When my father unexpectedly passed away last week, I felt shock, devastation, and disbelief. I also felt gratitude and love. In the days that followed, I have felt only partially alive. I walk the streets with the weight of my cheeks hanging on my face only vaguely aware of my surroundings. Since the moment I received a phone call with the tragic news, I have tried to process what happened, what my father means to me, and how I will live without him. My mind has been my heart’s worst enemy as I battle with regrets and what-ifs despite a remarkable life we shared that would be the envy of so many fathers and sons. But this is not a story of what more I wished I had done. A much happier story deserves to be told first.
My father was my best friend, hero, and mentor since the day I was born. He was a great teacher of lessons and a wonderful giver of advice. For these reasons, I want to share with you what made my Dad the perfect father. I hope my observations serve as a compass for parents seeking to fulfill their potential. I also hope my experiences inspire children to appreciate the many invaluable qualities in their parents.
How to Be a Perfect Father
Advice Based on a Lifetime of Experiences with my Dad
1. Listen. My father had such good listening skills. I always knew that no matter what happened in my life, he would listen. He kept me calm, told me I would be all right, and offered solutions if I needed them. I can still hear his voice: “Andrew, take the high road. Meet aggression with kindness. In a few days, you will forget it ever happened. No matter what, you’re still my #1 son.” Listen to your child.
2. Participate. My father always made time for me. I can’t ever remember a time in my life where I asked him to do something and he declined. I remember one of the many times I asked him to drive me to a baseball card show on a Saturday morning, he was clearly exhausted from work and probably wanted to rest. That didn’t stop him. He didn’t hesitate. I remember that moment decades later because it epitomized his selfless parenting. No matter what I wanted to do, he wanted to do it with me. He threw a baseball to me in the backyard, read to me, taught me the value of hard work, drove me to my first job, taught me how to write a resume, visited me at college, attended events I organized, and played a role in so many of my life’s events. We spoke on the phone every day and saw each other often. He made me feel loved and it made my life so much better. Participate in your child’s life.
3. Forgive. My father provided me unconditional love. There was no mistake I ever made for which he did not forgive me immediately. He never held a grudge and never showed disappointment in me. At times in my life, I was ungrateful, angry, immature, impatient, and close-minded. He never showed me that it bothered him. He understood me. He just kept being my father. Forgive quickly and keep loving your child.
4. Perspective. My father always had perspective and instilled it in me. I must have complained to him a thousand times about all things trivial. In his calm and measured voice, he settled me down. He didn’t allow me to waste time on pettiness. He taught me that we only have limited time and that we should use it for good purpose. My father didn’t yell or complain. He was patient and kind. He defined his role as a father and always stuck to his plan. Be a grounding force for your child.
5. Family. My father loved family. He taught me to do the same — to visit them, call them, write to them, and care for them. He would often ask, “Have you spoken with your sister?” I had but he always wanted to make sure. When extended family members were in the hospital, my father would visit — repeatedly. When I attended his aunt’s funeral as a child, I remember relatives telling him how incredible he was to spend so much time visiting her. He taught me to be there for people in their time of need. Model the importance of family and be present during difficult times.
6. Love. There was never a time in my life when I didn’t feel that my father loved me. I spoke with my Dad a few hours before he passed away. I was preparing to move him across the street from me so I could cook for him and we could spend more time together. His final words to me after I gave him an update on the move were, “Thank you. I appreciate it very much.” I appreciated him and he appreciated me. We were always trying to find ways to help each other. We loved each other and cared about each other every day. I always felt loved by my father. I felt loved too many times to count. Love your child immensely.
7. Humor. My father had such a good sense of humor. When he would talk about playing bridge, he would often say that the bridge players were “a real bunch of characters.” He was the biggest character. My Dad was a maker of lists and when he had a list, there was nothing that was going to stop him from checking off every item on his list, even if it meant driving people nuts to get the answers. I will always remember our adventures together looking for a new apartment or buying a car. All he was ever missing was the Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau magnifying glass. Actually, no he wasn’t. He had one of those. Laugh with your child.
8. Gratitude. My father taught me to stay grounded. He never asked for things. He lived a very modest life and taught me to do the same. I would offer to get him something new and he would kindly reply, “What the heck do I need that for?” He grew up in a more modest time. I always admired that quality in him and try to emulate it. I’m crushed that he passed away but thankful for the lessons he taught me. I’m even more grateful that he was a part of my life for so many years. Show your child how to appreciate the most simple things in life.
9. Self-Esteem. My Dad taught me to be proud of who I am. He taught me not to want to be anyone else. I told him that kids at school were making fun of my big nose and ears. He said, “Andrew, your nose and ears are a combination of your parents’ nose and ears and your grandparents’ nose and ears. Your nose and ears are very special. It’s not how they look, it’s where they came from that matters. Be proud of your nose and ears.” That’s all I ever needed to hear. I never worried much about my nose and ears again even though the teasing continued. Make connections with your child that build self-esteem.
10. Embrace. After my father passed away, I found a letter he wrote to a friend in which he discussed his disdain for a house guest who made racist remarks. He told her that he no longer would participate in any activities during which she was present because he was so offended by her racism. I was so fortunate to grow up in a household where I never heard either of my parents ever make a derogatory remark about a person based on gender, race, religion, or any other classification. My father once said to me, “Andrew, be too busy finding ways to maximize your potential that you don’t have time to judge others.” Teach your children to embrace all people regardless of race, gender, or any other difference.
11. Humility. After my father passed away, I found awards, photos of him in work magazines, letters, and several other accolades he never showed me. I had asked to interview him for many years and he had declined until I finally convinced him two months before he passed away. I never heard my father talk about himself or his accomplishments. He was so incredibly humble. He always just wanted to talk about me. Teach your child the importance of humility.
12. Happiness. In his final act of greatness and generosity, my father left a note for my sister and me in the event of an unexpected tragedy. In the letter, he told us that it is all right to visit the past from time to time but not to live in the past. I should have expected that from my Dad. He wants us to be at peace. He was always so cheerful and positive. He understood that tomorrow wasn’t promised to him. His gratitude made me feel better about life and enabled me to focus on doing good in the world. Show your child that you’re grateful and grounded.
I’ve been taking my Dad’s advice every day since he passed away. In doing so, I’ve learned a good father never really dies. And I’m still able to love him every day. It’s just different. I miss him dearly. Grief is a great teacher though. It has allowed me to view life through a more focused lens. I hope my view of the perfect father enables you to do the same.