After a Century of Celebrating Dads, Ten Tips for Being Better Fathers


Father's Day, according to Wikipedia and other sources, was first believed to have been observed on June 19, 1910, through the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington. Inspired by a sermon about the newly recognized Mother's Day, Dodd wanted to do something for her father, a Civil War Veteran who was left to raise his six children alone when his wife died. It wasn’t until 1972 that Father’s Day was officially recognized in the United States.


I was the Key note speaker last week at the Baltimore VA Medical Center for a program planned and implemented by members of the VA Maryland Health Care System’s Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) program’s Father’s Group. The ACT program is aimed at calling attention to the importance of family in the process of recovery from substance abuse. Some of the ideas I presented emerged from my meetings with men in the program.


  1. Children need STRUCTURE.  Structure includes consistency, reliability, and meeting expectations.  Children need to know what time dinner will be, what time bedtime will be, what the rules are for homework, and the rules for playing outside.  We can be flexible occasionally, but children need parents to set the structure and stick to it. 
  2. The way we treat women and our daughters teaches them what they can expect from men in their lives, and it teaches sons how to treat women.  Treating the mother of our child with respect, even if we disagree with her behavior or her lifestyle, is a way of treating our child with respect
  3. We fathers must role model taking care of ourselves and making healthy choices.  If we get to a good place ourselves with all we do, we can get to a good place with our children and set expectations for them.  We have to walk the walk before we talk the talk.
  4. Role model for children that life is not all black and white, there is a lot of gray in it and room for improvement.  No man is perfect; no father is perfect.  If we try too hard to be perfect we end up teaching our children that it is not okay to struggle and sometimes fail.  We also need to role model that relationships between adults are not always smooth but often can be worked out. 
  5. If we are spiritual, we need to share that.  Spirituality is not related to any one religion.  It is related to a belief that something unique lives within us that can spark others and live on for generations.  It is a belief that there is something bigger than us that can be harnessed for healing.  By being spiritual, we are helping to grow the next generation.
  6. Being a good parent does not always mean trying to toughen up our child and being a strict disciplinarian.  It does not always mean putting on a tough face inside the house when a tough face is needed outside the house.  We can teach our children to be warm and loving to others.  That is part of what it means to be a man.
  7. Err on the side of love in raising children.   If you are ever unsure about which path to take with your children, choose the side that involves love and generosity.  We should make the mistake of being too easy rather than too harsh with our children.  Assume the best and not the worst, about ourselves and others. 
  8. Find good friends.  People with friends live longer, healthier, happier lives.  Find good men who are taking care of themselves and keeping their commitments.  From my research on men's friendships (see Buddy System) I found that being a friend means being understanding, loyal, dependable, and trustworthy – these are also good attributes for fathers. 
  9. Even as we teach our children the value of working on long-term goals like education, career advancement, and relationships, make sure to focus on one day at a time.  Few things come to people without working for them , but we also need to make  each day meaningful when we are with our children.
  10.  No matter where we are and what our situation is, our children need to hear from us and know that we care.  If we feel ashamed of our situation or ashamed of something we have said or done, avoiding our children will not make it better.  Being a man and a parent means being able to deal with what comes our way.

           The 100th Anniversary seems an apt time to return to the meaning of Father’s Day.

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