How do we measure our children’s success? Straight As on a report card? Starting player on the football team? Popularity among their peers? Moving out of the house after finishing high school or college? These are all fine things, and we can encourage them to a healthy level. But do any of these things equal success?
I know a Dad whose son who will never get straight As, will never be a starting player on the football team, won’t fit the typical definition of “popular” among his peers, and will likely never move out of the house. His son suffers from severe autism and is confined to a wheel chair. He requires 24-hour-a-day monitoring, feeding, bathing, and can only communicate his needs through moans and gestures. How will this Dad measure and encourage his child’s “success?”
As an aspiring Good Dad, I am a life-long servant of those who depend on me and, to a greater or lesser degree, my children will never stop depending on me. I need to set my expectations for each of my children based on who they are and what they need. Some children may launch from the nest early and succeed more than I ever will. I try to imagine being a Dad of such legends as Microsoft founder Bill Gates or former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Those “kids” probably won’t ever ask Dad to spot them a $20 for groceries or gas to get to work. But does that mean they still don’t need a Good Dad?
A common characteristic of all Good Dads is availability—at whatever stage in life, to serve their children’s needs and be an encouragement to them. Unlike the Dad mentioned above with a special needs son, most of us aren’t required to serve ALL their needs for a lifetime. If our kids are able to work, then they ought to work. If they’re able to provide for their family, then they ought to provide for their family. But what if their marriage is a mess or their kids are rebellious and they haven’t got a clue what to do? Perhaps our adult kids get sick and need us to care for them. We must be prepared to speak with wisdom and caring into their lives when asked, and that means having a solid relationship built on trust.
Dads just a few generations ago needed their kids to stick around to help with the family farm and to care for them in their old age. Having a solid relationship with one’s kids wasn’t optional: it was necessary for survival! As Americans, we don’t have that tradition any more, for the most part. In an ironic twist, we’ve gone 180 degrees opposite. Today it’s awkward to talk about kids sticking around home past their early 20s. I know some Dads have an “18 and out” rule that says once you’ve finished high school you are out the door. Is that kind of attitude going to help me establish the relationship I want, and if not, what would I do differently?
First, I intend to get rid of what anyone else says I ought to be doing and take a good look at who my kids are. I’m learning about their interests and abilities. I’m taking stock of their strengths and weaknesses. I encourage them to try new things, but always let them know that lack of success in one area doesn’t equal lack of success as a person.
It may take a hundred set backs and failures before finding success, and even after achieving success, who is to say that particular success will last forever? That’s when my kids need a Good Dad to talk to, to build them up in a world that will constantly try to tear them down and wear them out. In the end, I’ll measure my kids’ success by whether or not we have a quality relationship.