The one thing that is guaranteed to make you a better father
Posted May 21, 2016
Being a father is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It’s also a role that can come with a lot of pressure. Dads are looked to as providers, protectors, comforters, teachers, role models, and even heroes. In today’s dog-eat-dog world, where only the strong survive, this pressure can start to make dads feel like there’s no room for weakness. After all, that’s rule number one for James Bond, right? Never let them see you bleed.
Yet in a world where a father might feel like there is little room for failure, a willingness to be wrong is actually the key to becoming the best father you can be. This willingness to acknowledge you’re not a perfect father, as much as you wish you were, has a name: humility.
Humility isn’t generally a word we equate with success in any role. In fact, humility reminds me of something Charles Barkley said, “The meek may inherit the earth. But they won’t get the ball.” Yet Socrates was the wisest man in Athens because he recognized there was so much he didn’t know. Similarly, the best fathers realize they’re not perfect but have room to improve.
I think we all know fathers who lack humility. These are fathers who can’t be wrong. They are fathers whose judgment can’t be questioned. Fathers like Danny DeVito’s character in the film Matilda who, when challenged by his daughter about the honesty of rolling back car odometers, responds “Listen, you little wiseacre: I'm smart, you're dumb. I'm big, you're little. I'm right, you're wrong. And there's nothing you can do about it.”
Fathers who lack humility aren’t willing to see their own flaws. They aren’t open to constructive criticism from others. Even while they may have developed their hardened shell with the best intentions of being strong for their family, they have impeded their ability to become better fathers by developing a stubborn, prideful approach to addressing their shortcomings.
Humble fathers, on the other hand, admit there is always room for improvement. They have enough confidence to be able to accept that, sometimes, they’re wrong. They view their imperfections as opportunities for growth, rather than weaknesses that should be ignored or denied.
Consider the example of two well-known fathers from the wizarding world of “Harry Potter:” one a humble father, and the other, not so humble. The unassuming Arthur Weasley creates a home environment with loyalty, love, and a healthy amount of laughter. His curiosity in Muggle inventions shows a man interested in improving, broadening his understanding, and learning from experience. These traits shine through in his attempts to parent his rambunctious house of redheads.
In contrast stands Lucius Malfoy: arrogant, condescending, and demanding. No special relationship of love or respect is demonstrated between Lucius and his son, Draco. Instead, a closeminded father’s poor example of prejudice-ness and prideful-ness are carried on for a second generation by his son.
Between Arthur and Lucius, which father would you rather have? Which father would you rather be?
A humble father desiring to improve is always learning: from good books, from examples around him, and from his own experiences, especially his mistakes. A young father is like the novice pilot who once asked his retiring chief how the chief had flown 40 years without an accident. “Good decisions,” replied the chief. “And how did you always make good decisions?” asked the pilot. “Experience,” said the chief. “And how did you gain experience?” asked the pilot. “Bad decisions,” responded the chief.
As with good pilots, good fathers also learn over time to be better fathers. They recognize they have shortcomings. They ask for help and feedback from their wife, children, and other loved ones. And they never stop working to improve. Lowering the personal force field is never easy for anyone, but good fathers humbly experience the discomfort so they can become better fathers.
Chandler is a husband, father of two, and graduate of Harvard Law School. He and his wife are co-founders of Bookroo.com, a startup making it easier for moms and dads to spend more time reading with their children. Say hi at firstname.lastname@example.org.