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I guarantee to make you a better Dad by the end of this blog.
I love good Dads. I smile inside and out when I see a hands-on father spending time with his child in the park, daring to manoeuvre a youngster in a supermarket trolley or, better still, walking down the street with one strapped to their chest! It makes me proud of how far we have come from the old generalised perception of fathers, like we are a collective force of nature on the up, once written off as mere sperm donors who go to work and pay the bills. Those days are disappearing for we are evolving.
However, I come with a warning to all you blokes.
Being a good dad isn't about just showing up or being around. While it might be a one up from many childhoods spent without a paternal figure to observe, being around is the very bottom rung of the ladder. Turning up for work isn't what makes you a great employee; it's what you do while you're there that counts.
Obviously this doesn't apply to all, if you're reading this in the first place it would imply that the title made you feel like there was something to gain in reading this, so I already know you care a lot about being a good father.
Even when we are 'good', we can always be better. There are so many components to fatherhood; guidance, discipline, playfulness and communication to name but a few. It would be difficult and unlikely for us to be a perfect 10 in all areas so if you want to improve, you need a little perspective.
Take a pen and paper out and now ask yourself the following;
If you were watching your kid's experience of childhood on the big screen at your local Odeon, what would the scenes consist of?
Do you play a leading role? Or are you an extra?
You obviously know that only the best scenes make the edit, how many of those big scenes that are intrinsic to the story are you present in?
What type of film is it? An underdog success story is it a car crash horror or is it a feel good comedy with a happy start middle and ending?
Your child's age will dictate how much of the film you have already made. The ending, well that's down to what you do between now and the age of 18.
Let's now think of that visual representation of their childhood as a documentary with your child as the narrator. Take a moment to think of their voice giving an analytical overview of your performance. Is it what you want to hear?
If your child was giving interviews about the different stages of life as your child, what would their body language tell you? Would it be upright and expressive or would they struggle for eye contact and talk slowly giving each word careful thought?
Out of the movie context it may help you to think of your child as a 21 year old adult telling their friend in Starbucks or the local pub what kind of father they had. What does your child say about you when summarising your influence on their life? Is it an acknowledgement of how wonderful you have been or is it good and bad?
What is the most likely criticism your child would make of you in that future projection?
For different reasons I can imagine that this may be quite emotional for some. A little coaching exercise here is useful for helping you to become present in the actual reality of your paternal experience, which can often differ from our own perception of reality. What perception matters more to you, yours or your child's?
You may have found seeing into the future helpful in discovering what the most likely complaint our children might have of us. Fortunately we now have the foresight and time to avoid it.
Replace that image of your child talking about you at 21 with your own movie scene where you can now decide what your child says about you. Write down all of the qualities they say you have, all of the memories you shared that really mattered to them and also all of the values you gave them that they really appreciate.
Now let's consider what you need to do between now and then in order to make that scene a reality. How will you adapt your lifestyle in order to hit those targets? What do you need to change NOW? Do you have the right balance between work and family life to be able to be the Dad you wish to be?
Does your relationship with child rely upon your relationship with a separated partner? If so, imagine your child giving an interview about how you coped with the issues which come with that situation. Do they think you played it well or do they think you created most of the problems?
Let's broaden our perspective now, let's imagine we have lived many years into old age, and our children are now in their 50s, what life did they have? How did your input into their childhood help them to achieve those successes? How did you influence the quality of those they choose have around them, of the relationships they had and the decisions they made?
Just as a final note, we are often the father we are because of the father we had. Intergenerational conditioning is one to watch out for because a lot of what you and I experienced is dated and has less relevance in modern fatherhood. Be the father you wish to be, let the notes you have made today guide you towards being what you choose to be instead of what you were raised to be.
So with this in mind, what is the first thing you will do today in order to change the course of your relationship with your child and create the movie you want to give them?
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