“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” is what they say. Sometimes it is true. You look down at those big eyes and see yourself. You see all those little things you did as a child, all the little things you still do today as an adult, all the same attitudes, all the same quirks, all the same flaws. It’s like looking into a mirror.
Mirrors are a funny thing though, they show us everything. Even the stuff we’d rather not see. When you look at your youngster and see a reflection of yourself, there are many ways to handle it. Some ways may be better than others, but there is the way a father handles it and there is a way a dad handles it.
Unless you are narcissist when you look in the mirror you see your flaws. Our human tendency is toward negativity and criticism, it is the easiest thing to see after all. Finding the good is so much harder than seeing the bad. When we look into that tiny little mirror standing there staring back at us, we suddenly see all our flaws.
Reflection has taught us more about who we are, miraculously through our child. What are we going to do with this information? The first impulse is to try to view this as an opportunity to give yourself a do-over. You can view the situation like rewinding the clock, but with the knowledge of your older self.
This isn’t that situation. This isn’t a sci-fi film about time travel. This is real life. More importantly, this is not your life. You cannot correct the mistakes you made and the flaws you have by correcting your child. They are not you.
I’ll combine two earlier pieces of dadvice to help with this lesson. A father considers his own goals, a dad considers his child’s goals. A father leads with words, a dad leads with actions. It would be a father who tries to correct his own mistakes (his own goal) by demanding that his child not make them (words). A father would make corrections before his child makes mistakes. “Pre-punishment” we’ll call it. What would a dad do?
A dad would consider the goals of his child. If the goal isn’t, “I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I made,” then what is the goal? To make your child succeed in life. They will make mistakes. They might even make the same mistakes you did. They may need correction, but remember this:
before correction comes direction
You don’t need to, and please do not, invoke the “when I was your age” malarkey. Your mistakes are yours, and by focusing on a mistake you will miss the more important thing: the lesson. Yes, you can provide direction and teach your child the lesson you learned from the mistakes you made. If you have already learned the lesson your self then it is more valuable to lead with actions. A dad will demonstrate that he learned from that mistake.
Having a personality quirk that irritates other people and learning to change is no different than accidentally cutting yourself and having a scar. You were more careful around the bandsaw after that weren’t you? You learned a lesson. You learned a similar lesson (or I hope you did) with your personality quirk and you may have the scars to prove it.
A father would preempt the mistake with corrections and pre-punishment. “Don’t you dare cut your finger on the bandsaw or so help me…” This will create resentment. They haven’t cut themselves, they haven’t made a mistake, but somehow you’re upset with them already. You’re upset because you think they will make a mistake.
A dad would preempt the mistake with direction and revealing personal lessons learned. “Before you make that next cut I want to show you this scar on my hand.” They haven’t cut themselves, they haven’t made a mistake, but now you are sharing a lesson you learned in your own life.
What is the key takeaway? If you deal your cards from love then your hand will be full of kindness. Love and kindness take a man from being just a father to becoming a dad.
Because any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.