It was 9 pm, and I was supposed to be asleep in bed. It had been a rough day in first grade. Someone had teased me about my new shoes, and my team had lost the kickball game at recess. I peered around the dining room doorway and saw my father sitting by the table with his late dinner. He had just arrived home from work, and he looked tired. The Wall Street Journal was open in front of him.
I tiptoed into the room and slid into a chair. I waited for him to tell me to go back to sleep. Instead he closed his newspaper and smiled.
"Hey kiddo. You look like you had almost as rough a day as I had," he said as he offered me some buttered bread. I didn't realize how hungry I was; I hadn't eaten much at dinner. I poured out my woes as my father listened. He didn't say anything; he just listened.
Then he pointed to a Scholastic books catalog on the table. "Mommy told me what a great reader you are becoming. Do you want to pick out some books and I'll order them for you?"
Unburdened from my day, I sat with my father and chose books from the brightly colored pages. It wasn't until years later that I realized how tired my father must have been that night and how badly he must have wanted to just be left alone to read his newspaper in peace. Instead he put being a father as his highest priority and thought about what I needed.
Here are five crucial things children need from their father.
A role model. Children look up to their fathers and yearn to be like them from their earliest years. Sons will watch how they work and speak and play sports. Daughters will often choose spouses who reflect their father's values. Every conversation and interaction that your child witnesses may become part of what they try to imitate. A father’s connection and feeling towards Judaism create a foundation for his children’s spiritual lives. Make sure your life embodies the traits and ideals that you want your children to reflect.
A listening ear. Children need their fathers to listen to them. When you stop what you are doing to give your child attention, he knows that you not only love him but are interested in his life. Fathers who can listen without immediately jumping in to problem solve create crucial space for their children's feelings. They teach their kids that it's okay to feel angry or sad or defeated, and that they won't be judged for their failures. The Torah tells us “Do not harden your heart or close your hand.” (Deut. 15:7) Being open to others emotionally and listening to them is harder and often more important than giving anything else because it requires us to give of our own hearts.
A coach. Sometimes you need someone in your life to tell you when your shot is off. Or you're not trying hard enough in school. Or you're driving the wrong way down a one way street. Fathers can be amazing coaches. They can tell their kids the truth when they need to hear it and encourage them to keep reaching for their goals. There is no limit for a child whose father coaches him and believes in him every step of the way.
A comforter. The most comforting words a child can hear are: "It's going to be okay." Those words spoken from a father mean everything because Dad knows how to fix your bike. How to catch the huge spider in the kitchen. How to build a campfire and how to put it out. He knows when things are going to be okay and when they aren't. Fathers can give their children hope and courage and strength. Sometimes it only takes those five words: it's going to be okay.
A source of wisdom. Fathers can see what makes their children shine and what brings them down. They can help them choose the right friends, the right classes, the right spouses. But the best fathers are able to do this selflessly. To put aside their own interests and help their kids choose what will make them happiest, even if it conflicts with their own goals. This is a delicate tightrope that fathers must walk, but children yearn for their father's approval and helping a child choose what is best for him is a precious blessing that a father can give. Getting to that objective place as a father is hard, but teaching a child Torah can help pave the way by bringing eternal wisdom and ideas into the picture. Learning together creates a strong, deep bond between fathers and children as they share and explore questions and answers about life itself.
Dad, you’ve always been there for me when I needed you. Thank you for being such a wonderful father and for always believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. I love you. Happy Father’s Day.