Growing up, I was one of the lucky ones. My dad coached my Little League teams and ate dinner with us every night. He was present and involved; making every effort to be the type of father he did not have himself. As a child, I knew he was a good dad, but it was not until I became a parent that I realized how much his presence impacted my own parenting philosophies.
When I would complain about my jobs as a young adult, he would often say, “Work isn’t supposed to be fun. You work so you are able to enjoy life with the people you love.” Until I had children of my own, I could not fully understand the significance of that statement. Thank you for teaching me that being a good parent means being present, patient and involved. Thank you for taking the time to teach me many important life lessons, even if I rolled my eyes at the time.
Here are a few of his most valuable life lessons.
1. Things are never as bad as they seem, things are never as good as they seem.
This phrase was said often as I became a young adult; when I got a bad grade, got rejected from a college or got a great job offer. To many of us, situations seem only amazing or awful. My dad never jumped to extremes and spent time and effort teaching me that I could do the same. In other words, he taught me to chill out.
2. Wait a few days before making any important decision.
I am impulsive by nature. I like to make decisions quickly. My dad is not driven by that same “need to make a decision right this second” impulse. He always made me let things simmer. Most important decisions deserve a few days.
3. You can add value without being the best.
My dad wished for children that were good athletes. Unfortunately, my brother and I were not. My dad was the coach of my Little League team and I was one of the worst players. Instead of sticking me in outfield to chase butterflies or putting me in a position I wasn’t qualified for, he put me as catcher, where I could I be part of the infield but still feel OK dropping the ball now and then. I learned to contribute and succeed in my own way. Being a successful member of a team or group means figuring out where you add value.
4. Parents do not need to agree with all their kids’ decisions; they need to support them.
I transferred colleges and changed careers after turning 30. As a man who likes to be prepared and secure, my dad was incredibly nervous. He did not agree with some of my decisions, but always told me that whatever I chose, my parents were behind me. Looking back, I realized I felt confident to make those changes because of the support I had. Be your child’s biggest cheerleader, even when their choice wouldn’t necessarily be your choice (legality permitting).
5. Presentation matters.
I bit my nails into bleeding nubs and ignored my dad’s requests to stop biting for years. He kept saying no one would hire me with those hands. Eventually I told him I would try to stop. When I did, I got a job.
6. Always carry cash and extra sharpened pencils
My dad showed me that preparation is half the battle. For the SAT exam, he brought my friends extra sharpened pencils, knowing that someone would forget or not have enough. As an adult, I rarely show up unprepared, especially now that I’m a parent. Being prepared decreases my anxiety and increases my confidence.
7. Work your ass off the first month of a new job. First impressions are everything.
Slacking when you first start a job is a recipe for failure. Impress people in the beginning; it will last a long time.
8. Make time for family “meetings.”
As an office manager for most of his career, my dad took on the role of head administrator of our family. He often organized meetings with the whole family or with individuals. In my meetings, we would go over school paperwork, bills, college applications, camp packing lists and anything else that could fit in a file cabinet. During the meetings, my dad would spend time explaining the paperwork. He would show me what he was filling out, the reasons behind his answers, and answer any questions I had. As a teenager I would roll my eyes, but as an adult, I see myself doing the same thing with my family. The meetings not only taught me how to take care of the to-do’s in my life but were also excuses to spend time together.
9. Show up for the people who matter.
As an adult I’ve realized how strongly this lesson is ingrained in me. Life isn’t about doing everything for everyone; it is about doing the right things for the people who matter. Call when someone needs to hear your voice; surprise your child by showing up at their sporting event; make the effort to do something nice when it may not be most convenient for you. My dad taught me that being a good person means being good to those who mean most to you.
10. Ice cream is a food group.
In my home there was no such thing as too much ice cream. There were ice cream floats, Carvel cake with the crunchy middle and tubs of Edy’s. Ice cream dates were special daddy/daughter time, and I always jumped at the chance to go out for ice cream with my dad.
A message for dads everywhere: make an effort to spend special time with your kids. Whether it is ice cream dates, going to sporting events or having family meetings, these are memories your kids will cherish and remember for the rest of their lives.
Jill Ceder is a psychotherapist, writer and mom of two in Brooklyn. You can read more of her parenting writing on Verywell.com (formerly About.com Parenting) or her website. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.