A ‘good enough’ dad is not good enough for my children

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I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

Oh, I’m sure I have at some point in my 42 years on this rock, but I don’t see much sense in them. The difference between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 for me is about as clear as a snowy windshield, so it seems arbitrary to pick New Year’s Day as the one out of 365 to quit a bad habit or start a good one.

The turning points in my life have been organic and unplanned. I quit a 12-year smoking habit cold turkey in 1996 shortly after my wife and I started dating, and have never looked back.

I didn’t need the calendar to tell me the right day to quit smoking. I just needed to realize for myself how stupid it was to light up a cigarette in the kitchen of a one-bedroom apartment after having dinner with a non-smoker who later married me.

I would never mock someone for making a New Year’s resolution. If you have found success in changing your life through resolutions, have at it. In fact, you can have all the resolutions I don’t make, and will never make, so you don’t have to feel bad about using up more than your share. Think of it as resolution credit.

So I initially scoffed at the idea of taking up a New Year’s challenge put out by the National Fatherhood Initiative shortly after the clock started ticking on 2011: “30 Days to Be a Better Dad.”

I don’t need such an exercise. I spend lots of time with my kids, more than many fathers I’m sure, so what could I be doing wrong that I would need to be a better dad? Aren’t I good enough dad?

But then I realized that even Cal Ripken Jr. took batting practice and fielded grounders. If the best in the game need practice, then I suppose a simple guy like me should take in his daddy engine for a tune up every now and then.

After all, “good enough” is not good enough when it comes to my children. I need to be the best dad I can be, and if the National Fatherhood Initiative is offering its help, I’m going to give it a go, so I signed up for “30 Days to Be a Better Dad.”

Throughout January, NFI is going to e-mail weekly a list of seven questions for dads to ask themselves every day that week. I had already decided to write about it if only because that’s what I do.

But when I did, I realized that after I answered every question, it was too long even for me. I doubt even my wife would want to sift through it all, and she reads about everything I write.

So I’ve pared it down to just a few questions, in no particular order, for this first round.

Question: Do you know what your children need? If you’re a new dad, or the father of a teenager, you may find your children have different needs. Assess what those needs are.

My children need a father who loves them, and shows them how much he loves them every day. I do that by spending time with them (one of the reasons I could not answer these questions earlier), listening to them, and being there for them when they call.

It means that if they want me to play with them on a Sunday afternoon, I do not have one eye on the football game or work I may need to do.

It means that if my daughter wants to play a dozen rounds of Connect 4 on a snowy day, then I’m a vertical-checker-playing fool. (She cleaned my clock quite a few times, I’m here to tell you, and I did not let her.)

When I am with my kids, I am an engaged dad.

Question: What routines do you have and what routines do you need A schedule is beneficial for children and parents too. Consider stopping unnecessary routines and starting better ones.

Two routines come to mind: morning and night. We do the same tasks in the same order every weekday morning so we can make it to school on time, though it’s far from military-style precision. Waking up the kids is harder on cold mornings (even I don’t want to leave a warm bed) and they find a way to dilly-dally plenty between breakfast, brushing teeth and dressing, but it’s utilitarian and works most days.

The night routine has more meaning because that’s when we read to them or have them read to us. We began when Celeste was 3 months old, and have read to her every day of her life. When Gavin came along, he wouldn’t sit still to hear a story until he was at least 18 months old, but we still tried, and now at 5 years old he likes hearing stories as much as his older sister.

In fact, they like it so much that if we threaten to hold it back because they are misbehaving, their behavior turns around faster than a cat coming to dinner at the sound of the can opener.

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