Father and Friend
People sometimes tell me I have great relationships with my sons who are now adults. They are now good friends, as well as sons. It was not always that way. When they were young, they occasionally concluded an argument saying “You’re not my friend.”
I always responded: “That’s right. I’m your father. Friend isn’t in the job description. You want a friend, find someone your age.”
How do I square that circle? I am still their father, but I am now their friend. I am still their father, but I am no longer raising them. They are now adults, not children. While they were children my job was to turn them into responsible adults. From the time I held my eldest child for the first time until the last one left home, that was my job. I could love them. I could like them. (Indeed I did both love and like them.) I could not be a friend.
Fathers lead, friends follow. Fathers have to say no, friends are there to say yes. Fathers teach responsibility, friends are folks you take along to be wild and crazy.
Being a father does not mean you have to be distant and remote. I participated in their activities. I went on scout trips with them, taught them hobbies and sports, and shared my interests and their interests.
Setting the Example
Being a father does mean setting the example. Your children become the example you set. Do not excuse vices by saying it is a grown-up thing. Kids view that as hypocrisy – rightfully so.
Being a father means you take responsibility. Don’t want them drinking or doing drugs? Don’t drink or do drugs yourself. Teach the values you want your children to have by living them. It also means recognizing when you are wrong – and apologizing when necessary. It is part of setting an example.
Ultimately, being a father means setting boundaries. Children lack judgment. It is part of the definition of being a child. You provide that judgment. Setting boundaries means being able to say no. It also means knowing your children will constantly test boundaries. Testing boundaries is part of the growing-up process. Setting boundaries also means knowing when to expand them as your children grow older.
Being a father means letting them try on their own, watching them fail, and getting them to try again. It means teaching them the difference between achievable goals and unattainable ones.
Most of all, being a father is preparing your children to be adults, and to let go when they become adults. It is not easy to be a father. Your real reward only comes after two decades of work, when you can lay down the responsibility and be friends with your children.