06/15/2012 08:08 EDT | Updated 08/15/2012 05:12 EDT

I Had Not One, But Two Dads



How many people are lucky enough to have had not just one great dad, but two? I was! One for my first 16 years, Harry, my birth Father. Another, Stanley, my wife's dad then became mine for the last six years of his life.

Double down and I end up spending my days surrounded by dads (and moms) in my work with struggling teens and young adults, kids who are having trouble thriving. Before I talk about all the great things I've seen my client's dads do, and what they have taught me, I want to talk about my dads.

From Harry, I inherited a great love of comedy. I can still remember us laughing until we couldn't breathe at a great Get Smart episode where they keep putting Max in a gurney to take him to the hospital while trying to get him through a revolving door. It was my best laugh with my dad. I can still remember it to this day and feel us sharing it that joyful moment after all these years since my Dad has passed.

I got his creativity and his smarts. His ability to strike up a conversation with any person he met and really enjoy it as well as to be generous to a fault. We differed in that he could be happy one moment and then be screaming the next, so I never knew what to expect. Oddly enough, this honed my skills of reading subtle cues in people. He never spoke the world "love" but had quite a few choice words for what he disapproved of, which was a long list.

From my wife's dad, I was able to get all the things I felt I had missed in my first go 'round. Stanley and I would have engaging conversations about world politics, religion, economics and the things that make people great. He was the one who got me reading the Economist. When my wife and I would ask what he wanted us to bring with us when we visited him at his Senior Citizens home, it was always a book, or some apples (he loved apples).

He was fluent in many languages and shared his deep philosophies with us. In the last few years of his life, his diabetes and advanced rheumatoid arthritis took a great toll on his body and it was not uncommon to go to visit Pa at his home only to have to rush out to the hospital emergency ward to morally support him in a new physical crisis. All he could say when he saw us was how amazed and pleased he was that were there. He never had a complaint about his condition. He went along with whatever the medical staff told him with faith and resolve. It was clear that the nurses and doctors really respected and cared for him.

I remember this one time we had to go the emergency ward and were told that they had to amputate his leg. It was so difficult. We all had a good cry and he told us that he loved us and we told him how we loved him. He said how proud he was of Sylvia and Helen (my sister-in-law and wife) and asked us to keep an eye out on John (his son).

He survived and was with us for another two years. I know he never felt the same but he never complained and always had a good word, whether it was about something interesting in the news, the weather or his most recent chess game with his fellow residents (he almost always won).

Then there are the dads I meet in my work, struggling with kids in their teens and twenties and not knowing how to be with them when they don't live up to their expectations. I see dads at a loss on how to deal with this generation. How they were taught doesn't seem to translate down to their challenging kids. What worked in the past will not necessarily work now, especially if it already isn't working.

Here is my advice based on my practice and observations of all the wonderful dads I've met:

Be there for your kids emotionally. Let them feel your love and acceptance for who they are at their core (as opposed to their actions). Show them that you believe in them and know that they can rise up to be their best and when they mess up, be a still, listening rock that will hear without judgment and help them find a solution on their own. When there needs to be consequences for their negative actions, have your child be involved in choosing the resulting consequence wisely and let them know you are proud of them when they own and live out those consequences.

When you are wrong, be quick to admit it and apologize when needed. Tell them you love them but show them you trust them. Lead with your heart, not your head or your fears. A fearless leader with compassion serves each of his charges with what they require to be their best.

Your child wants nothing more than to feel appreciated and trusted to rise above the mistakes and be successful. This is what I see everyday in the dads around me. This is what I carry in my heart from my time with Stanley. I only wish I could have told this to my Dad: "Dad, it's OK. You did your best. I did my best. I got a lot out of you being my Dad and I still do." Thank you. Happy Father's day.

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