I love being a dad! I love the relationship, the love, the hugs, and even the challenge. As the dad of a 10-year-old, I now find myself beginning to reap the fruit and rewards of living out my best to be an example to my son, including being quick to admit when I make a mistake and fail. I have noticed our kids learn more and are influenced more by our attitude and behavior than our parent talk.
What I’ve learned about being a dad that helps his children be thankful can be shared by some of my driving ambitions:
I teach college composition as an adjunct instructor at our local community college and enjoy great illustrations of my students. This last week I was grading essays of my students when I had one of those moments we feel more acutely due to our role as parents. My student is a face painter, you know the kind that kids and parents love to see at a local festival or kid’s event. She shared about the shocking behavior of a parent who was so mad that her child did not get to have her face painted because the line had ended and the time for the face painting was long past its end. She threw a fit, screamed, shouted some choice words, making quite a scene. I wonder what that child “caught” that day from her parent? Our attitude and behavior as parents influence and shape our children more than what we say or don’t say.
As dads, we can model a thankful attitude and crush any kind of entitlement in ourselves first, then help our children overcome this cultural attitude. I determined early on as a young dad, I was going to get used to saying, “No, I’m sorry,” often and it’s paid off. To this day my son very rarely asks for anything or throws a fit when he doesn't get his way. I have tried to be consistent and committed to model and encourage an attitude not of entitlement, but gratitude.
Of course disappointments occur and we can help our kids learn how to have a grateful attitude even when bad things happen. We were at a local outdoor festival last year when my son realized his dollar in quarters fell out of his pocket when we were trying out the hammocks in the booth. When he realized this, we went back and the money was gone. These moments of disappointment happen and we are challenged to respond and guide our children in an attitude opportunity. We talked about how he could learn from this, that if we find something valuable we’ll be sure and turn it in, and help the person find it that would come back looking for it. It was a Golden Rule Lesson, i.e., treat others as you want to be treated. He caught it as I asked him a few questions and he saw my calm and clear demeanor, choosing to learn and turn a bad experience into a life changing attitude adjustment.
There’s a story about a pioneer circuit rider in the early era of the expanding West who shares about being “thankful for being robbed!” I have shared this story with my son and it haunts me in a good way. He writes in his journal the evening after he survives being robbed at gunpoint in the words between pioneer encampments.
“Today I am thankful I got robbed. I am thankful I had something to take. I am thankful he took my money and not my life; and most of all I am thankful I was the one being robbed and not the one doing the robbing!”
As a former Army soldier and chaplain, we learn a concept in military resiliency training called, “Hunt for the Good Stuff.” This challenges me to be a dad who lives out the kind of creative, brave, and resilient attitude and perspective of thankfulness, even in painful and trying situations.
I am a marathoner and ultra-marathoner—I’ve learned that parenting well is much like training for endurance races of 26.2-100 miles. Do the hard work of training daily and come race day when it matters most, that training pays off.
What I’m saying about thankfulness is that, like other character and values formation, daily efforts, little things, and modeling in a child’s early years pays off later as they mature. An example of this is how I love how my son has “caught” my attitude of gratitude toward my wife, his mom. We’ve been married 21 years now and I don’t take her for granted anymore. I’ve really had a falling in love again experience after our early marriage I was distracted with the pursuit of saving the world, helping everyone else and being successful. I have to admit, I didn’t give my wife my best—I seemed to have given it to my work and hobbies and caring for everyone else.
Today I make it my passion and choice everyday to cherish, love, honor, listen to and give lots of encouraging words and affection to my precious wife. Now that I’ve been consistently doing this, my son has caught on and he does this too! I’ve noticed him saying amazingly encouraging words to her, complimenting her, treating her so well and giving her lots of attention and hugs. My thankfulness for my wife has been caught by my son and I’ve never really had to say a word; thankfulness is caught rather than taught.