Lessons from a good dad: The subject he taught was 'heart'
Posted June 22, 2016
More than 20 years after my father died, I am still very much a daddy's girl, though the girl part might be a bit of a stretch. But it is only recently that I've considered the science that underpins the role my dad had in shaping who I have become and the way that any good dad contributes to bettering his kids' lives.
In my book, the definition of "good dad" has nothing to do with money or even education level, though my dad was hands down the smartest person I ever met. It's all about having — and sharing — a lot of heart.
A good dad is the dad who loves you unconditionally but is not blind to your weaknesses or faults. He's the dad that corrects you constructively when you've made a mistake, helping you figure out where you went wrong and what to do about it.
He's the dad who shows up for your school event even when he's dead beat after working extra hours because money's always tight and he had a chance to earn a little extra.
He's the dad who takes the time to explain how he's unjamming the garbage disposal or fixing the car, even though he could get it done a lot quicker if you would stop interrupting him with questions. He knows he won't always be there to do it, so he helps you build the skills to cope for the days when he's gone.
He's the dad who supervises while you use the saw to cut the wood for the rocking chair pattern instead of grabbing it and doing it while you look on because he'd be faster at it.
He's also the dad who lets you soak his shoulder with tears and other substances after a romance blows up or you don't get that job or a friendship sours.
My dad knew all about STEM subjects, but the lessons he taught were the "heart" subjects: responsibility, caring, hard work, kindness and fun.
My dad was, in some ways, quite unusual. For one thing, Frank Collins was blind from the time he was a teenager, the result of glaucoma that started when he was 6 and stole the remnants of his vision at age 13. He used the years in between to read the Encyclopedia Britannica and just look at everything, storing knowledge and sights away for reference later when he knew it would be more challenging. It appears he'd been blessed with a photographic memory; years later he could recite encyclopedia passages.
Because I grew up with blind parents — mom was born blind — I didn't realize how difficult raising kids must have been in some ways until I had kids myself. I just knew they could do about everything except drive.
I also didn't appreciate what my father's active presence in my life was doing to shape who I would become. Over the course of my career as a journalist, I've written a lot about fathers and how important they are and I recognize my dad in the snippets of data:
— When dads are around and involved, girls are less apt to become teenage mothers.
— Children without fathers at home are four times more likely to be poor than those with a resident father.
— Dads play differently than mom and kids need both styles. Dads roughhouse in ways that help kids test boundaries and explore. They help develop impulse control and memory.
— Kids whose dads are involved do better in school. When the dad's nowhere around, the chance a child will drop out goes up.
— The children of absent or indifferent fathers are more likely to have behavior and emotional problems.
Uncles and other male adults can show up consistently and confer some of the same benefits. But if you're lucky enough to have your own good dad around, give him a hug and tell him thanks.
He's something special.
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