This is my 9th Father’s Day as a parent. It is, however, the first that is fraught with “survivor’s guilt.” Parents lose children and vice versa every day in every community, but since 12/14/12 that has been all too real. I can’t bring the children of Newtown (or any other place where people experience this tragedy) back to their dads, but I can make sure that I don’t squander my opportunity to continue parenting my kids. This has made me think long and hard about what it takes to do the job right. I invite any dads who agree to shout “amen,” and moms and would-be parents and maybe-someday parents and non-parents who care about young people are welcome to join them.
A FATHER’S PLEDGE
I pledge to love my kids forever and unconditionally.
I pledge to work to help them empower themselves.
This includes always thinking about what I can do to help equip them to navigate the unique set of gifts and obstacles that life presents them. This will be as true when they are 50 as it was when they were 15.
I pledge to constantly work on calibrating my moral compass.
Unconditional love does not equal agreeing about everything or giving them what they want, so my job is to evaluate all that stuff on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes I will need to do things for them, sometimes I will need to refrain from doing so and sometimes I will need to walk alongside them and support them as they do things themselves. Sometimes I need to cheer them on and sometimes I need to call them out. I will do all I can to ensure that I’m consistently making those evaluations from a place of sound mind and sound morals.
I pledge to seek a way of measuring my effectiveness as a parent that is more nuanced than “how did they turn out?”
Empirical evidence can’t be ignored, but especially in the short term, reliable ways to judge “outcomes” can be elusive, not to mention the fact that the quality of the action does not always correspond with the quality of the outcome. Still, I need to find ways to evaluate where I’m doing all I can and where I need to evolve further.
I pledge to take care of myself.
If my body, mind, spirit and emotions (and, as relevant, marriage) are not in working order, it’s much harder to parent properly, and if I am not growing as a person, it’s much harder to keep up with the ever-shifting demands of the job. In addition, part of the gig is being a role model, and I’d best be walking the walk as well as I can.
I pledge to be accountable.
It is my job to strive for perfection as a parent, and when I inevitably fall short, that’s on me. That doesn’t make me a bad person, but being a good person also doesn’t exempt me from facing the reality of hurting my kids. Hopefully my kids will understand and accept my fallibility, but it’s not their job to understand or even forgive me.
I pledge to remain undaunted by annoyance.
I must remain steadfast in my love even when my kids annoy the crap out of me and part of me wants to be left alone . . . and also when I annoy the crap out of them and it hurts my feelings.
I pledge to politely decline credit for my kids’ accomplishments.
Sure, I like to think I helped them get where they are, but that’s what I’m supposed to do and I’m not doing it so I can share the glory (unless, for example, I’m literally sharing a stage with my daughter, in which case I’ll accept my legitimate share of applause for what I do on the bandstand).
I pledge to do all of this with no expected quid pro quo.
I love them and parent them because that’s my job. My kids are under no obligation to do what I want them to do or become who I want them to be. While I hope to enjoy their company for many years to come, they are not even under any obligation to have anything to do with me once they’re all grown up. I will love them regardless – in the abstract, there are things they could do that would make me change the locks on my door, but my heart will remain open to them no matter what.
I pledge to recognize how precious each moment is with them.
I don’t know if there will be another day together. If so, I will cherish it. If I can’t see my children again, I want to know I savored their presence while I had it. If they can’t see me again, I want to know that I gave them what I could and that my voice will resonate in their consciousness (hopefully saying more than “uh, could you take care of those dishes?”)
I pledge to take seriously my brotherhood with all men who take on these responsibilities.
We all put far more time and energy into this responsibility than most others (our kids included, at least until they have their own) will likely ever realize, but we share solidarity over the demands of the job and how important it is. This is particularly true for those who are unwavering in their commitment to parenting while navigating significant adversity. I’ve never been much of a frat boy, but this is one fraternity of which I’m proud to be a brother.
I pledge to be unselfish in my nurturing.
I’m painfully aware that my resources are finite, but my responsibilities as a nurturer do not begin and end with “my own” kids. Until all young people are safe and fully and properly loved and cared for, the job is not done, and there are plenty of adults who need it too. Any interaction is opportunity to embody and practice the important lessons learned through parenthood.
This sh** is hard, but it’s worth it.