1. Love your children, and let them know it, even if it might feel a little awkward because your own parents were not comfortable with showing affection.
2. Be fair. So consistently that your children know they can count on your fairness, even when they don’t like it. (And as they watch you consider both sides of an issue, they’ll grow to understand that things are not ever necessarily black and white—or as simple as they might have first seemed.)
3. Listen to your children, even when their ideas might seem a little out there. (This is a corollary to #2.) You might learn something, but—even better—they will understand that you respect them and just might be a little more circumspect with the ideas with which they approach you.
4. Believe in your children. Your belief is contagious. If you believe they can do anything they set their minds to, they will believe it, too. (And, yes, this goes for playing basketball—even if your daughter is short and inexperienced and uncoordinated. If you believe in her, and practice with her, and help her get into shape by running with her, she might even make the junior high team.)
5. Keep your sense of humor. It’s a way to stay in touch with your children, even when you may disagree with them.
6. Support your children with your presence. Show them you care what they’re doing by being there at (years and years’ worth of) dance recitals and Little League games and band concerts and theatrical productions. Be there to help them learn to ride a bike and drive a car and to pat their hand awkwardly in an attempt to comfort them after their first breakup. When your eldest daughter calls to say the marathon she was going to run got canceled, tell her you’ll put one on for her birthday. Then do it, so that she can run her first marathon,”the Laurathon,” with you on her 38th birthday. . .
7. Live as if your children are watching. They are. They’re your opportunity to set an example, to show that it is possible to live what you believe. So when you go to bed early so that you might run an hour or two before going to work, or when you take on leadership roles in the church and community, or when you mild-manneredly respond to your sister’s arrogant new husband’s bragging that he’s going to whip you soundly in a game of pool by quietly beating the unfashionable black socks off of him, your children notice and silently cheer you on.
And when you want to enter a bike race, even though you have just an old green Schwinn Varsity bike and no experience, but you do it anyway and you have a good time, so you keep doing it and you get better at it, and you get a better bike and, soon, you’re the Mississippi State Master’s Division Cycling champ, three years in a row, your children are taking it all in.
And when you decide you want to run a marathon, and you do it, and then you want to run more, and you do. And then you want to run an ultra-marathon, but there’s not one within driving distance, so you decide to host one, and you and your beloved (and resourceful!) wife put on the Mississippi 50-Mile Run and it goes so well that you do it every year for 15 more years, your kids are watching and remembering.
And when you retire from your job as a scientist but continue to read and think and write and grow, your kids are observing, with respect and pride and admiration . . .
This list is incomplete, of course. There are as many different ways of being a great father as there are fathers. But these are a few of the things that come to mind for me when I think of my incredible father and all that he’s given me and my sister and brother over the years. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!
Photo: My dad, Grant Egley, and me on a neighbors’ pier at Lake Waccamaw, NC, November 1961