Fathering a child is easy. A night of passion and you’re done. But being a real dad, a hero to your kids and a “manly man” to yourself, requires stepping up. Being around isn’t enough. Showing up for an occasional event isn’t enough. Weekend visitations can be enough, but only if you are interested and hands-on. Even love is not enough, if it isn’t expressed and shown regularly.
To be a dad, a real dad, not just a sire, requires effort — day-in and day-out effort. It requires doing the ordinary requirements of childcare consistently, predictably, and with a positive attitude.
Parenting well is certainly rewarding, but it isn’t always easy. Sometimes it seems to require “super” human effort. Any parent (mom or dad) who does it deserves to be seen as “Super” but not everyone knows how.
Since Father’s Day is coming up, this article focuses on what it takes to be a “Super” dad. I hope it is validating for those who are already flying high on being a dad and helpful, even inspiring, to those who are trying to figure it out.
Why be a Superdad? Because being a Superdad is great for the dad as well as the children. Active fathering builds a man’s self-esteem. It often gives life new meaning and motivates men to be the best they can be. It can even balance out dissatisfaction on the job. One Gallup poll showed that 59% of the men interviewed found more satisfaction in caring for their family than from success at work.
Further, fathers who partner with their kids’ mother in the regular care of their children have more successful marriages. If divorced or never married, they have a more cooperative and friendly relationship with their ex — which makes parenting when separated less stressful. Most importantly, Superdads have a lifetime positive relationship with their children.
How to Earn That Superdad Cape:
Every father can be a Superdad for his kids but you have to earn the cape. It doesn’t show up on the front porch when a child is born. It doesn’t come with a big income. It doesn’t come with good intentions. If you want a cape, you need to be an active, involved father throughout a kid’s lifetime. Earning it is not impossible. The skills of Superdaddying take commitment and practice.
Be hands-on for the great parts of daddying: That means rocking an infant, playing on the floor with young kids, and doing daily (yes, daily) fun stuff. Research has shown repeatedly that rough-housing with dad teaches kids to deal with challenges, to take reasonable risks, to have confidence in their bodies and to be more socially capable. Why? Because while moms tend to focus on safety first, dads tend to be more willing to tumble and generally be more physical in their interactions. Kids need both kinds of parenting.
Be hands-on for the not-so-pleasant parts: That means changing poopy diapers, wiping noses, staying up with kids who are sick, and cleaning up their messes. Kids whose dads are unfazed by the basic but not entirely pleasant activities of nurturing are perceived by their kids as more caring and more connected with them. So — Hum a tune while you change their diapers. Comfort them when they are sick. Make picking up their toys as much fun as playing with them.
Be reliable: Superdads can be counted on to do what they say they will do when they say they will do it. They only make promises they can keep. If circumstances make it impossible to follow through on a commitment, they let the kids know as soon as they can. Reliability helps a child feel safe and secure.
Show up: Superdads don’t just drop in from the sky now and then. They get home for dinner. They supervise homework, play with their kids evenings and weekends, and go regularly to practice, games, and performances. They go to teacher conferences and doctor appointment. Superdads know that showing up shows kids their love.
Talk to your kids: Talk to them, not at them. Some studies show that kids learn different words and different styles of communication from dads than from moms. When they are talked to by both parents, the kids expand their vocabulary and develop their verbal skills. Yes, you can talk to an infant. They babble, you tell them your news. As they get older, you can talk about their day, discuss the story you read at bedtime, and explain the steps of whatever you are doing.
Earn their respect, not their fear: Superdads know that discipline is about teaching, not about punishment. Studies confirm that spanking, yelling, and threatening only teach a child to fear adults and to go underground when they make mistakes. Instead, Superdads set up clear expectations — and clear consequences — for behavior. When your child does something wrong, talk about what they should have done differently, and try to involve them in what should happen next. Yes, a consequence may be necessary, but consequences that are fair and understood are more likely to teach the lesson.
Be a dad, not a babysitter: One of the most destructive ideas in American culture is that an involved dad is doing their kids’ mom a favor or is “baby sitting”. You’re not. You are doing one of the most important jobs a person can do. You are raising a child to be a competent, educated, moral, socially adept adult. To be a Superdad is to embrace your parenting role.
Model compassion and competence: Children really do learn most from what they live. Children whose fathers couple competence with kindness grow up to be competent, compassionate men. They are more likely to be successful in their careers and in their relationships. Best of all, they are more likely to become Superdads themselves.
Soon it will be another Father’s Day. What better day to make or renew your commitment to be a Superdad? Earn that cape and tie it on. Others may not be able to see it but you and your kids will certainly know it is there!