My oldest son Tyler and his wife Shana are expecting their first child later this month. He will also be our first grandchild. I have been trying to think what advice I would give to my son, as a first time father. Well, here it is. May not be much but it comes from the heart:
I know you are waiting in happy anticipation on the birth of your firstborn son, Silas. I am proud of you for so many reasons and now for the fact that you, my firstborn, are about to be a father yourself. I have no doubt that you will make a wonderful Daddy. I remember before you were born, being so proud and excited I could hardly stand it. But, I was also a little nervous. I had never been a father before and I knew there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I suspect you are in the same place right now. The ironic thing about our culture is that you have to pass classes and get a license of permit to drive a car, practice medicine, give massages or do hair, but you don’t have to do any of that to be a parent. So, I figured I would share with you some fatherly wisdom about how your life is about to change.
When your Mom and I found out we were expecting you, once the initial giddiness and excitement wore off, I began to wonder “what have I gotten myself into”. One day I asked your PawPaw “what do I do now.” His answer was “you be a Daddy.. from now on.” Truer words were never spoken. Over time, I think I figured it out pretty well. You and your brothers seemed to turn out okay, for the most part, with no permanent damage.
The first thing about being a father is that, from now on, your job will be to make sure there is enough. Enough of what you might ask? EVERYTHING! Money, food, clothes, medicine, shoes, electricity, books, games and the like. And love. Most of all love. Remember, parenting is a partnership and your wife will do most of the heavy lifting. But part of being a father is providing a home and environment where a child can grow up knowing they are loved and where they learn how to love in return. That doesn’t always mean the best or most expensive of everything, but it does mean a home where love is the rule rather than the exception.
One of the ways to do that is to remember the second rule of being a father. What children need most is for their father to love their mother and show it everyday. You and Shana are a great couple and we love you both. But, and many people miss this, you will not become a family when a child is born. You became a family the day the two of you said “I do”. Children are added to that family circle and the circle gets bigger. But never forget that the primary relationship in your family dynamic is between the two of you. Respect that. Cultivate that. After parenthood comes along, it is easy to get busy with the day in, day out responsibilities. But don’t neglect to work on your marriage every day. Make time for yourselves. Still take her out on dates. Leave the kids with grandparents once in a while and spend a weekend out of town. I remember when I was a child growing up. No matter what happened, I always felt secure knowing that my Momma and Daddy would always be there. I knew they would because I saw everyday how loved and cherished each other. And that was worth more than all the tea in China. And never forget that his first lesson on how to respect women will be how he sees you treat him mother.
Another thing to remember is that once Silas is born, the clock is ticking. You will have about 18 good years before he’s out of the house and on his own. The amount of time you have to spend with him while he is growing up is finite. Once it is gone, you can’t get it back. Make time to spend with him. Have fun. Laugh out loud. Teach him. Mentor him. The greatest joy of my life was being around while you and your brothers were growing up, seeing each of you discover life and figure out who you were. You might remember that the year you graduated from high school, I was pretty anxious and downright depressed. That was because I had truly enjoyed being a father raising three boys and it hit me hard that those days were rapidly coming to an end. Spend your time wisely and savor each moment. It will be worth it in the long run.
Sometimes being a father is hard. Especially when you have to set and enforce rules. But discipline is part of the deal and mostly your responsibility. Having limits and rules is important, not just to shape behavior, but to make a child feel safe and secure. Children like having boundaries. And once in a while, they will push against those boundaries just to make sure they are still there and that everything is still good with their world. Remember that when it happens. Never discipline when you are angry, but do not neglect it when need be. There are times when you have to put your foot down and toe the line. It will probably break his heart and I guarantee it will break yours, but do your duty.
God gave a child two parents so they could learn something from each of them. As a father of sons, your task is to make sure he grows up knowing what it means to be a man. That may not be politically correct, but it’s true. From you, he needs to learn certain truths. Be courteous to strangers. Be loyal to your friends. Help those you can. Don’t give anyone a reason to not trust you. Don’t look for trouble, but when it finds you, don’t run away. Stand up for what you believe, even when it is not easy. Look our for the weak and those who can’t look out for themselves. Take care of those who are dependent on you. When it is time to work, work hard and when it is time to play, play hard. And don’t get the two confused. Think for yourself. Question everything. Dream big. And most importantly, be true to yourself. As my Daddy used to tell me, you can fool and avoid a lot of people, but you have to be able to look the guy in the mirror in the eye every morning.
Being the father (or mother for that matter) of boys is not for the faint of heart. No matter what you do, boys think that burps, fart sounds and peeing in the yard is great fun. There will be many penis incidents. Just go with it. They are afraid of nothing, at least the first time. Every stick or piece of wood over 6 inches long will immediately become a sword or spear. Sometimes they think they can fly. Make sure he spends some time outdoors where there are no personal electronics or electrical outlets. Let him play in the mud and eat dirt once in awhile. Teach him how to build a fire and cook meat. Make sure he eats his grains and vegetables, but every now and then, let him have cake for breakfast. Life is too short not to.
Make sure he knows who he is. He is a Harrison, a Cotton, an Underwood, a Mack, a Summers, a Herrington, a Tyler and a San Nicholas. Make sure he knows he has roots in Louisiana and on the island of Guam. Most of all make sure he knows, no matter how old he is or where life may take him, wherever Mom and Dad are will always be home.
It is hard, but don’t be afraid to let him fail sometimes. That is part of learning. As your Nana says, “a lesson bought is worth more than a lesson taught”.Teach him that it is not how many times you get knocked down that is the measure of a man, but how many times you get back up. On the road of life, fight the temptation to prepare the path for the child. Instead, prepare the child for the path.
There are other things I could tell you, but you will figure most of them out by yourself. But remember the advice from Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The road can be hard, but it will be more than worth it. As it says in Psalms, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! Fatherhood is the most rewarding job you will ever have. I know, because you are the child of my youth and I know what that meant to me. I love you.