What does it mean to be a father?
To me, being a father is about educating and taking care of the children. It’s a journey and a set of lessons.
It’s about learning to be a giver — putting aside what I want and learning to put what they need in front of me.
It’s about guiding children to find out who they are and what their strengths and talents and abilities are, and then helping them figure out how they can use those gifts to better the world.
Being a father is about learning to pretend to be angry, but not to be actually angry, and to set boundaries and to make special occasions.
Being a father is about being woken up in the middle of the night when your three-year-old says, “I’m hungry for breakfast.” And you think to yourself, “Of course. Is she out of her mind?”
And then I walk downstairs and pour her a bowl of Rice Krispies. Then I’m sitting there, and as I’m falling asleep on the table, my daughter says, “Dad, you’re hungry right?” And I say, “No, I’m not hungry at all. I’m tired.” She says, “No, you’re hungry aren’t you?” (Luckily, one thing I learned in grad school is that women enjoy bonding, even at three years old, so I translate her message to: “Don’t you want to bond with me right now?”)
And she repeats and repeats until I say, “Yes, of course little cutie. I’m very hungry.” And then we eat Rice Krispies together.
Being a father is a privilege and responsibility and I’m surprised that we don’t need a license to do it.
You know, anything we do in life that has a lot of power and can impact or injure other people normally requires a license. You need a license to drive a car, own a gun, become a therapist, become a doctor and so on.
And yet being a parent does not require a license. It is a powerful job with great impact and consequences on another human being and soul.
To be a good father, we have to learn how to take care of ourselves and learn about our own triggers and emotions so that we do not take them out on our children.
Although we do many selfless acts for our kids, we also have to learn to accept the little boy inside and meet his needs, too. Because when the little boy inside is jealous, he competes with the children and makes chaos in the man, and that spills into the family.
Learning to take care of myself is learning to take care of my children. As the traditions of old teach us, “love your neighbor as yourself” — if I don’t love myself, it’s hard to love my neighbor and my children properly.
Learning to let them take care of me is also part of being a father. I remember in vivid color the day I tried to sneak orange Gatorade into the house. My six year old son, Eli, raced out of the house to greet his Paps, just as I was grabbing my bag and bottle of Gatorade (which had been earlier forbidden in the house), and said, “Dad!”
“What?” I said.
“You can’t have that! It has orange dye #38! That’s poison.”
At which point he grabbed the bottle and ran. He was taking of me; would I let him? Being a father, I’m learning, is about learning to make space for them take care of me, too, in their way.
What is love? The Jewish tradition teaches that to love is synonymous with giving. There is the love of giving and the love of receiving (receiving love given). When our dads gave and gave and gave some more to us, playing with us and protecting us, we felt loved and cared about. That’s the love of receiving.
And when we give and give and give and play and cook and clean for our kids, we develop a love for them. That’s the love of giving. This is the love that comes out of giving so much. So in the end, being a father is about learning about love.
So if you want to see if you qualify for a license in parenting, come in to a group or individual therapy session and we will work and grow together on understanding how to be accountable to ourselves and others, how to manage our triggers, and how to be the best parents we can be.
Daniel Levi, LCPC, is a counselor, family therapist and life coach at the Center for Holistic Medicine in Deerfield, IL. He works with men to help them learn how to be accountable and responsible husbands, fathers and humans. He invites all men who are interested to come in for a men’s group on fathering and husbanding.