A father should role model a positive intrinsic value system—intrinsic meaning “from within yourself.” My personal mantra and advice to fathers is to role model kindness. Author and naturalist Greg Henry Quinn states that “you will never have a completely bad day if you show kindness at least once.” Be kind to your children—this will show them how to be kind to your grandchildren. Any role modeling to a child, good or bad, lasts a lifetime.
Practice what you preach was one of the first lessons I remember from my father. It was true when his father taught him and it is still true today. All children are well aware of when a parent is being two-faced—you are a fool if you think otherwise. I had just dropped family off at the airport and on the way home I decided to stop at a restaurant with my wife and six-year-old son. Just prior to this I had announced to the world that I was now a vegetarian. At the restaurant I ordered surf and turf. “What’s surf and turf, Dad?” asked Joshua. “Steak and seafood, son!” said I. Joshua then asked, “What does hypocrite mean, Dad?”
A father has life-enhancing potential. A good father will develop happy and healthy children who see their father as the ideal role model. These children will also have their father’s values and their behaviour will reflect this. The alternative is a father who will either embitter a child or leave the child unable to meet his ever-changing perfectionist expectations.
Organizational psychologist Bernard Bass described two leadership approaches that are vital for a father to understand. A transformational father will intrinsically motivate his children to do more than just what they are required to do—it’s about building relationships and the satisfaction that comes from solving problems or achieving goals. In contrast, a transactional father promotes compliance to rules through rewards and punishments.
Basketball coach John Wooden, who led his UCLA players to ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period, stated that being a role model is the most powerful form of education. But too often fathers neglect the importance of their role modeling—they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life. In the USA there is a catastrophic lack of male role models. Research shows that 17 million kids live in homes without fathers. In the African-American community, around 70 to 80 percent are fatherless.
Dictionary.com describes a role model as “a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.” A really outstanding paper on role modeling was completed by a Canadian Medical School. It stated that role modeling is an excellent teaching methodology. They came up with a five-item conceptual model:
- The role model must be excellent at what they do
- They must be consistent in good behavior, both verbal and non-verbal
- They must be able to perform in demanding situations
- They must be prepared to perform to expectations
- They should have humility and be aware of personal shortcomings.
It should be noted here that the above would nearly be impossible for a transactional leader. They do not have to perform to expectations and they do not have to be aware of their own personal shortcomings—all they have to do is wave the rule-book in people’s faces.
So how can we extend the above five-item model of role modeling to fatherhood?
- Excellence – In 2014 the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation stated that excellence in fatherhood behaviour is taken to mean “Fathers who, in word and deed, are responsible, involved, protective, loving, and committed to the well-being of their children.” A judge will also tell you that a father must be non-abusive. A father must set boundaries and consequences, otherwise he cannot be a role-model. In 2014. Family researcher Laura-Lynn Stewart stated that these boundaries cannot be punitive or self-serving; they must benefit the child. Above all, be kind to your children (and partner).
- Consistent – Set boundaries with agreement from the whole family and with kindness. When setting a boundary there must have a consequence if the boundary is broken. However, setting boundaries and not following up with the agreed consequence is more harmful than not having a boundary at all, according to the Raising Children Network. Always deliver the consequence to any bad behavior.
In 2007 Natasha Cabrera and her fellow researches concluded that parental consistency is hugely important and beneficial to the developing minds of children. A consistent approach means the child is never confused as to the outcome of their actions. A wonderful consistency for a father to show is that not only does he listen to his children, but also he models it by listening to their mother.
- Perform – children love to see their dads perform in demanding situations. One of the most damaging male role models is the father who does nothing yet controls. Don’t sit in your chair barking out orders. Leading and teaching your children in acts of kindness and empathy is the way ancient texts have taught us. If you can’t fix a car, order a mechanic. If you can’t fix a computer, order a technician. But weed the garden, wash the car, teach your children math and how to read.
- Be prepared – to me this means that a father should have a solid value system. Having strong specific values means that when a situation presents itself your mindset is prepared—you don’t have to think hard about what you will do. My personal value system is based on the last six commandments from Exodus 20—Honor your parents/carers, don’t steal and don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, don’t kill and don’t lust.
Now with a specific values system you should react appropriately to expectations. A doctor is expected to save lives, a father is expected to protect and lead his family. A father will provide finance for his family; he will not abuse his power, his position or his wife or kids; he can teach his family the skills he has learnt over a lifetime; he will affirm each member of his family with empathy and kindness, and he will motivate his family with considered leadership.
- Finally all good role models know their limitations. Talk to your buddies, talk to your parents, talk to your wife—each of these people will know something about your character that will limit your effectiveness as a father. Your anger, your domination, your lack of awareness and listening will all affect your ability to be a great dad. You may be fortunate enough to know your weaknesses and limitations—pray about those limitations, seek advice and have someone to be accountable to.
When my wife and I started to foster children we role modeled a protocol of equity. At times we would have more than 20 children in the house. One of the ways equity was expressed was correction through family council. My role was primarily as adjudicator. Anyone could bring any grievance to the family meeting and all discipline would be decided at council. I would listen and then paraphrase what I thought had been expressed. This role modeled listening. For correction the accused would be given every opportunity for explanation. Then anyone else in the family could respond in any fashion—again I would listen and then repeat back to the speaker what I believed they had said. Finally I would ask the group if they were all done. Upon agreement my wife and I would deliberate and decide on any penalties as required. This role modeled unity and equity in a marriage. The children all responded well as they believed they had been heard fully.
After a visit with his birth family, one of my 13-year-old foster sons stated that he had had a very valuable and positive time. Upon asking his mother I discovered that after a squabble with his sister he had set up a family council, which he adjudicated, ending with a fair and equitable outcome, much to amusement of his mother.
A father who is a loving role-model will develop happy and healthy children with the capability to embrace the notion of being a wonderful community member. Pray for wisdom to be a great dad.