Because parenting is one of the toughest jobs on the planet, give yourself a pat-on-the-back. There is no perfect way to parent a child, and often the same parenting of siblings in the same household can result in very different outcomes in the individual lives of the offspring. Have you ever wondered why that is?
I think Kahlil Gibran hits the nail on the head in his world-famous book “The Prophet.”
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
However, as fathers and parents we have a huge responsibility regarding our children. In my personal life, I have always felt strongly that first and foremost the best way to parent is to be a role model. To walk the talk and talk the walk.
Most often children do emulate the values demonstrated by their parents. Often if these values are negative children will go the opposite way. In my work of teaching forgiveness, I am often confronted with strong feelings and very challenging issues between a father and a son or a mother and a daughter. There have been similar issues in my own family, and I am sure many of you can relate. The important thing to keep in perspective is your parents did the best job they possibly knew how to do.
My father did not have a loving upbringing.
My rich grandfather kicked him out of the home at an early age, and my father had to work very hard to build his own life. He worked for an automobile company, bicycling to work every day, ultimately starting his own successful business. My grandfather eventually drank and smoked all of his riches, while my father supported him and his siblings in spite of having been treated poorly.
He was a good father to me but very busy making a living. And while he was not there for my everyday emotional needs, he made sure we had a home, food and education. He also showed me the value of hard work and to give back of one’s wealth and time to serve one’s community. My father passed away nine years ago, and I pray that the good Lord rest his soul in eternal peace. I learned a lot form my father, but I also grew up with some challenges when we did not agree or when he disciplined me – something I probably deserved.
That reminds me of the quote by Mark Twain:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
If I look at my own challenges around being a father of my children Tasreen and Tariq, I believe I may have fallen into the same trap as my father. While I was always a father who took care of my children’s welfare, I failed as a dad. Looking back at my life, post the loss of my son, I believe that it is important to find that balance between being a father and being a dad. As a “father” it is important to cultivate and role model healthy and moral values, to be a disciplinarian – not to punish but to inspire better behavior – and to teach proper boundaries. (More on what it means to be a “dad” later).
Being trained as a banker, I taught my children early in life the responsible obligations we all have to our families and communities. Each month I sent them both pocket money which I increased as they graduated to a higher grade. Here I had three strict rules:
- Take 10% and give it away (tithing).
- Take 20% and put that in your savings account
- You can spend the remaining 70% any way you like but you need to send me a budget of how you spent it.
This was not so that I could pry into their spending but rather to make them aware how their money was being spent.
Tasreen was always on time. However Tariq would call me with: “Dad – I did not get my pocket money for June.” My response was “I did not get your budget for May.” “OK sorry Dad I will mail that to you today.” “I will send the check today as well.”
To build trust I never said that I would await his budget.
Invariably his budget did always show up albeit sometimes late. When he moved to San Diego to go to college at SDSU – every month I helped him with balancing his checkbook. He eventually did get the lesson, and after he passed I was pretty amazed how meticulously he kept his records. Tasreen, as well, has been a good and responsible daughter, as well as an exemplary mother and Executive Director of her brother’s Foundation (www.tkf.org).
She lives with strong morals and compassionate values.
Tasreen still relies on my advice especially when it comes to finances. Recently I had to play the role of both dad – to get her through her divorce and hold her hand through a difficult time – and father a couple of years later – to help her strengthen and manage her finances.
And what does it mean to be a dad?
This comes with unconditional love and support. This is also an important role. I feel sad and guilty that I was not always there for Tariq as a dad. Living in different cities, I know I missed many important events in his life and failed to be there as a dad to provide emotional support. Today, I do that with my daughter and my grandkids who, now thanks to Almighty, live close by.
The difficult question that has always perplexed me is how do we find the balance between one’s role as a father and as a dad?
Even though many pundits have written books on parenting, I am not sure that I have an answer to this challenge. It is a moving target as your children grow into teenagers, young adults, adults and parents themselves. At each of these stages the rites of passage is critical, and the balance between a responsible father and a loving dad also shifts.
My own style is to be transparent, teach by example and promote good moral values, integrity and service to others. When they do fall, I help them lovingly get up and support them on their journey forward. There are times when you will disagree with your children and their decisions – at these times it is good to remember Gibran’s advice. Remember also that our children are here to teach us!
So, on Father’s Day, acknowledge yourselves, and your fathers. Know they did their best. Even if they did nothing for you or somehow failed you along your journey, they still gifted you with life, and for that alone you could say a forgiving prayer of gratitude, as there is no larger gift than the gift of life!
Peace, gratitude and many blessings to all fathers on Father’s Day and beyond.