Striving to be a Perfect Father

On Father’s Day, millions of men around the world receive gifts from their children, all manner of gifts: pens, ties, shirts, tickets and tools. Some of these gifts, such as T-shirts and mugs, display tributes such as “World’s Greatest Dad,” “Super Dad,” and “Dad of the Year.”

I was very proud, a few years ago, when my kids gave me a T-shirt that said “Dad of the Year,” until I saw another father wearing a T-Shirt that said “Dad of the Century.” This year, I had hoped to get a T-shirt that said “Dad of the Millennium,” but then I’d be likely to spot someone wearing one that says “Dad of Eternity.”

Actually, I’m a little self-conscious about displaying any type of superlative. I know I’m not the “World’s Greatest Dad.” I’m not even in the Top 100 in the World Dad Rankings. But I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I’m a pretty good dad – good enough that if my street had a dad ranking, I’d surely be in the Top Fifty. (At No. 1 is the guy who has installed a skateboard ramp and extra-large trampoline for his kids, as well as a zip line from his home to the hospital emergency room.)

It’s wonderful that many children think their fathers are worthy of the “Dad Hall of Fame.” But most fathers, if we’re honest with ourselves, will concede that we fall short of such lofty status. We may strive to be perfect dads, but how often do we achieve that? Perhaps two or three days a week.

What happens on the other days? Well, maybe we spend too much time working. When our children ask us to do something with them, we say, “Not now. I’m busy.”

“Dad, you’re always busy,” they say.

“Not on Sundays,” we say.

“That’s true,” they say. “On Sundays, you are always free during the commercial breaks of the football game.”

To be a good father, it’s important to make time for your kids. But it’s also important for your kids to make time for you. Sometimes all I want to do on a Saturday morning is go for a long bike ride with my three kids. It would be great if it would go like this:

Me: “Kids, let’s go for a bike ride. The weather is perfect.”

Lekha: “Great idea, Dad. Let me get the bikes and helmets out.”

Divya: “I’ll fill some water bottles.”

Rahul: “And I’ll check the brakes and tire pressure.”

But here’s how it actually goes:

Me: “Anyone wanna go for a bike ride?”

Lekha: “Not now, Dad. I have a chemistry exam on Monday. That’s only 48 hours away and I may need to use some of those hours for sleep.”

Divya: “I already got my exercise for the day: putting away all my laundry.”

Rahul: “Can we do it later, Dad? I’m watching something really interesting on C-Span. Members of Congress are debating whether to amend the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to provide relief to nonbanks from certain stress test requirements under the act.”

I’d prefer if my 12-year-old son were into sports, so we could bond over football, tennis and golf. But he’s really into politics, so we have to bond over “Breaking News” alerts on CNN. I keep reminding myself that a good dad has to be open-minded and accept his kids for who they are: their talents and interests, strengths and shortcomings, choices of career and soulmates.

But it’s not that easy, of course. Kids often make the wrong decisions or fall into bad habits, and we have to set them straight. We have to be strict with them. We can’t always be patient and loving.

A good dad has to be willing to hug his kids – and also bug his kids. (“Do your homework now or I’m going to ban C-Span and CNN for your entire life!”) He has to be willing to commend his kids – and also offend his kids. (“Thank you, honey, but I don’t think I’m going to use this coupon for a ‘Best Dad’ tattoo.”) He has to be willing to inspire his kids – and also make them perspire (“We’re going for a bike ride NOW whether you ace your chemistry exam or not!”)

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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