Nothing is more powerful to the life and self-esteem of a child than knowing they are loved and accepted by their parents.
While mothers often get most of the credit as the nurturers in a family, dads play a vital role in loving their kids too. Unfortunately, most guys have a hard time showing their feelings, of being vulnerable. This is largely due to gender stereotypes and patterns passed down from generation to generation. That’s not always the case but generally, it’s much more difficult for dads to show affection in the form of empathy and compassion to their kids than it is for moms.
But there is one thing that has a direct impact on a child’s long-term well-being, self-esteem, and sense of worth in the world. It’s one word that is more powerful than any other form of encouragement we can give our children.
That one word is LOVE.
With Father’s Day fast here many people have mixed emotions about their dads.
For years I was angry at my dad for abandoning me, my two younger brothers, and my mom when I was twelve years old. Even though my mom was there, I felt completely alone.
I was a shy, introverted kid who had done well in school and my world had just been turned upside down. To mask the feelings of emptiness, I turned to drugs and alcohol to escape. I went from being a good kid who felt loved to a recluse on a self-destructive path that nearly cost me my life.
At twenty-two, the wheels came off the wagon. My life was slipping into a pit of alcoholic despair. I even briefly entertained thoughts of ending it all, but a greeting card changed the direction of my life.
One afternoon I came to and saw an envelope on my nightstand. Inside was a simple greeting card with penguins standing on an iceberg. In the middle was one lone sunburnt penguin standing in the middle.
Inside the card read,
You are one in a million.
I love you too much to watch you die.
Please get help.
That card was a lifeline.
Shortly after I went into rehab and began to heal.
But as I began the process of recovery, I still had feelings of anger and resentment toward my dad. Part of my recovery required me to forgive him. To let go of the anger I had toward him. I tried, multiple times, but anytime I faced stress or doubt or confusion, the anger returned.
Then I became a dad. In many ways, I tried to be the dad I thought I’d lost. I did my best to play catch with my son. To show up for his baseball games. To be there for him and not repeat the mistakes of my dad.
Sadly, my first marriage didn’t last. But we both made a commitment to keep loving our son no matter what.
We all make mistakes and sometimes we have to remember to forgive ourselves and others.
I did the best I could by being present in my son’s life and showing how much I love him. I do the same for my stepkids and they all have turned out to be fine adults.
One day after work, I got a call from my mom that my dad was in the hospital. It had been two years since I saw him. The next day, I went to visit him.
As I turned the corner and peeked into his room, I felt a lump in my throat. My dad lay in a gown staring out the window at a mighty oak. As I entered the room he turned and said, “Shawn! So good to see you.” Though he was smiling, his gaunt face covered with salt and pepper stubble, made me take pause. He’s dying and I need to heal old wounds I thought.
We had a wonderful conversation, and I finally felt the connection I’d lost for too many years.
He left me with the most important words any child could hear,
“I love you son. I’ve always loved you, boys. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see each other more.”
This father’s day, if your dad is still around or if you’re a dad, I encourage you to let go of any harsh feelings, call or send a note and say these three powerful simple words,
“I love you.”