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5 keys to being a successful father

When the legendary Lance Armstrong announced his retirement from competitive cycling after winning the Tour de France for the seventh time, he had his eyes set on the next big goal - to give his son the kind of father that he wished he had.

Steps to being a great father Steps to being a great father

When the legendary Lance Armstrong announced his retirement from competitive cycling after winning the Tour de France for the seventh time, he had his eyes set on the next big goal - to give his son the kind of father that he wished he had. His words struck a chord in me and made me ponder about what kind of father I wish to be for my children.

Naturally, like most fathers, I wanted to give them my best. As a father of two (Sean and Dylan), I realized the importance of shared parenting, and recognize the crucial role that fathers play in children’s lives. My wife and I have an unspoken pact in raising children. When they were infants, she took care of the ‘input’ (breastfeeding) and I was in charge of the ‘output’ (changing diapers). Now that they are older, she does most of the teaching and I take care of the playing and coaching. For example, she would teach our boys how to play chess, soccer, tennis, and basketball, while I conduct training sessions with them to hone their skills. As a result, we spend a great amount of time learning and playing together as a family.

Our boys are presently in primary school. We talk about everything and they are comfortable with sharing whatever that is on their mind and in their heart with me. It seems that active involvement during their early childhood years and countless hours of play during their developmental years do have a payoff. I began to suspect that giving our children our best may be as simple as fulfilling what they truly need from us.

The fundamental rule for succeeding in ‘the business of fatherhood’ is no different from that which is usually taught at business schools -- seek to understand the clients’ needs and fulfill them in the best way possible. In this case, the ‘clients’ happen to be our children. With that understanding, I turned to our boys and sought their opinion by asking: “What do you like most about Daddy?” Their replies were:

• “You always play with us.”

• “You tell funny bedtime stories.”

• “You give up work for spending time with me.”

• “You make me feel loved.”

• “You’re my hero.”

Children are often our best teachers. Their innocent and genuine comments have given me some invaluable insights into what it takes to be a successful father. Amongst them, here are the top five factors that I believe will stand the test of time. Several fathers whom I have consulted also shared similar views.

1. Being present.

A fellow father, Peter Lim, author of Little Miracles The Journey to Parenthood, once said to me, “I have always maintained that the best gift a dad can give his children is the gift of his presence.” I could not agree more. Ultimately, to the child, getting an expensive toy or winning a trophy does not matter as much as whether dad is there when needed. Our presence speaks loudly about how important they truly are to us.

Being present will demand our time and attention, but these are the things that we already have. The truth is that each of us has twenty four hours a day and how much of that do we choose to devote to being with our children will depend on how important they are in our lives. And there is no short cut by making up for the lack of quantity with quality. Indeed, quality time often arises from the quantity of time that we are being around our children. It is not just about witnessing their significant milestones or taking them away for annual vacations. It is about being there with and for them as part of their daily lives. It could mean simply rolling around in bed or having a conversation about their friends during mealtimes. The bottom line is to be present while they still need us, for they will soon be leaving us to establish their own lives.

2. Fun to be with.

Our boys enjoyed the funny stories I tell them at bedtime. Having a good laugh together is a wonderful way to end the day. They taught me the importance of being someone who is fun to be with. While we might need to be firm and serious at times, especially when disciplining our children, let that be as brief as necessary. Mashren, another father, shared: “Put on your ‘serious’ face only when necessary. It works even better if rarely used.”

Fun and laughter have the power to destroy all barriers. They are the best tools for keeping the doors to our children’s hearts open. Being fun allows us to remain approachable and accessible. These are important qualities that encourage them come to us, especially when they are troubled or in need of guidance and support.

3. Loving.

My heart melted when Dylan said, “You make me feel loved.” There is no doubt that all parents love their children, but not all children feel loved. Somehow, parental love is often not transmitted effectively. We must not be afraid to express our love for our children and to do that in a variety of ways. I make it a point to reassure them that I will always love them, squeeze out a few big smiles from them with a hug in the morning, and put tuck them into bed at night with kisses.

The heart of a father’s love is acceptance. Loving our children entails accepting them unconditionally for who they are, no matter what they do. At times, we might reject their behaviors but we must not reject them. Instead of embarking on a lengthy lecture on what they should and should not have done, it would be more fruitful to first seek to understand the underlying emotions and intentions that drove their behaviors. Listening to them non-judgmentally without denying or invalidating their thoughts and emotions can make them feel understood. When they feel understood, they feel accepted and loved. And when they feel loved, our words are more likely to get through to them.

The expression of a father’s love does not stop at the child. A word of wisdom that I consistently get from older fathers, such as Lim Soon Hock, Chairman of National Family Council: “The best gift we can give our children is to love our wives and their mothers.” By loving their mothers, we create a loving family environment which makes possible their healthy development and growth.

4. Lead by Example.

As fathers, we are often held as ‘heroes’ in our children’s eyes. They look up to us as role models and hence, it is imperative that we walk the talk and lead by example. What better ways are there to cultivate values such as courage, integrity, respect and honesty than through the way we live our lives?

When my sons said I am their hero, they meant two things. Firstly, I made them feel safe by guiding them to confront their fears, such as defeating the ‘monsters’ they encounter in their dreams and playing against a strong opponent at a chess tournament. Secondly, I exemplify what they aspire to be. “When I grow up, I want to be like Daddy,” they often said. While it is flattering to hear that, I also recognize that my ability to influence them will eventually dwindle with time (their favorite pop idols and football players will soon take over). Therefore, it is important that we guide them to develop a strong foundation in values through leading by example while we are still in the position of influence.

5. Versatility.

Lastly, as fathers, we don several hats in our children’s lives. These include that of a teacher, mentor, coach and friend. Our success as fathers lies not in excelling in any particular role, but in having the versatility to put on the right hat at the right time. For example, being a coach is great for guiding them to discover and actualize their unique potentials, while being a friend works best when they simply need a listening ear. As our children continue to grow and our primary roles evolve accordingly, we need to grow too and equip ourselves to carry out what is called for from us.

Once again, Soon Hock, my fatherly mentor summed it up well when he shared, “When my children were young, I was their father. Now that they have grown up, I am more of a fatherly friend.” As a father, like Lance Armstrong, I too aspire to give my children the kind of dad they want of me: one who is present in their lives and plays regularly with them, fun to be with, loving, regarded as their heroes, and able to meet their evolving needs by playing different roles in their lives.