I have always felt dads underestimate their importance in kid’s lives.
I grew up in the Midwest, in a very traditional, upper-middle-class family. My dad was the breadwinner and my mom stayed at home with my younger brothers and me. Sure, when we were little Dad would take us along with him as he ran Saturday morning errands to the hardware store, the liquor store, and the car wash. He often spent a few minutes before our bedtime tickling us and fake wrestling my brothers (which really made my mom angry because then it would take longer for them to settle down). But, about the time I became a teenager, my dad kind of handed the reins over to my mom, except when it came to discipline. Until the day I moved out of the house he was definitely the “hammer down” guy.
I don’t think my dad knew how to relate to a teenage girl. And I think there are a lot of dads who have this challenge.
Looking back, I know now I could have used a little more of my dad’s guidance and unconditional love during those tumultuous teenage years. For example, I was the oldest and only girl, I was the first to date and I really didn’t have any reference as to what I should expect from the boys I went out with. My dad and I didn’t ever talk about boys, unless you count the times when he would get angry and lecture me about my missing curfew and running around with boys who weren’t good for me. His answer to my being late was to ground me…my answer to that challenge was to learn how to be sneaky and to lie about where I was going.
I could have used some one-on-one time, even if I might not have appeared to care about it, to hear from my dad about things like dating, drinking, and about how to make good choices for myself. How I was worthy and deserving of making decisions that would keep me safe. The occasional lectures and judgment he handed out during those years only solidified, in my mind, how little he understood me. Teens need a dad who is open-minded and who is willing to tell them why he wants to protect them so much. Even (and sometimes especially) from themselves.
Our daughter is now fourteen and I sometimes see my husband struggle to connect with her and hold a conversation. I am painfully reminded of this time in my own life. I want to tell my husband it’s important that he push past awkward silences and occasional eye-rolls. I want to whisper in his ear, please listen to her more than you talk. But I worry I would sound like a nagging wife.
It’s not that I want to nag, it’s just that I have been fourteen and awkward. And in need of a parent who is willing to be vulnerable and meet me in the awkwardness of growing up.
Dads who have a relationship with their kids built around quality time, shared experiences and open communication during the teen years have sons and daughters who make healthier choices for themselves and who know, even when they do screw up, there’s always a way to work things out.
If you’re a dad and you have a teen, please try to find the good in them, and enjoy this Father’s Day knowing all too soon your kids will be grown and out the door raising their own kids. They need your wisdom dad…just do it minus the lectures.
Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, my husband, and all the dads working so hard to be the leaders in their families!