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Lessons from Dad

Lessons from Dad

Learning to become a better father.


When my father died several years ago at the age of 92, I was going through a divorce involving a custody dispute over my daughters. Like many fathers in this situation, I feared losing these precious relationships. In a divorce -- or in intact families, for that matter -- it's easy for a father to be relegated to the role of provider of money and little else. I had already observed that when money is all kids get from their father, these kids seem to resent their fathers the most.

My father wasn't rich financially, and I didn't miss anything he didn't buy me. I wished I had spent more time talking with him and learning about his own life. I realized what I missed most about my own father was what I wanted to give to my daughters.

My father lost his parents when he was young. His father died in the flu epidemic of 1919, when my father was 12. When he was 16, his mother died. At age 22, he came on his own to Canada, a month before the Depression hit in 1929. He worked hard, started a small business and supported my mother and four children. I wished I had asked him how he overcame the challenges he faced. I wished he had taught me more of the wisdom he learned.

The more I shared my life lessons with my daughters, the more it pushed me to grow as a father. I had to be a role model of what I was trying to teach.

I started sharing stories with my daughters about my own life and experiences. I told them about my dreams -- some became goals that I achieved, some are still works in progress and others forgotten and replaced with immediate needs. I taught them some of the lessons I'm still learning, the hard way, as I grow at mid-life -- lessons about taking responsibility, about not expecting life to always be smooth, because it rarely is, and about teaching myself to see challenges as opportunities. I hoped it would give them a head start in their own learning about life.

I had wondered if they would actually be interested. Once we started, they loved hearing these stories. They wanted to know about me, just as I had wanted to know about my dad.

An unexpected result: the more I shared my life lessons with my daughters, the more it pushed me to grow as a father. I had to be a role model of what I was trying to teach.

These talks brought us closer. My daughters started telling me about the events in their lives and asked for my advice. I was moved when my younger daughter, now a teenager, told me that she had started a section in her notebook called "Lessons from Dad." I thought about my own father -- he would have been proud.

Whether you're a married or single dad, you can nurture a closer relationship with your children by telling them about the experiences that shaped your life. If you're a mother, encourage your husband to do this. And if you wish your father would talk more to you about his own life and he's still alive, ask him and listen.

The things you buy for your children may last a few months or years. What you teach them can last a lifetime.

June 15, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Mike, June 15, 2012 12:05 AM

So true

As the dad of two daughters I find that sharing my experiences with them gives "the old man" a degree of credibility which I wouldn't have had otherwise. Telling them what to do is not the same as sharing with them where you've been and what you've done. Mike

Kat, October 3, 2015 6:30 AM

Keep Making Goals

Finally an article where you got the idea of fathering right. I'm glad you were sticking in there for a good reason. You're an idiot. You accept that. But you keep trying. Now, KEEP TRYING. And keep DREAMING and living and experiencing and making new goals. It's only going to get harder. You better freaking keep up.

(4) Jonathan, June 19, 2006 12:00 AM

Insightful, inspired - a joy to read!

I found myself being 'transported' back home across the 1000 km that separates our kids from me because of my work situation. Elliott writes straight from the heart directly to the hearts of others. This short piece is true inspiration...

(3) Jonathan, June 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Hi! My dad never was close to me, he would never let me know that he loved me or enjoy doing stuff with his son. The result? I didn't learn to identify as a man, because my only male role model didn't do his job. Now, we have a great relationship. a boy - even a man - needs his dad (or other male role-model) to help him be the righteous MAN he deep down wants to be. Thanks for being a good dad, spending time with your sons AND daughters - it will make a difference! G-d bless you, and keep up the good work.

(2) sjhepner, June 18, 2006 12:00 AM

Lost stories forever...

My father let go brief glimpses of wartorn Nazi ravaged Poland, the icy Siberian slave camps..General Anders anti semitic Polish Christian soldiers..but the training and bravery in battles under BRRITISH General,lORD MONTGOMERY... I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO HEAR..FIGHTING IN AFRICA, PALESTINE, HOLLAND AND FRANCE, D DAY, Liberation of Paris...these are the glimpses I missed...Dads dont forget to enthrall and inspire your kids, with tales of thr Past... these legends are necessary to sustain our courage...

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