Being a good father is a full-time job. Learning how to be a good father involves more than just providing for your child's material needs, though that's an important aspect of fathering children. You also have a responsibility to help in their social, psychological, and emotional development.
One thing many parents don't absorb, though they might know this rationally, is that your child is learning every moment of the day. Being a good father is in many ways about being a good teacher. The only problem is, your kids learn from every single thing they hear you say and every single thing they watch you do. So while you have to be a teacher to raise a child the proper way, it also helps to be a good person, because they learn more from the example you set than the words you use to instruct them.
With that in mind, here's some tips for how to be a good father. I want to discuss two things every father should do, regardless of consequences. Showing respect to their mother and providing for their needs should go without saying, but too many fathers don't learn that lesson. Once that's out of the way, I'll discuss how to be a good father through education, discipline, and building bonds that will last a lifetime.
Another way to teach by example is to always show respect to their mother when in the child's presence. That tip applies whether you and the mother are still married, never married, separated, or divorced. Whatever issues you're having and whatever has gone on in the past, showing respect to your wife or ex-wife gives them a frame of reference for their behavior--not just for her but for women in general.
If the two of you behave like spoiled children or vengeance-minded ex-lovers, you are making yourself and each other look bad in front of your kids. They're going to get stressed and may have lingering psychological scars from these displays. It's far better to hold your tongue and hash out your problems behind closed doors. If you can't say anything positive to your wife or ex, then say nothing at all.
This tip applies even if she disrespects you. Defend any charges calmly and respectfully, but treat this person with respect. At the very least, you can set an example. Your child is still going to get agitated, but they'll also see how to deal with rude people. When you ask your child to take sides, you're going to make their childhood unpleasant, and they'll eventually resent you for it. When they get older, even if their mother's behavior colors their attitudes to you right now, they'll come to realize who the reasonable one was. If your ex-spouse can't behave better than that, your kids will eventually figure out she's not a particularly good example. If she a big influence in their lives, at least they have one positive example (you) to learn from.
No matter what happens, always provide for your kids' needs. You brought them into this world and you owe them that much. I'm talking about material needs, but they also need to know you're their for the emotional, psychological, and social needs. Try to be there when they have traumatic events or trouble at school. Try to attend social functions (like ball games and recitals) where other kids' parents are attending. Make sure your child has all their various needs met.
Children are like sponges; they soak up everything around them. If you're like me, you wonder how children have so much energy. Besides having a child's frenetic metabolism, there's the fact that everything is new to a child. Every thing they do is a point for observation and analysis. That's one of the reasons kids come up with such wonderful, one-of-a-kind sayings--they bring a fresh perspective to life. They're learning about the world. They have a want and a need to absorb information.
The most important thing you can do is to spend time with your children. If you want your child to be like you and share your values, spending valuable time with them in their early years is the best way to do that. If they aren't learning from you, they'll be learning from somebody or something. If you aren't around, they'll learn from their mother, their siblings, their classmates, their neighbors, or perhaps the television and the Internet. Spending time with your kids means they learn from you, and you can give them perspective from what they learn from others.
The more time you spend with your sons and daughters, the more enriched your life is going to be. You'll find yourself enjoying their company, delighting in the fresh outlook they bring to your day, and bonding with them in ways you've never bonded with another person. If you're wandering around the world hoping to build special relationships like you find in books and movies, spend time with your child. It will be the most important investment you'll ever make. That's what life is about.
As for your child, having their father around means they'll develop a bond with you and with strong males in their life, they'll learn a respect for authority figures, and they'll develop a sense of security and self-worth they might not develop otherwise.
While you're spending time with the kids, try to be a teacher for them. Reading to them (especially) and helping them with homework is important, but you want to teach them in the grand sense of the word. Encourage your children to be inquisitive and explore their talents and interests. Expose them to a well-rounded set of experiences, settings, and information. Take them to the zoo, the library, and the museum from time to time. Watch movies and tv shows with them, but also expose them to books and art. Encourage them to learn a musical instrument or go out for a sport.
Many parents have an expectation for their child, to become a star athlete or a brilliant student or a master musician, often to fulfill something the parent felt was missing from their life or childhood. Forcing a child into one pursuit probably isn't going to make it happen, if they don't have amazing natural talent. But if you expose your child to a panoramic range of possibilities, they have a greater chance of finding something they absolutely love and are brilliant at. There's no telling how many brilliant musicians and scientists we've missed out on, simply because that person wasn't exposed to the right stimulus as a child. Even if your child never finds a natural genius at some pastime or field of learning, the idea is you have a well-rounded child in the end.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last suggestion, but don't place unnatural and unwarranted expectations on your child. Don't make their baseball game seem like it's a matter of life or death. Don't make those piano lessons the absolute crux of the week. Henry Ford said that genius is "the capacity for hard work", and men like Einstein and Mozart said more or less the same thing. If your child is going to be a genius at music or sports, that talent is going to come from a true love of what he or she is doing. You won't have to push them and prod them into pursuing it. Expose them to a lot of different options, then sit back and see where they take it. Relax and enjoy your children for what they are, and you'll be disappointed less.
Don't say all the right things, but behave another way. I know a couple who pushed their kids into select soccer. Though they talked a good game about schoolwork and getting a good education, getting their kids to soccer practices, games, and tournaments seemed to fill up their lives. When the parents got really excited about an accomplishment, it was about soccer accomplishments. When the parents got really upset about something, it was usually about something that happened on the soccer field.
They said all the right things, but their actions sent a different message to their kids. Soccer seemed to be the most important thing in the world, while school seemed secondary. As the years passed and the kids got older, they seemed to focus more on their soccer skills than their grades. As their grades slipped and the parents poured thousands of dollars each year into league fees and trips overseas for tournaments, those kids college future seemed to resolve around a soccer scholarship. But when the year-round wear-and-tear of two leagues and countless tournaments caused injuries to pile up, the scholarship option wasn't there, either. Besides, education wasn't their strong suit anyway. And with all their expectations on sports, the kids came to resent their parents' focus on a silly game.
You see the danger here. Saying one thing isn't enough. Seeing your priorities sends a strong and clear message to your kid. They often start to have the same priorities, whether that's what you really want or not. And if those priorities are unreasonable or frivolous, they may eventually resent you for it. Your child is eventually going to be old enough to question every action you took, so you need to behave yourself along the way.
That reminds me. While all of this is going on, be sure to heap tons of affection on your kids. Not only does this build self-esteem and proper emotions in a child, but it also teaches them how to show affection to other people. Your kids need to know you love them at all times, no matter what happens in the world. You might be gone tomorrow, so make certain your child knows you love them today. They'll always take that with them.
It can't all be about affection and freedom of choice, though. You're the father, so you're going to have to establish discipline in your child's life. Your sons and daughters need a sense of bounds, "bounds" meaning they need to be taught when they've gone too far. Once your child understands that boundaries of good and bad conduct, they'll be able to interact with other people in the world--to "make friends and influence people", as they used to say in the old days.
I won't tell you whether you should establish discipline through physical discipline, but I will say that the basis of discipline involves teaching your child consequences. Your child has to understand early on that they'll be rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad behavior. This teaches them the concept of consequences, when debating and trying to reason them only teaches a child they can "lawyer" situations to their advantage. A young child doesn't understand the finer points of logic, so the signals you're trying to send are getting mixed up.
When establishing proper discipline, never be mean or vindictive to your child. You are teaching them that every action has a consequence, but lessons are learned only if they are consistently taught and retaught. If you lose your temper and sometimes go too far, you're teaching them that anger and over-reaction are proper. Ultimately, over-disciplining and humiliating your child is going to harm their self-esteem and (as they get older) make them lose respect for you.
Firm, yet tempered, discipline is a valuable lesson in itself. Experts tell you that it's better to tell a child quietly that the child has disappointed you than it is to yell at them, and that's true. But what you say to your child in these moments is important. As mentioned before, the child has to be taught consequences for their bad behavior, so if your point is to talk quietly and reason with them like they're an adult, then you're missing the point. You have to set rules and punishments in order to set up a system of consequences and create boundaries. When all is said and done, they have to understand you are in charge and it's in their best interest to listen. Your child has to understand that behaving is going to get a child a lot further in life, while misbehaving leads to difficulties. Your son or daughter will eventually learn the lesson, if you consistently apply that principle to your instruction of them.
It's a bad idea to indulge your child in their bad behavior. Either you train a child or the child trains you. If you decide upon a method of discipline, but decide not to enforce the rules because it's too much trouble, you're sending a clear message to the child: it's okay to behave in a horrible fashion. Instead of you disciplining them and educating them on how to behave properly, they've trained you to accept they are going to misbehave. They've won the test of wills with you, but this is a bad lesson for the child to learn, because most people aren't going to indulge their ugly behavior the way you will. In the end, your child is likely to be disliked by most people they meet, because they never learned the benefits of good behavior.
While you are disciplining your child, you want to always listen to what they say. Teach your child that it's all right to ask Dad questions. Kids ask a lot of questions and, if you answer these questions patiently and attentively, you're encouraging them to be inquisitive and ask questions--not just to accept the little bit they know about the world.
Listening to a child also gives you a real insight into their world. I have a friend whose daughter often complains that she's scared when she goes to bed at night and from their interaction you get the idea that (when company isn't there) he personally makes sure she feels secure. She's twenty feet away from mother and father most of the time she's scared, but kids have irrational fears. Being patient with your child and reassuring them sends the message that you're there for them and everything is alright, while ignoring their irrational fears sends the message that you're unavailable. It might seem like a small matter now, but if that message is learned at an early age, they might not be as likely to come to you with real concerns when they get older and the dangers become real.
It's easy to lose your patience with a child. You already learned the lessons they're learning a long time ago. Like I mentioned before, much of what children think and fear and say can be dismissed as irrational or "child's stuff", especially if you have your mind on other things or life has gotten hectic. But if you're patient with your child, you'll do a great deal to teaching them about maintaining their patience, while reassuring them they are important and what they have to say is important. This helps form a strong identity and sense of self-worth. I mentioned earlier that they learn from your example, and maintaining your patience is a good way to teach by example.
Revel in the unique relationship you have with your children. Have fun with them and they'll want to spend more time with you and less time with the less positive role models and peers in their lives. Enjoy your childrens' childhoods, because it goes by way too fast. Before you know it, they'll be moving out and moving on to other things. Hopefully, you'll have a strong relationship and many decades of friendship. But when they're grown, the only thing you're sure to have are those memories. So spend as much time with them when you can, take lots of photos, and have fun with your kids.