Of course, Father’s Day is a day to celebrate dads. We buy them gifts, cook them special meals, and tell them how much we love them. After all, dads deserve all of the special treatment and attention we can give them! However, Father’s Day isn’t just a day for us to make our dads feel like kings…it’s also a great time for fathers to relish the relationships they have with their kids! If that thought makes you squirm just a little bit because you know you probably aren’t in the running for “World’s Best Dad,” don’t worry. According to author Todd Patkin, there’s no better time to hit the reset button on your parenting style.
“If your overtime hours at work, your golfing hobby, or something else entirely has gotten in the way of your rapport with your kids, take a deep breath and let yourself off the hook,” says Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In. “The truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and more to the point, you can start improving the relationship you have with your children right now. In fact, doing so may be a lot easier than you think!”
Patkin speaks from experience. His relationship with his teenage son, Josh, is one of Patkin’s top priorities and the source of some of his greatest pleasures.
“Yes, being a parent can be tough, scary, frustrating, and time-consuming—but it’s also the single most worthwhile thing you’ll ever do,” he explains. “Working on becoming the best father you can be is the ultimate gift to you and your kids. You’ll all be happier, because when you invest in your kids, you’ll be rewarded tenfold through the joy your kids will give back to you. However, if you’re just going through the parenting motions without really putting your heart into being a dad, you’re missing out on this potentially untapped happiness.”
If you’d like to make this Father’s Day a turning point in the quality of your relationship with your kids, then read on for seven of Patkin’s experience-tested tips:
Simply be present more of the time. Yes, we’re all very busy. (If anything, that’s a gross understatement.) However, allowing your job, the errands you need to run, or your golf game to take precedence over time spent with your kids is one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a parent. Simply being there, physically and emotionally, will make a huge difference in how your kids see you and relate to you.
“Parenting is truly rooted in the day-to-day instead of in the ‘big’ events like recitals and ceremonies,” Patkin explains. “You can’t script or schedule the vast majority of life—you need to be there to catch the special, opportune moments. While earning money is important and bringing home gifts from business trips is nice, throwing a baseball in the front yard or simply watching a movie while sharing popcorn on the couch is always more special!”
Plug in—emotionally. It’s something we’ve all done: Your body is engaged in playing Monopoly with your children, but your mind is trying to figure out how much money will be left after all of the bills are paid, and when you’ll be able to take the car into the shop. Yes, you’re off to a good parenting start, but don’t be fooled: Being there in body is not enough. You’ve also got to give kids the first fruits of your thoughts and feelings if you really want to make a connection.
“Kids are smarter than we often want to admit—they know when your mind is elsewhere, even if they have no idea that you’re specifically thinking about business or how to improve your golf swing,” Patkin points out. “If this happens consistently, they’ll begin to feel less important, and your relationship will suffer. When you’re with your children, all of you needs to be there. Also, don’t be afraid to let go emotionally with your kids, especially in public. Wouldn’t it be great to be known as the person who cheers the loudest and greatest at your daughter’s ballgames, or simply as the most fun dad in town?”
Let your kids be themselves. Variations on this theme happen all the time: A dad insists that his son needs to stick with football because he has so many fond memories of being on the high school team himself…never mind that his son would much rather be marching in the band. Yes, when we try to dictate who our kids become we often have the best of intentions at heart, but we fail to realize that we’re doing those kids a big disservice. As a father, make a genuine effort to discover who your kids really are and commit to supporting them on their paths.
“Always love your kids for who they are,” Patkin says. “You’ve had the first portion of your life; now it’s their turn. And trust me—your kids will be happy adults only if they too learn to love and be okay with themselves as they are and for who they are. So, I’m sorry if you wanted your son to follow in your footsteps and be a star athlete. If he prefers the arts, you’d better love him for that just as well, and be cheering loudly at all of his concerts.”
Parent with no regrets. Parenting is the toughest job in the world because each family and each kid is incredibly unique. There’s no foolproof method for raising a happy and successful child, and you can bet that no matter how hard you try to get it right, you’ll wish you’d done some things differently. Instead of getting bogged down in parenting what-ifs and whys, just do the best you can and make sure that you’re guided by love. Even if you’re able to see alternatives in hindsight that might have been better choices, you’ll never regret doing the best you could do at the time for your kids.
“In the minefield that parenting often feels like, I’ve identified a few things that enable me to be a dad without regretting half of my decisions,” Patkin shares. “First and foremost, I make every effort to be available and interested in my son’s life at all stages. It’s crucial to realize that your child will be like he is today only for today, so don’t wait for a better or more convenient time to spend time with him. You may regret choosing to work an extra hour, but you’ll never regret the extra hour you spent with your kids. Also, do everything you can to treat all of your kids equally while still putting what you’ve learned into practice. Parenting your first child will probably come with the steepest learning curve, and you’ll be able to utilize what you’ve learned with your next children.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Parenting is something that you definitely shouldn’t do alone unless you absolutely have no other choice. Since no one has all of the parenting answers, it’s a good idea to ask for help, whether from your parents, your neighbors, a psychologist, or even from your own wife, when you’re unsure about something!
“I believe that both parents are equally important in a family, and I know that I was fortunate to be blessed with both a mother and a father who loved and supported me,” Patkin recounts. “That said, as a father myself, I think that maternal instincts might be called that for a reason. If your wife seems to bond more easily with your kids, then ask her for advice. Also, ask her to highlight childhood milestones for you. After all, not everyone instinctually knows that an eleven-month-old walking is a big deal!”
Bigger isn’t always better, especially with children. If you’re feeling parenting guilt for any reason, you might be tempted to think that buying the latest and greatest gaming system for your kids will make up for your misstep. Likewise, you may believe that a big blowout trip to Disney World will make up for all of those nights you worked late. While a family trip isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to realize that your kids may appreciate the little thi
ngs even more deeply.
“Doing ‘normal’ things with your kids on a regular basis will mean more to them long-term than the occasional extraordinary event,” Patkin promises. “Small gestures like getting ice cream frequently on hot summer nights often forge deeper connections than extravagant trips and gifts. With that in mind, build regular ‘dad time’ into your schedule. For example, you might set up a special night one or two times a month with each of your children—just you and them.”
Be happy! At first glance, working on your own happiness level might not seem like good parenting advice. According to Patkin, though, this might be the most important takeaway of all. The fact is, we simply do not place enough significance on our own happiness in America. And if you’re overstressed, overworked, and discouraged, how can you expect your kids to develop any differently?
“As parents, we must realize that our kids learn to live their own lives from watching how we live ours,” Patkin explains. “They develop their priorities, outlooks, and attitudes based on ours. So until we fathers (and mothers!) learn how to become truly happy people ourselves, our children won’t stand a very good chance of growing into content, positive, and fulfilled adults themselves. So please, please, please, make a conscious decision to be a happier dad—and human being!—each day by, among other things, pursuing activities that you love and that will make you feel better about yourself.”
“Ultimately, being a great dad is less about following parenting manuals and more about just being with your kids—and not just physically, but mentally, too—and loving them unconditionally every day,” Patkin concludes. “By next Father’s Day, make it your goal to be even closer to and more involved with your children than you are now. You won’t regret the time spent strengthening these relationships! Really engaging with your children is one of the most fulfilling things any parent can do.”
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter. Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.