Never discount your importance in your child’s life.
Over the years, I have had the chance to mentor a lot of boys, other than my own.
I coached summer league baseball for more seasons than I can count. Once I even tried my hand at coaching youth football. For the past few years, I’ve been a Boy Scout leader. I have never put a pencil to paper to try to figure out how many I have mentored, but I can safely say those experiences put me in contact with a couple hundred of boys ranging in age from kindergarten to adulthood. All too often, that contact from me was in the role of a substitute father.
Boys Need Role Models
Despite what you see on TV or hear from other adults, all boys are basically good. I’ve never dealt with one who was completely devoid of a conscience or not worth trying to save. Those who lack a strong male figure in their lives will seek out someone else to fill the void, or they will try to figure things out on their own – which is pretty hard when you’re only six or seven years old. Sometimes the guy they start relying on isn’t the best role model in the world or doesn’t have their best interests at heart, and that’s when things go south.
Explanations Are Important
Sometimes kids blame themselves for not having a male role-model in their lives. I’ve sat in a dugout trying to comfort one of my heartbroken players because he couldn’t understand what “he” did to make his dad move out. Or there was another boy who became a bully overnight due to the anger he felt over his parents’ divorce. In both cases, those boys needed their dads there to explain why those marriages ended or, at the very least, to just put their arms around their sons to make them feel loved – not alone. But neither one did.
I’ve sat around campfires responding to life questions from Scouts that should rightfully be answered by their fathers – except there was no father at home. Or maybe there was and Dad just decided he couldn’t be bothered.
It’s worse when the uninvolved dad is right there at home. Those are the men I’m really speaking to in this article, and I speak from my own imperfect experience. We all feel the responsibility to provide for our family, which easily leads to extra time at work or hours spent away on some new project. Under those circumstances, it’s very easy to justify not reading to our little ones, or helping with homework, or going to that school program or sitting in the stands at that sporting event. It may not seem like a big thing to you, but trust me, it is to your child. You may feel terribly guilty the first time you’re not there, but the more often it happens, the easier it becomes to push that guilt away. And that’s a huge mistake.
Just Show Up
I won’t waste your time with data about how much better children do academically when their dad is actively involved, or waste your time with tips to help you be a better father. It’s really simple: Be there. Your kids don’t need a perfect dad; they just need a dad – one whose presence quietly sends the message, “I care about you enough to be here with you.”
Those are the kids who have less trouble in school and fewer disciplinary problems. Not only will your child be happier and better adjusted, you will be, too. •
Keith Mitchell is the Director of Communications and Public Information at Lawton Public Schools. He is a nationally award-winning education writer. He and his wife have three sons.