Pater familias in the ideal

If one were making an ideal father, what would he be? Hallmark has dozens of ready-made tropes into which we might cast our perfect father: hunter; fisherman; golfer; griller; sports fan; car nut and Barcalounger captain. While these make for fine greeting cards, they don’t get to the essence of fathering.

They are hobbies not habits. This then makes us wonder, what makes Dad an effective potter for his progeny’s clay?

A good father provides consistent discipline. By this we mean that he sets limits, lives within them and motivates his children to do the same. He curbs negative behavior and explains why things must be done.

A good father also permits his kid to make mistakes. Unless he lets you fall once in a while, you don’t figure out that you can get up. Failure is often more instructive than success. Good dads build on this fact.

Similarly, a good father challenges his kids. He gives them problems to solve and explains why the solution was worth finding. He builds their confidence one small step at a time.

A good father also knows that his view of the world may be different than that of his children. The world changes. People change. Effective fathers recognize this and allow their children to live as individuals.

Corollary to this, good dads appreciate uniqueness. He is supportive and loyal. He is a defender of the person, even if he doesn’t agree with all of their choices.

Good fathers also show their children that the world is full of wondrous and amazing things. He encourages his children to be curious, to seek out new experiences and to see how the proverbial “other half” lives.

He also helps his kids understand that adventure and freedom come with a price. A meaningful life, possessions and prosperity are not just commodities that a dad distributes. Rather, they should be structured goals. Just as dad can’t ride the bicycle for you, neither should he smooth the entire road in front of you.

Good fathers encourage learning. They promote the value of education. They understand that knowledge is power. They provide their children with a stable environment in which learning can take root.

Good fathers also recognize that children who learn about the larger world may not grow to be just like him. He accepts that. He shows that people can disagree and still love one another.

Just as he accepts difference, good fathers promote rectitude by example. They demonstrate the value of respect, industry, faithfulness, empathy and courage.

To this point, fathers teach their children —- sons in particular —- to treat women properly. He teaches his sons to respect and love their mother. He teaches his sons to treat women, not as disposable playthings, but as equals and partners in life.

Along these same lines, good fathers take financial responsibility for the babies they make. No man is a greater coward than the one who fathers a child and walks away from it.

This goes to this most important point —- good dads show up every day, rain or shine. They show up ready to be an active presence and a positive force in their children’s lives. They make time to spend time with their kid.

Dads don’t have to be without fault. They don’t have to be exemplars of purity and virtue. They just have to clock in, hang on and show the love they feel.

If you have a dad that came close to these benchmarks, you need to tell him. He’d sure like to know.