a heart willing to love.
And humble enough to do the job in front of us. 

That’s what it takes to be a good Dad.
And, come to think of it, that’s what it takes to be a good Mom too.

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

Topics: Parenting

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

View all articles by Mary Hasson

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