I have a vivid memory of seeing Star Wars when I was six. My family had just driven two grueling days from suburban New York City to Orlando, so we could vacation at Disney. This being Florida in August, we awoke the first morning to a torrential downpour. So alternate plans were in order – my mom and sister went shopping, and my dad and I went to the movies. We opted for tickets to a film that neither of us had heard of.
One flight of the Millennium Falcon later, my mind was completely blown. I’ve been a Star Wars geek ever since.
Now, I’m a dad, and I’ve been lucky enough to fly to Disney three times with my wife and son. About two years ago, when Nick was six years old, I introduced him to Star Wars, and his mind was also completely blown.
Riding Space Mountain, having nightly light-saber battles, and watching Nick relish his Jedi Academy training at Disney Hollywood Studios are highlights of my life. As great as these experiences are to a kid, trust me – they’re even better as a dad. I’m glad to be passing them along.
Most of my childhood was spent playing baseball – Little League, All-Stars, Babe Ruth leagues. My memories are filled with games, practices, playing catch, and enjoyable hours with my dad at Yankee Stadium.
I always felt as if my father was with me every step of the way. For years, he was the manager for whatever baseball team I was on. Because he was able to make every kid feel important, they gave him their best, and we always won the championship.
Nick just finished his first year of kids-pitch baseball. While I’m not his manager, I am one of his team’s coaches. I love spending time playing ball with my son and his friends. We watch games together on TV, and we spend evenings at our local minor league stadium. As great as baseball is as a kid, it’s even better as a dad. I’m glad to be passing it on from my dad to my son.
My father worked in a variety of responsible roles for the Office of Child and Family Services of New York State. His job was demanding and important – helping troubled kids and getting them back on the right track. For several years, he ran juvenile delinquent group homes around New York City. He was on call 24/7 in case of emergencies. He was the first person I ever knew who carried a beeper.
Despite his busy schedule, my father was an active, involved dad. He supported my mother as she went to college and grad school part-time, and eventually became a teacher. Beyond baseball and family vacations, he was a constant, loving, involved presence throughout my childhood. He made a decent living, though no one would ever have considered us rich. But I had all I needed – no matter how demanding his work was, I could count on my dad to be there for me.
God, I hope I’m passing this along.
Today, I write about fatherhood. I advocate for dads’ work-family balance. When talking with dads, the overriding concern is how their children will remember their childhoods, and how well they have equipped their children to lead successful lives.
I think the best answer to both questions is two-fold. First, you need to be a constant, involved, and loving presence in your children’s lives. You need to do the everyday things, including the unglamorous and thankless tasks. Second, you should punctuate the everyday parenting with special bonding moments – specific activities your kids will remember when they become adults, to pass along when they’re parents themselves.
To me, being a good dad is all in the trying.
If we’re asking the right questions, pursuing the right goals, and are mindful about how our actions will be perceived by our children, we’re doing the most important work of being good fathers. And I can’t think of a better thing to be.
I had a great role model. I’m lucky and I know it. I hope I can be the same for Nick. My dearest wish is that when my son grows up, he and I will have the kind of relationship that my dad and I now share. Even though we live a few hours apart, we Facebook every day, talk often, see each other whenever we can, ski together every winter, and watch Nick on the baseball field in the summer.
Our relationship kicked up a few notches about 10 years ago when my parents divorced. It was a dark time for my father, and I’m happy I was there to help see him through. After all he’s done for me, it was the least I could do.
I try to spend as much quality time with my boy as I can. I try to put work aside during family time. I try to model the beliefs and behaviors I want him to learn. I am committed to building a wealth of childhood memories for and with Nick, from which he will always know the unconditional love of his dad.
Sometimes, life and work clash, and I fail. None of us can succeed at the goals we set all the time, but we can try.
Most of all, I hope that’s what Nick sees – how hard I try – just as I saw that my dad always tried his best for me. If so, I think he may absorb these lessons, and perhaps 25 years down the line, Nick will pass them along.
© Scott Behson
Scott Behson, PhD, is a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a busy involved dad, and an overall grateful guy. He runs Fathers, Work, and Family.com, a blog dedicated to helping fathers better balance work and family, and encouraging more supportive workplaces. He also writes on work and family issues for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) Blog, and for The Good Men Project. He lives in Nyack, NY with his wife, Amy, and son, Nick. Contact him on Twitter (@ScottBehson), Facebook, LinkedIn or email.
Part 5 in a series on father-son relationships.
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