A Letter To Dads

Chances are, that because you are reading this as a follower, fan or subscriber of Leave Nothing Unsaid, you are probably NOT a dad.  How do I know that? Because for the past seven years, I've had the distinct pleasure of working with Jody Noland behind the scenes with Leave Nothing Unsaid supporting her digital marketing efforts.  Based on the insights about the community of email subscribers, Facebook fans, online orders, etc., I can tell you that men only account for 10% of those communities.  Based on that startling statistic, I have something to ask of you right now.  Think of a dad in your life that you can forward this message on to - after reading it, of course!  Because this is written just for them.

Now that that's out of the way….

Dear Fellow Dads,

First, Happy Father's Day!  Did you know that this year marks the 109th anniversary of the very first Father's Day?  It was introduced by Sonora Smart Dodd who, after hearing a sermon about Mother's Day, immediately proposed to her local clergy that a similar holiday should be held to celebrate and affirm fathers.  And rightfully so!  While the moms of the world are nothing short of superheroes, us dads have our own traits and talents that are worthy of recognition.  But fellas, I have to say that we often come up short on one critical aspect of being a great dad: affirming our children.

What do I mean by affirm? It's simple, things that we can do to support and encourage our children.  Affirming our children may be one of the most important things we can do as a parent. It's one of the core pillars of expressing our love and establishes a foundation of confidence and self-appreciation that will define the person that they become as adults.

It's been my observation from supporting the Leave Nothing Unsaid program over the past several years, that this realm of relationship - affirming others - falls squarely in the domain of women.  From Facebook comments to workshop participants, the overwhelming majority of participants are ladies.  Why on earth is that?  I don't think we as dads understand the value of affirming our children and I also think we weren't taught affirmation by our fathers historically.

I honestly think our inhibition to affirm stems from a cycle of parenting patterns from fathers of previous generations in which the old paradigms of parenting roles still existed. Mom's were seen as the ones to nurture and affirm. Dad's were seen as the disciplinarian in the house.  The old "good cop, bad cop" routine if you will. "Just wait until your father gets home!" ring a bell?  But those days are so far in the rearview mirror, they seem foreign to me as a dad now.  My wife is as much, or more so at times, the one who enforces the consequences of our daughters' poor behavior.  Is that true in your family?  But for some reason, us guys haven't been as quick to adapt to these new shared responsibilities by strengthening our "good cop" skills as our partners have.  But here's the great news, today is a perfect day to change that.  Below are three tactics that I've used over the past two years to improve my affirmation "game."

Find Your Swing

There are so many different ways that you can affirm your kids.  You should find a method that is comfortable for you and at least start there.  You may not be the Shakespeare in the family by writing notes or letters, or maybe that's exactly your thing.  You might be the touchy-feely type or on the other hand, hugs or piggyback rides might make you uncomfortable. That's ok, you be you. But explore the many different ways you can communicate your encouragement and find at least one that you can embrace.   Trust me, it will become the thing that you are probably remembered by one day if it matches your personality and style.

Make it Routine

This may seem counterproductive to make affirming your sons or daughters routine.  That if you always pour on the affirmation that it will lose its importance or impact.  Nope!  Not at all.  While how you affirm them will need to adapt as they grow and mature, their need to be affirmed will always be there.  Heck, I'm 42, and it still means the world to me when my mom or dad affirm some quality or trait in me.  

So here's a tip, find some repetitive time in your daily or weekly schedule when you are with your kids and can spend five minutes dedicated to the task of affirming them.  For me, it's Sundays during worship service. I make it a point to sit next to one or both of my oldest daughters.  During the sermon, I put my arm around their shoulder and give them a little hug.  I also do school drop-off and pick-up at our house.  Now, I'm a morning person (see Find Your Swing) so on our ten minutes or so drive to school, I often reflect on what's going on in each of my older daughter's lives and commend them for their focus, attention or determination toward it.

Plan Ahead

You want to know what I'm really good at?  Forgetting to take advantage of opportunities to affirm my children.  One of the tactics that I learned from Jody was writing notes of encouragement to put in your kids' lunch boxes.  I thought that was such a cool idea when I learned about it, so I put a couple of notes in the girls' lunch boxes before we headed out the door the next morning.  But then over the following days or weeks, I kept forgetting to jot a note down.  I just had too many other things (like getting kids dressed, fed and in a car) to find time to jot down a note and slip it into their lunch box without them seeing.

You know how to fix that?  Go get a sticky pad and write down 20, 30 or 40 notes all at once.  They can say things like "You make me smile" or "I love your laugh" or "I'm proud of you."  Sure, those seem cliche to you, but guess what you're old!  They sound cliche because you've heard them or read them hundreds of times before.  But to your kids, they are brand new, and they are from their hero - their dad.   Then, and here's the important part,  tell your spouse about the notes and ask them to help you put one in the lunch boxes, soccer bag, backpack or whatever, regularly.  I bet you earn some serious brownie points from your spouse too by asking for their help to do something loving for your children (bonus!).  If you put them somewhere that you'll see them when you are getting ready (medicine cabinet or by the coffee beans) you'll be reminded about the opportunity.

I want to end on this.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to go through a men's program through my church called Radical Mentoring that created an amazing small group of guys in my life that I meet with regularly and feel comfortable sharing my celebrations and joys but more importantly my concerns, fears, and weaknesses.  Us dads need to encourage each other to be loving and intentional dads.  To that end, if you have a tip or trick that you wouldn't mind sharing with me about how you affirm your kids, I would be so grateful to hear it.  Just shoot me an email at bryan@jordin.com

P.S. - Happy Father's Day, Bob. You've taught me how to be an affirming father more than anyone else.  My wife, children, and I will always be grateful for that.