What Makes a Great Father?

By Melissa Stefanec

Melissa Stefanec

Every June, many of us celebrate Father’s Day. It’s a time to honor the father figures in our lives and reflect on how these people have impacted us. 

Father’s Day is a time for celebration and admiration, but it’s also a time for reflection.

There’s no perfect set of qualities or actions that will add up to being a great dad. But, looking back on the father figures in my life and their contributions to my and my children’s wellbeing, there are some pretty clear patterns as to what makes for a healthy father-child relationship.

Here are some of the many things the father figures in my life got right. Said another way, here is a list of some of the things awesome dads do.

• Being able to say “I’m sorry”

Strong men know and acknowledge they aren’t always right. Strong men realize they are human and make mistakes, especially when it comes to raising children. Men who say they are sorry to their kids aren’t weak; they’re role models. They teach their children they’re never too old, smart or powerful to repair the harm they inflict on others.

• Loving your kids, no matter how different they are

Sometimes, the apple falls really far from the tree. That doesn’t mean the apple is better than the tree or the tree is better than the apple. It just means they’re different. Amazing dads embrace when their kids have different passions or belief systems. They keep loving them and showing that love.

• Showing up to support kids at extracurriculars

Kids often have demanding schedules. Dads don’t have to be present at every last game, presentation or concert. However, they should know enough about their children to know what stuff is important. Then, they find a way to be present at the important stuff.

• Prioritizing time with the kids

Your kids don’t have to be your whole life. It’s OK to make time for yourself and be your own person, but great dads find time to hang out with their kids. They actively engage with their kids. When they say they will do something, they do that thing. Making your children a top priority teaches them to prioritize important people and relationships throughout their lives.

• Learning about your kid’s interests

The best dads are experts in strangest things. They know an awful lot about praying mantises. They know a lot about tabby cats. They know who their kids’ play with at recess. They don’t know any of these things because they have a personal interest in these topics. They know because they actively listen to their children. They take interest in their children’s lives.

• Picking up the phone

Whether their kids are in diapers or diapering kids of their own, top-notch dads stay in touch. Whether that’s through phone calls, text messages, emails or social media posts, a dad’s presence is almost always appreciated (even if that appreciation comes with an eye roll for a few years).

• Talking to your kids about complicated things

Strong dads encourage their children to think about complicated things. They encourage their kids to investigate gray areas. They teach their children to find nuance in complicated narratives. They talk about the stuff everyone is afraid to talk about. They don’t shut their children down. They answer questions and encourage their children to find personal safety and new answers.

• Treating people besides men with respect

Traditional manhood has often meant looking down on anyone who isn’t a cis-gendered male. Rockstar fathers, young and old, are willing to turn that script upside down. All people, regardless of sex, gender or sexual orientation deserve respect. They deserve to be left out of cheap jokes. They deserve autonomy and recognition. Dads that can respect everyone teach their kids to do the same. And, they’re making this world a better place.

• Being able to admit when you’re wrong

Much like being able to say you’re sorry in the moment, great dads can admit they were wrong. They can admit they were wrong about little things. They can admit they were wrong about big things. Trying to be right all of the time in front of your kids just makes your children self righteous and oblivious. The best dads know how to acknowledge their wrongdoings and make amends for them.

• Moving away from the rules of traditional fatherhood

The best fathers are individuals who aren’t afraid to be themselves and, thus, teach their children to do the same. Fatherhood doesn’t have to adhere to practices and beliefs that do everyone more harm than good. The best fathers listen to their hearts and their children’s hearts to find a way to parent that leaves everyone feeling secure and loved. Speaking of which…

• Making your kids feel secure and loved

This is the cardinal rule of being a good father. Being a steady and reliable presence, whenever you are physically able to be, is a one-way ticket to a beautiful relationship. Dads who embrace their kids’ quirks, passions, strengths and weaknesses raise the sort of people who love themselves and can truly love others.

To all the amazing fathers out there, happy Father’s Day. Keep doing all of the good stuff that makes you so irreplaceable.