10 Free and Easy Ways to Be A GREAT DAD

It wasn’t rocket science nor did any of the things that made a difference cost money. Any man can be like my dad and/or my step dad… Here are a few of the things they did…

Today is Father’s Day and of course, I am thinking about the incredible paternal influences in my life. Hardly a week goes by where I am not reminded of some major impact my father had on my life even though he passed away almost 25 years ago. I’ve written about him quite a bit over the years I’ve been blogging but I’ve never really talked much about my step-dad. I got lucky at the age of 14 when my mom married him, although it took me a few years to realize it. He was a strong mentor and a true cheerleader in the face of my dreams. He fiercely loved my mom and provided another amazing example of how to respect a woman. He epitomized fairness and equality even while being a strong disciplinarian. I didn’t always agree with his approach, especially if he was bellowing but in retrospect, I appreciate his passions.

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1990 with my Step-dad Francis K. Bean

I cannot speak about ‘being’ a father but I can certainly attest to the attributes of two remarkable men who embodied the role successfully and share my perception of how they contributed to my life in such positive ways. It wasn’t rocket science nor did any of the things that made a difference cost money. Any man can be like my dad and/or my step dad… Here are a few of the things they did:

THEY SPENT TIME WITH ME

I never really cared how… it might have been sitting on dad’s lap as a little girl, fixing something, or being a helper as he tinkered on one of his many projects… It was often taking a walk, swinging in a hammock, or cooking together.  I  always knew that my dad and my step dad were available to make me a priority from time to time.

THEY LISTENED TO ME

Both of these men were on my ‘call list’… the ones you could call at any time, for any reason, under any circumstance and they would listen. They knew when to ‘fix’ things and when to simply listen. They offered suggestions but didn’t criticize. They didn’t get defensive or judgmental.

THEY TAUGHT ME

My father in particular was one of the most patient and kind individuals I’ve known. He found the patience to help me over and over again regardless of the task I was learning. My step dad might have had a bit less patience but he was determined to stick by you until the knowledge was imparted. Both of them were completely selfless when it came to sharing what they knew from common sense to book smarts, and they were equally relentless in their pursuit of acquiring more.

THEY FORGAVE ME

I was less than a perfect child and my mistakes occasionally ran deep and wide. They provided me with the space to fail and learn and they were always there to help me stand back up. When I was rude or sassy they stood firm, but let go and moved on without persecution or resentment.

THEY MODELED FOR ME

They modeled the behavior they expected from me. It was never ‘do as I say, not as I do’… While neither one of them were perfect of course, they upheld the values they spoke of; integrity, honesty, compassion, and respect. They never asked something of me that they weren’t willing to do themselves.

THEY PROTECTED ME

They protected me. Sometimes it was from myself, others it was from a boy who broke my heart or from a bad financial decision. They stood by me when strangers were rude or when I was treated unfairly. When Rocky died they literally held me up – one on either side of me and when I remarried, they shared time on the dance floor with me. I felt safe in the world because of them.

THEY ENCOURAGED ME

My father said that the only thing in the world I could never achieve was to become a father… other than that he said, “dream away”. My stepdad believed that I would conquer the business world and would challenge me to “work my brain” during the years that I chose to stay at home with the kids. If I had an idea, they were the inquisitors and financiers in support of the endeavor.

THEY TALKED TO ME

They asked about my day with genuine open-ended questions and prompted solid discussion about my life, social issues, and investigated topics of shared interest. When I moved away they would call me first… wanting share in my life even from afar. They were never salty or sarcastic about who called who – they promoted interactive communication that I knew was respected.

THEY LAUGHED WITH ME

I grew up knowing that it was OK to be silly and have fun, to tell jokes and play pranks. My dad and stepdad laughed with me even if I was laughing at them sometimes. My father was especially good at knowing how to balance life with silliness and laughter.

THEY SAID ‘NO’

They set boundaries, established rules, and demanded respect regardless of my age. I learned early not to expect everything I wanted but that my needs would be met. Of course, when they were able and often with delight, I was the recipient of their generosity whether it was a plane ticket home or a new dress for no reason.

These are the things that stand out.

My son recently became a father for the first time and I know he will be a great one. He has grown into a kind and fair man with an even temper. As I watch him look at his son, the love and awe in his eyes is vividly apparent and I know he is experiencing a love far deeper than he has ever known. This list is for him as much as it is for anyone so that his own son may someday describe him from this vantage point.

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2017  New Dad Francis Marion with son Francis Marion

I never cared how much money my dad earned or how many places he took us. It didn’t matter if we went to Disney because we spent Saturday afternoons walking along the creek looking for tadpoles. A deep and thought-provoking conversation over a pot of coffee was far more memorable than taking his credit card to the mall on Friday nights.

I was a lucky girl and I like to think that some of the characteristics that my father and stepdad demonstrated infiltrated my own parenting. I see most of them in my brothers as I watch them with their young children and I wish them for my son as he embarks on this personal fatherhood journey.

Happiest of Father’s Days to all the dad’s out there!

 

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This Mom Has a Favorite Child

When Erin was home a few weeks ago she took the Red-eye in from LA and arrived in Philly at the ungodly hour of 5 am. I had worked late the night before and had clients scheduled well into the evening that night. Instead of forking out the mula for an airport shuttle home, she opted to transfer across a few different trains and arrived in our town at the more appropriate hour of 8 am where I excitedly and lovingly met her at the train station.

This past week, daughter Sara was headed overseas for a quick visit with Frank & Rosie. She has scored a great price flying out of Philly so even though she doesn’t live that close anymore, she drove *home* and then I took her to the airport for a mid-afternoon departure.

Apparently, this transportation arrangement led to a discussion between the two girls about which child was my favorite – based on the criteria of my willingness to drive to the airport. I believe it went something like this:

Erin: “That’s bunk, I’m obviously not the favorite child”.

Together in unison: “That would be Emily”.

Sara: “No, Frank is both the favorite son and the favorite daughter”.

I have always remembered – and recounted – a story I read in the Virgina-Pilot Ledger Star some thirty years ago, close to Mother’s Day. It was about a woman who had raised a few children by herself after the death of her Navy husband and when interviewed independently, each of the children had expressed that they always thought that ‘they’ were the favorite child. I recall thinking ‘what a gift she gave them’ as I… firmly believed that I was the favorite and I am convinced that it offered me a foundation of confidence.

My parents are gone now so we will never really know but I’ve strived to convey that same sentiment to my own children. I’m not sure it helped to tell them that I was trying to convince each one of them that they were my favorite. Perhaps it is kind of like your husband telling you how beautiful you are – we figure there is an underlying motivation and/or it is a fully biased statement; what else is he going to say?

In any regard, for most of my children’s lives – indeed, even now – my hope is that they know they each ARE my favorite for very different reasons

Frank – well, he’s my only son and the product of my first true love so he gets two very specific distinctions setting him apart from the girls; no doubt motivating their dialogue. He is responsible for my first gray hairs and my laugh lines. He is about to become a father for the first time and I am not only crazy anxious to meet that little critter but also excited for Frank to know parenthood and the enormity of love it manifests. Frank and I had several years alone together after his father died and became my reason for living; there is no doubt that a unique bond forms under those conditions. He IS my favorite son.

Sara – she is the manifestation of my childhood imagination as it pertains to what I ‘thought’ having a daughter would be like. Any time I played ‘house’ with my baby doll (aptly named Sara), I would imagine becoming a mother someday and when Sara was born she was it… She has always been my ‘little helper’, dependable and eager to please. Sara has yearned to learn since the day she was born. Her favorite pastime was to play school and she wanted to be the student. That desire has morphed into exploration and entrepreneurship as she matures, continuing her love of new information and even though it takes her far away from me, I am always so proud of her never ending curiosity. She is the peacekeeper and the unifier having adopted and now embodying the truest spirit of ‘family’. She wraps my heart in a hug with the simple words “Hi mom” and it feels like home. Sara IS my favorite oldest daughter.

Erin – she is my mini. She is headstrong and determined – creating a battle of wills from time to time that keeps her pushing forward. She is fiercely dedicated to her convictions and deeply emotional; traits that I admire as they remind me to stay true to myself and I honor that she acquired that knowledge so young. She is loyal and dedicated; maintaining friendships almost as old as she is. She loves with her whole heart, working to stay open and vulnerable; communicating through her fears. I wonder if Erin is an old soul, here to master a few lessons; focusing on perseverance. She lights my heart like a ray of sunshine every time she turns to look my way. Erin IS my favorite middle child.

Emily – she is the one that did all the things I said my children would never do and has consequently transformed my ideology of motherhood; I became less rigid. Her presence in my life has forced me to relax and reevaluate my priorities. I named her after an Aunt who personifies peace and humility and so it may be no accident that she was born with an elevated sense of compassion and soul, helping me foster and grow more of my own. She is equally fun and serious; diving headfirst into her passions with vigor and persistence. She fortifies and strengthens my heart with something as simple as a phone call. Em IS my favorite youngest child.

My children make me want to be a better person as they mature in their amazing individual traits and talents. I have believed from my first moment of motherhood that they are each unique and magnificent gifts to me and have as much to teach me as I have had to teach them. I am honored – every day – to be their mother.

 

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Freaked Out By “Shoulds” – A client’s letter to her mother

I realize that I was always trying to be who you wanted me to be …

This letter was written by a client as a ‘therapy’ homework assignment and I thought it was incredibly powerful. She gave me permission to reproduce it as long as I waited at least a year and omitted her name. I have done both. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen through the years that could have written the same letter addressed to either a mother or father.  Read through and see my thoughts at the end…

Dear Mama,

I’ve been asked to write a letter to you that expresses my feelings about growing up as your daughter. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to say to you because I don’t want to hurt your feelings. In fact, I’ve always wanted to just love you. I’ve wanted you to love me and I think you did. In your own way. I have had a hard time understanding that you love me because I don’t believe that you ever accepted me. There were so. many. shoulds. I can’t get rid of them.

I know, you say that you do accept me except that you kept telling me all the things I “should” do. You told me I ‘should’ go to church, that I ‘should’ date Kevin, that I ‘should study harder, and that I ‘should’ go back to school. I tried to tell you that those things didn’t matter to me but you didn’t listen. You told me I ‘should watch what I eat” that I ‘should’ wear my hair short, and that I ‘shouldn’t’ wear short shorts. If I had done those things, I would have been a mini version of YOU – not me. Those things weren’t ‘me’. More than that, you told me I ‘should’ have kids before I got much older and when I did you went so far as to tell us how we ‘should’ parent them. Jesus mom… why ‘should’ I??

Today, I am freaked out by all the ‘shoulds’ that I’ve never achieved. I feel like a failure. I didn’t do what you thought I ‘should’ and somehow I decided that since I wasn’t doing those things that you wouldn’t (couldn’t?) love me. I am not all the things I ‘should’ be mama and I know you are disappointed. Here’s the thing I am confused about.

Why couldn’t you just love ME. The person I am. Why do I have to be like you in order to be considered good or OK? Why do I have to like what you like? Why can’t you just be OK with the person that I am? I’m not a crack addict or a mass murderer. I’m a pretty good person but I feel like it will never be ‘good enough’.

Frankly mama, I didn’t ask to be here. You did that. And because you chose to bring me into this world, I would assume that you might just be happy with who I am but that’s not what I thought for most of the time that I was growing up.

Yes, you came to my basketball games. Yes, you bought me a prom dress. Yes, you sent me to college. I probably didn’t appreciate any of those things at the time as much as I could have. However, I never felt like I could really talk to you. I was always waiting for the next criticism to come. “Don’t eat that”, “you need to lose five pounds”, “Don’t drink, or have sex, or curse”, “go to class”, “clean your car”, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I’m in therapy now mama and I am trying to discover who I am. I realize that I was always trying to be who you wanted me to be and I never figured out what felt right to me. I am almost forty and I am just now doing that. I am not blaming you per se as the therapist tells me you probably did the best you knew how to do. I hope to accept that someday.

In the meantime, I want you to know that I am throwing all those shoulds out the window and I am asking you right here, right now to ACCEPT ME AS I AM. I think that is your role as my mother. Just love me and all the things that might be different from you. We don’t have to agree, we just need to respect that we are two different people and accept those discrepancies, not judge them.

I want you in my life IF you are willing to just take me as I am. I, in turn, will take you as you are. No blame. Just compassion and acceptance. That’s it.

As children, we make the general assumption that our parents love us – or at least we have the unconscious and simply human expectation that they do/will. We tend to develop an understanding of love’s expression via the environment, television, social cues, etc… if a father beats his child stating it is ‘because’ he loves him/her – the child develops an understanding that physical abuse is a form of ‘love’ until he/she is taught otherwise.

If a parent is ‘absent’ – for whatever reason – there is generally an assumption on the child’s part that love is also absent. Children have difficulty sometimes separating ‘fact’ from ‘perception’ – actually even adults are challenged with that from time to time and yet we may expect that our children ‘know better’ (well, of course I love you).

Parents can listen more and preach less.

Parents can accept more and judge less.

Parents can teach more and dominate less.

Parents can trust more and fix less.

Parents can guide more and dictate less.

Most parents do the best they can – based on what they know – in that moment. We really can’t expect much more than that but… when we learn more we need to make it a point to do better instead of assuming that it’s too late or that we are too old to make big changes.

The mother of the client who wrote this letter eventually came to a few sessions with my client where they discussed this letter and learned to accept and honor one another’s differences. Today, the client and the mother have a loving relationship based on compassion, tolerance, and clear expectations. It is working.

Too bad it took almost 40 years.

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