While we often talk about raising children in the right neighborhood, and ensuring that they attend the right college and study the right things, when it comes to raising children today, there is one major piece we are missing: the importance of a strong father.
In her new book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need, Meg Meeker, M.D. explores not only how fathers have become more marginalized than ever, but how we can resurrect their needed role and raise the type of children that can succeed — regardless of whether or not they go to the right school.
To children, fathers are the center of the family. When they are involved, Meeker claims kids’ self-control, confidence, and sociability increase, and they become far less likely to engage in risky behavior as adolescents. Involved fathers also raise children with less psychological problems, better grades, and more overall academic and financial success.
Yet our culture, many moms included, often disregard the role of a strong father, or deem it unnecessary in ways that disempower fathers.
“Too often, fathers assume that they have two left feet when it comes to being a dad,” writes Meeker.
Actually, Meeker notes, for most men, being a great father comes naturally — as long as they don’t give up. Kids watch fathers’ every moves, hang on their words, and see them as a bastion of courage and strength.
Meeker tells the story of Concetta, a young woman who had been abused and was adopted at the age of six, yet learns to love and be loved from her father.
“Dad taught me to see myself differently. He taught me to see myself as good and to believe that I was good. After that, a light went on in me and my life turned around. All because of my dad,” writes Meeker, as told by Concetta.
While strong willed children will test their fathers — and fathers may doubt their ability to handle them — what these children most want is a confirmation of their father’s strength.
“They want confirmation of your strength, of your resolve, of your commitment to them, because they know that ultimately your rules are all about protecting them,” writes Meeker.
Fathers can model leadership in the form of solid morals, self-sacrifice, and a strong character. They can also model right from wrong through honesty, helpfulness, and speaking respectfully to others. One of the great benefits of sacrificial leadership, Meeker writes, is not just doing the right thing, but watching what extraordinary men and women result from it.
Fathers are also capable of transcending a difficult past.
“The first step to becoming a better dad than your own father is to recognize his mistakes, and most importantly, how they affected you as a boy,” writes Meeker.
Because rejection from a father is entirely different from rejection from a mother, it can be difficult for fathers to show affection to their children and to express love for them. But through becoming their own men, trusting their instincts, playing with their children, and figuring out the type of father they want to be and working toward it, fathers can become their children’s heroes – even if they didn’t have a hero themselves.
Further, fathers can answer their children’s three crucial questions:
How do you really feel about me? What do you believe about me? and, What are your hopes for me?
From her extensive work with football players, Meeker notes several similarities between being a good dad and being a good football player. From this work, she offers six helpful plays for dads: play with your kids, pray with them, be steady, be honest, be firm, and stay committed.
“The good news for dads is that your kids want you to help them, teach them, and encourage them, and every time you mess up or lose your temper and say the wrong things they are ready to forgive you and move forward if you really want to,” writes Meeker.
Dads, according to Meeker, are the great communicators, and have the power to influence with as much or as little as they say. When correcting your kids, Meeker suggests that dads use as few words as possible, use power words to express affirmation, make eye contact, speak less and listen more to demonstrate attention, and show respect in order to teach respect.
Fathers, of course, don’t have to be perfect.
“It’s inevitable that every father hurts his child in some way,” writes Meeker.
But this is also why fathers need what Meeker calls the “Hero’s Winning Triumvirate,” which is comprised of the perseverance to stay committed in the tough times, the forgiveness to overcome their mistakes (and those of their children), and the willingness to stay engaged throughout the course of their children’s lives.
With warmth, humor, sage wisdom, and sound practical advice, Meeker ensures fathers that they do, in fact, have everything they need to be the heroes their children so desperately want and need.
Hero: Being The Strong Father Your Children Need
Meg Meeker, M.D.
Regnery Publishing (2017)