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Learning

How I Learned To Be Dad Even Though I Never Had One

Oct 24, 2018

The moment is forever etched in my mind: I am four years old, rocking a cowboy hat and toy pistol. I am standing in the sunroom of my great aunt’s house, where my sister and I have lived for three years since our parents' separation. On the other end of the phone is a voice I recognize as my father, promising a camping trip, just the two of us. It all sounds so thrilling. I have no way of knowing that my parents will lose contact and my father and I will not speak again for 15 years...

The value of your presence is not so much measured in time spent as it is in being there when needed most.

Being a father without a paternal blueprint has been challenging. More than anything, I want my daughter to have ample amounts of what I missed most growing up. Long before becoming a dad, I had learned that diminished self-worth and self-confidence were, for me, the price of not having a positive and nurturing male presence in my life. It took years, many lost opportunities and much hard work to recognize and address this.

Becoming a father really kicked the process into high gear. From those first long nights spent walking the floor, wailing infant in arms, I got to designing my dad blueprint — a parental playbook built on what I believe are the three most important things a father can give to his child.


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The first is simply being there. Nothing reinforces a child’s self-worth more than knowing that you are there for them, no matter what. The value of your presence is not so much measured in time spent as it is in being there when needed most. Once, when my daughter was in kindergarten, I was buried in filling out a GST return and forgot to pick her up from her school bus. For two years afterward, she was anxious when it was my turn to pick her up. To this day, I can’t live it down.

Nothing reinforces a child’s self-worth more than knowing that you are there for them, no matter what.

The second is ongoing recognition and encouragement of your child’s special talents and gifts. Every kid has them, and I know how it feels when they go unnoticed and unnurtured. In her daycare years, when my daughter showed an interest in drawing, we were all over it: lessons, trips to the gallery, and a wall dedicated to her work, each one ceremoniously mounted with genuine admiration and praise. Same with music. Same with acting. When I watch her now, at the age of 11, my stomach is in knots as she fearlessly steps on to a stage or confidently nails her piano recital.

The third is laughter. Life is tough and laughter gets you through. From the start, I encouraged and reacted to my kid’s sense of humour. Knowing that she could make others laugh was a powerful confidence builder. Even better, humour is self-stoking: The more I appreciate her being funny, the funnier she becomes.

We want our kids to be emotionally secure and confident. And by no means do I claim that my dad playbook provides all the answers. But I do believe that if you bring generous amounts of these three qualities to fatherhood, you will nurture emotional strength that lasts a lifetime.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and documentary film producer who is passionate about developing projects that explore social issues and innovation. He is currently shooting and producing Long Ride Home, a project that explores innovative healing paths for post-traumatic stress. Craig lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer, and podcaster, and their tween daughter – his most challenging and rewarding project to date!  You can catch his latest work at mediadiner.com.

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