Fatherhood, you might argue, is too complicated to be reduced to capsule form. But complexity only adds intrigue to the quest for guiding principles. And do we need guiding principles. After all the emotions, all the yelling, and all the laughter, I have distilled the duties and demands down to a decade of Dad dicta. Herewith, on behalf of all God’s children and their male parents, the 10 Commandments of Daddy.
1. Hey, Dad, be big
In spirit, that is. Consider some of the big guys who have gone before you: Father Time, God the Father. You can’t give this role a walk-through. You’ve got to play it. The kids expect stature from you. You’re the anvil on which they hammer out their deal with the world. Be a presence in their lives-and in their minds.
2. Hey, Dad, be small
Yes, this contradicts the first tip. Don’t be so big that you suck all the air out of the room. Give your kids space to move around in, to test their thoughts and strengths. Take a backseat three or four times a week. Say, “Maybe.” Say, “I don’t know.” Now and then, tell the kids you’re sorry-assuming you behaved badly. You’ll feel brand new.
3. Hey, Dad, come home
Lots of fathers have two jobs. If that’s your situation, God bless you, pal. You’ll get no heat from me. But if you can pay the bills without working double shifts, get home when you can. Nothing good can happen until you do.
4. Bob and weave, Bubba
Stay light on your feet. Don’t make too many hard-and-fast rules. Don’t insist on having your way with the kids just because the rest of the world isn’t always overly interested in the sound of your voice. There is a difference between authority and power. Have the first; don’t abuse the second.
5. Never dance in front of their friends
Remember the cautionary legend of the father who once picked his kids up at a junior-high dance and actually went into the gym and did a few seconds of the Hully Gully with Margie Costanzo. His adult children still have embarrassment nightmares.
6. Save your money, big man
If you’re not careful, the kids will send you to the poorhouse three dollars and twenty-nine cents at a time. Think college tuition. Think down payment on their starter homes. Although it’s true that money can’t buy happiness, it can buy lots of other stuff.
7. Spend your money, tightwad
F. Scott Fitzgerald said the sign of a first-rate mind was the ability to have two opposite opinions at the same time. You’re a first-rate mind, Dad. So spring for the glowing monster trading cards. If you’ve got the money, pop for the musical princess crown. What are you saving your money for, pal? College? Hah! You can’t possibly save enough. There is the future, and then there is now. This is it.
8. Never go on a ride with the word whirl in its name.
Especially the Space Shuttle Whirl at the Great Escape near Lake George, New York. It’s tougher to be a good father when your nervous system is permanently compromised. Stay on the ground and wave.
9. Let ’em be-they’re not your second chance
We become most upset with the kids when they remind us of… well, us. Help them follow their own path, not your road not taken.
10. Love their mother
Hug Mom. Often. In front of the kids. Sure, sometimes marriages end, but the obligation to a woman doesn’t. Be grateful to her. Speak to her with respect. Try to make her laugh. Listen. Even if you’re not married to her, figure out how to love her.