How can I be a great father when I don’t quite understand the job description? If any of us were applying for a job as a dad, what sort of qualifications would we need to have? I talked with other fathers about this and considered it myself. After conversations with friends and professionals, and quite a bit of research, I created a list of the 12 essential roles a father has to be able to perform.
- Provider. Diapers are only the tip of the child-expense iceberg. My checking account hemorrhages funds for dental visits, soccer camps, apple squeezies, medical checkups, school supplies, birthday parties…the list seems endless. And in addition, every fun family activity is now four times more expensive. I’m not a softy. I say no to 95 percent of my kids’ requests for expensive toys or outings or treats. But the 5 percent I say yes to require another part-time job.
- Doctor. If I turn my back on my kids, within seconds they are screaming in pain. Every child is a savant at self-injury. Any sharp corner is an extreme hazard, and any ledge more than six inches high requires a safety net. Even flat, well-maintained sidewalks constantly trip up tiny feet. I cannot count how many times I’ve had to deal with injuries or sicknesses that I am completely unqualified to diagnose and treat.
- Caregiver. Once you place a roof over their heads and keep your kids alive, you have to actually care for them. They need meals, baths, and routines for chores. You have to get them ready in the morning and put them to bed at night. Caregiving is so much of what parenting actually is, and it’s a job that we dads have tried to outsource to moms, grandmas, day care centers, and anyone else available. That’s why the plots of so many comedies feature Mom leaving town and the house unraveling. I’m not going to let my house become that sort of comedy. I’m not going to outsource the job of caregiving or put all that weight on my wife. I want Sarah to be able to leave the house and be confident that everything will continue as normal.
- Pastor. My father is a pastor, and he taught me how to read the Bible, how to pray, and how to care for the people around me. My parents consistently ministered to others. Families in need of a hot meal or a place to spend a holiday were invited to our house for Christmas or Thanksgiving. My parents gave people a place to stay when they didn’t have a home. Dad was always a reminder of what it meant to follow Jesus. Will my kids look at me the same way?
- Adventurer. Dad is the king of the road trip and captain of family fun. Dads take their kids camping, brave roller coasters, hike mountains, and go headfirst down waterslides. I love this part of fatherhood. I get to build forts, have movie marathons, play video games, construct Lego castles, and initiate water-balloon wars. If you spend hours by yourself at Chuck E. Cheese’s stockpiling tickets for the biggest prize on the rack, they call the police. If you do this with your children, they call you father of the year.
- Protector. It seems like about once a week I hear a funny noise somewhere in the house during the middle of the night. I lie in bed, my eyes big as golf balls, and think, This is it. Someone has broken in, and I’m going to have to fight like a medieval warrior to protect my family. I creep downstairs prepared for battle. I flick on all the lights with ninja precision. There is no one in the house. My family is safe. Thank God. I can go back to sleep. Even though the role of protector seems most primal in the night hours, the friendly daylight still holds plenty of risks: electrocution from an outlet, strangers in creepy vans lurking around public parks, and bottles of Drano a child could drink in a fatal moment of curiosity. And yes, I have called the poison control hotline. How did the world become such a dangerous place?
- Coach. Of all the roles for dads, is any more iconic than coach? At the very least a dad has to teach his kids how to throw a baseball and catch a football. But why stop at the basics? I want to teach my kids the finer points of the crossover dribble, suicide squeeze, and Hail Mary.
- Judge. Being a parent from the time your kids are born until they start walking is pretty easy. For the most part you are in complete control of when they eat and sleep. Babies will cry and let you know their opinion, but they’re not going anywhere. When they start to walk, everything changes. Suddenly they get into things they know they shouldn’t, and you have to say, “Johnny, please don’t get into that.” He snaps back, “No.” At that moment you’re facing a toddler showdown, and how you handle the situation will define you as a father. I know I feel like I have to daily—hourly—decipher the crime or misdemeanor committed and what the appropriate punishment is. It’s not as if we can learn one system of justice that works for 18 years. An effective deterrent when the kids are four is a punch line by the time they’re eight. Discipline is an ever-evolving art and craft, and I’m constantly trying to understand how to practice it effectively.
- Husband. Every day I’m hosting the most influential marriage conference my kids will ever attend. The way I treat my wife—the way I love, honor, and respect her (or fail to)—informs how my kids will someday treat their spouses and expect their spouses to treat them. I have daughters, and everyone tells me I will have to buy a shotgun to keep the guys in line. But often I wonder if there is a better way to spend my time than worrying about every creepy teenage boy on the planet. Instead, maybe I should be a great husband for my wife. Maybe I should show our daughters how they deserve to be loved, respected, and cherished. (I’m also stockpiling shotguns as if the zombie apocalypse were near, just in case plan A doesn’t work.)
- Teacher. My wife has taught on nearly every level—elementary school, high school, college—and she tells me that the parents’ involvement makes a huge difference in their children’s academic careers. Homework is one baton a teacher passes to parents. It’s something I haven’t thought about in years. I need to start soon—otherwise
the college fund (that I also need to start) is going to go to waste.
- Counselor. Physical harm is a reality for our kids, but emotional damage might be even more frightening. We live in a world where bullies can reach our kids at any hour with an all-powerful social media megaphone. Our kids are also faced with spats between friends, heartache over being the last picked, frustrations about failure, sexting, crushes, and painful breakups. A father’s job is to dispense wisdom, advice, and counsel for how to handle life’s most complex problems, but often I feel as though I need someone to counsel me so I can know how to counsel my kids.
- Hero. The final exam of fatherhood is something you can never prepare for. It seems that every dad eventually has to face a defining ordeal—a threat to his marriage, health, or family. In my midthirties, creeping toward my forties, I’ve watched other friends face these threats. I want to have a strong character so I can overcome them.
From The Perfect Dad by Rob Stennett