In his 1998 book Tommy and Me, Ben Stein chronicles his feelings of frustration and joy of being a father. It’s a short book, at 152 pages, and contains many insights into parenting that made me stop and think. I especially enjoyed his concluding chapter. Here it is (in abridged form):
Ben Stein’s Ten Commandments of Fatherhood:
1. Time is of the essence. Spend large amounts of time with your child. Kids don’t want “quality time”… They want you to be there all the time.
2. Share your strength with your child. Be an ally, not an adversary. Share with him stories of your own fears, failings, and anxieties and how you overcame them.
3. Do not expect your child to make up for your own losses when you were a child. Let your kids pursue their own hopes and dreams.
4. Look for the good in your child and praise it. Children are nurtured by praise as plants are nurtured by water. Deny it to them at their peril and yours. Children who are told that they can succeed in fact usually do succeed.
5. Do not allow your children to be rude. Being polite is a basic foundation of human interaction, and kids will not succeed in life if they’re surly and disrespectful.
6. Patience is indispensable. Children’s behavioral flaws cannot be corrected by flipping a switch. It takes a long time and a lot of patience to teach positive behaviors. If you are an impatient, demanding, short-fused dad, you will get that irritable, demanding kind of kid.
7. Teach your child and let him teach you. Children will tell you what they want and need. Dads get into trouble when they do not listen to their kids and dismiss their feelings as not important. Also, your child should get the benefit of your wisdom and experience about life, so tell him what you know about the world around you. Learn from your children and let them learn from you.
8. Value your child for what he is, not for what you think he should be. I want my son to know that whatever he becomes in the future, he is prized just for being my son, right now.
9. Raising a child is a job for Mom and Dad. Children with absent fathers are wounded for the balance of their lives. Dad should and must be in there pitching along with Mom, helping out as an equal partner in the tough job of raising children. The true heroes of our generation are at home with their kids.
10. Being a Daddy is priority number one. When you decide that your kids come before your sales quota or your poker-playing schedule or your overtime to make partner, then you will find that all of the other pieces of Daddyhood fall into place – teaching and learning, patience, looking for the good and praising it. When you put your kids first, you are far less alone in this world. What’s more vital, so are they.