“A Real Father”
Seems like only yesterday I was thinking about what life might be like when I would be a father. I had a very long list of do’s and don’ts that I would use to aid in my navigation of fatherhood. Little did I know that I was so far from being prepared to be a father and what it would take to skillfully and tactfully raise my child to be a person of great morals, strong character and impeccable integrity. At the young age of 21 I became a father to my first son, who became my name sake. I was sure I was going to be the best father ever and I would do everything in my power to ensure that he would never want or need for anything. My heart and mind were in the right place but my methods were completely off target. I am sure like many people, we have had things happen to us in our childhood that we tagged as something we would never do when we had children and vice – versa, so you can relate. I knew way too well the pains of not growing up with my biological father and also not having a true father-figure or role model that would take the time out of his busy schedule and life style to teach me the simple things in life, like how to tie a tie, how to shave, etc. I knew how it felt to desire dad to play catch with me and just make me feel like I was important; therefore, I was bound and determined to be the opposite of all the things I felt I missed out on growing up.
Now twenty-two years later I am a father of four; three boys and a beautiful daughter and still figuring out how to be that father I desired to be long ago. I have experienced some great joys being the head of my home and watching my children grow up, do well in school as well in athletics; yet almost equally I have felt the heart breaking pain of my failures as a father and making some of the same mistakes I said I would never do. Let me explain by first sharing some startling statistics: In 1960 the number of children living with their biological fathers was 82.5%. The latest poll taken in 2010 shows that number has fallen to 68.1%. That is a pretty significant drop considering we live in an era when men are no longer the sole bread winners of the family, where husband and wife have the option and opportunity to share household responsibilities. Yet what is even more startling is in that 68.1% that are at home is the number of fathers who are still absent in the child’s everyday life. I was one of those present yet absent fathers, and as a result created the “absent father wound” in my children. I believed that as long as I worked honest and hard to ensure money was coming in, food was on the table, we lived in a nice and comfortable home and came home daily, I was doing my part and being a great father. It was not until my oldest son, who will be twenty-one this year, became a teenager that I realized I had effectively recreated the same father figure I never wanted to be. I worked so hard to be a provider and a friend that I neglected to be a parent and most of all a dad. To top that all off, as a black man I was too prideful to ask for help and seek guidance and counsel to grow into becoming the father my children needed. Over the past six years I have grown up tremendously and now I know what it takes and what it means to be a real father today.
The first thing I learned is that it takes being a godly man and allowing God to be an instrumental part of your daily life. Next it takes daily pray and faith coupled with the willingness to learn, grow and admit when you fail, not only to yourself and peers but even admit your failures to your children because in doing so it shows them how to be humble and forgiving. The next most important thing it takes to be a real father today is to have a great woman in your life that has full permission to speak into your life and share the blind spots of being a man and a father that we as men either don’t see or don’t want to see. I have been blessed with a beautiful wife of 10 years, whom I have been with for 15, who has been very instrument in aiding me in growing and stepping up to be the father our household needs. She would say there is still work to be done, however in saying that she would also say I have become a real father.
I have learned there are five things every child wants and needs from their father: (1) Time together, take time to spend quality time. (2) Life skills, teach them things they will need to live a healthy and prosperous life. (3) Directions with solid “why” answers, don’t just tell them what to do in life but tell them why it is important that they should or shouldn’t do it. Many of the first questions you get from kids is “why this” or “why that”. They need to know why. It can’t be “because I said so.” (4) Convictions through modeling, basically practice what you preach. Our children will do what they see us do far faster than they will do what we tell them to. (5) Dad’s heart – they need to know you care and that they hold a special place in your life that is irreplaceable.
If that were not enough to busy up your schedule for the rest of your life, there are three things I want to add to the list of what it takes to be a real father today. They are very simple. You see, there are three very basic things that your child needs to hear from you as dad as free and frequent as possible. Those three things are: (1) “I love you”, do not hesitate to remind them in words of your love and for most men that is hard to do because it is not a common habit when it comes to telling kids especially boys. (2) “I am proud of you”, every child needs to know that their father is proud of them even when they are not at their best, and finally (3) “You are good at…” you son or daughter might not be an athlete or musician but there is something in life that every child is good at and they need to be reminded of that often. If you want to experience positive life and light come into your children as well as into your parenting, give it a try. You can thank me later.
For any men that might read this article, whenever you feel like you have this fathering thing figure out don’t be surprised when your child throws you a curve ball. One of my greatest challenges is learning that each of my children are unique in their own way and what works for one in most cases, will not work for the other. Try multiplying that by four and it really gets complicated. A large percentage of parents have one parenting method for all children and it is simple “my way or no-way”. While that ultimately makes sense, the approach to be taken with each child needs to be different in order to get the desired positive outcome. In learning from your children as you go and as they grow, you become a real father and parent in today’s culture. You will also notice that the father you were yesterday is completely different from the father you are today and the father you will become tomorrow. I know this first hand. The father that my nine year old son Daniel has today is a completely different father than the father my twenty year old son had when he was nine. That is only because I was willing to learn and grow. Did I mention counseling? Yes, black men it is ok to seek professional help. It is actually very healthy and will yield great benefits if you submit yourself to it. In summary, what it means to be a real father today is: learn from your child, allow their uniqueness to force you to become better, educate yourself through Biblical guidance, books, professional and wifely counsel. These things will help you to stay one step ahead of your child. They might not always think you are very smart but the older they get, the smarter you also get. You might have the greatest of intentions but if your intentions don’t match your attention to detail and action, all it will be in the end is great intentions.
By: Antonio Redmond
Married to Latrece Redmond and father of four.
T.J, Alonzo, Trechaum and Daniel