9 Lessons I Learned About Being A Good Dad By Having A Bad One

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fathers day down syndrome dad father parent

Hanging out with Noah at his school’s Father’s Day Party!

Father’s day is always a bitter sweet time for me. As I scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feed on Father’s day I see countless posts of people posting pictures of their dads with captions such as: “Thankful to have such a wonderful dad!” “Grateful for this guy’s leadership in my life!” “So glad to have such a wonderful father!” “I love this man!”

As I read these posts I always feel disappointment and sadness since I cannot post a similar one about my own dad. The truth is I don’t ever remember my dad saying he loved me. Ever giving me a hug. Ever going to church with us (much less ever praying for / with me.) My dad didn’t teach me how to shave, treat a woman, how to tie a tie (or how to light a water heater’s pilot light….I just had to call the gas company to come show me how to light mine…I was scared. Those things look scary.) :)

I love my father, but the truth (sadly) is that my dad was not a good dad.

What Makes A Dad “Good?”

Before I go any further I want to say a few things about what I mean when I say good dad. First, simply being a dad (which basically means you had sex with a woman and played a role in creating a human) does not make a dad a good dad. (Woah, that’s a whole lotta dads!)

There are many dads who abandon their children after they’re born (or even worse, encourage their wife to abort their child while they are still in the womb!) There are also many dads that live in the same house as their children yet aren’t the father that God designed them to be (such was the case with my dad.)

Being a good dad is much more than simply being a dad. I mean no disrespect when I say my dad wasn’t a good one, I’m just stating the truth. A good dad is one who does the things listed below. Sure there are more, but these are the biggy’s. It’s impossible to be a good dad and not do most of these things. (As you’ll see I’ve listed “fun” as a good-dad-quality…I suppose you can still be a good dad and not be fun. You’ll just be a boring, good dad. :)

I’ve forgiven my dad for not being the kind of dad that God designed him to be (a good dad.) I love my dad. As you’ll read below my dad is no longer living, but I wish I could go back and time and talk to him before he died (I didn’t talk to him (or even know where he was) about a decade before he died.) I wish I could have told him how things turned out for me. How by God’s grace I was a different father to my son than he was to me. And how that same God wanted to change his life and fill it with joy.

But I never got the chance. However, I do have the chance to make things different for my family. To change my family tree. To start new traditions. If you (like me) didn’t have a Godly dad in your life, I want you to know you aren’t trapped by your past. That God is in the business of changing people (and families.) No matter what kind of dad you are today, God wants to make you into a better one. It’s never to late to be a good dad.

9 Things I Learned About Being A Good Father From Having A Bad One.

Although my dad didn’t teach me the things every father should teach his son, I did, however, learn some important lessons about fatherhood from my dad, and these things have greatly impacted the kind of dad I am to my own son. I know a lot of mother’s read our blog, but today’s post is for all the dad’s out there. (Although good mom’s should do all of the same things.) So mom’s please forward this post to all of the dad’s in your life (and all of the will-be-a-dads-one-day); my hope is that all dad’s (myself included) let these nine lessons mark the kind of dad they are.

1. Tell Your Kids You Love Them. Often.

love down syndrome parent good dad

It breaks my heart that I can’t remember my dad ever telling me he loved me. I’m sure he did, I just can’t remember it. That’s sad. Don’t let your kids ever say the same thing about you. Tell your kids you love them and you are proud of them, often. Tell it to them until they say they are sick of hearing you say it. Then say it a million more times.

Your kids long to hear you say that you love them and that you’re extremely proud of them. They may say they don’t (for those of you raising teenagers) but they do. Trust me.

2. Pray For Your Kids. Often.

I don’t remember my dad ever praying for me. In fact, I don’t remember my dad ever praying for anything, ever. That’s heartbreaking. For me and for him.

One of the greatest privileges (and obligations) we have as parents is praying for our children. My dad missed out on that privilege. I won’t.

Take time to pray for your kids every. single. day. Let them hear you pray. Pray at dinner time. Pray as a family. Pray when trouble comes. Pray when things are good. Pray when you have little. Pray when you have plenty. Let your kids catch you praying. Let them know that you know the One who holds the whole world in His hands. The One who hears us when we pray. The One who is always there for us. Let them know that you have a high regard for prayer.

Bottom line; Make sure your kids know (and see you model) that one of the most manly things that any man man can do is pray.

Teach your kids this at an early age.

3. Teach Your Kids Where Truth Comes From

Your children are going to spend their entire lives living in a world that’s trying to sell them one lie after other. Our job as parents is to teach them truth and where that truth comes from.

Truth ultimately comes from the Bible. The Bible is our standard of what is right and wrong. It gives us fixed points of reference to align our life when the storms of life come our way; like a light house does for a ship at sea.

Make sure your house (and your life) revolves around the Word of God. Teach your child what it means to have a Biblical worldview. If you don’t the world will teach them otherwise. And your child will spend their entire life searching for truth in all the wrong places. Don’t let this happen.

If you have young children The Jesus Story Book Bible is one of the best children’s Bibles you can buy. It’s worth it’s weight in gold. Buy it, and read it to your children as often as you can.

If you’re an adult and looking to learn more about God’s Word yourself, I want to suggest two books that will change your life forever.

  1. The ESV Study Bible. This is simply the best study Bible you can buy, and the information contained in it will help you learn what the Bible actually means.
  2. Living By The Book – This book was written by one of my professors and it will transform the way you read and study the Bible. Trust me. It’s also worth it’s weight in gold.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

4. Hug and kiss your wife in front of your kids. Often.

I’m not talking about a full on make out session. That would just freak your kid out. But show affection to your wife in front of your children. Hug her. Kiss her. Tell her you love her. Tell her she is beautiful. Take your wife out on dates without your child. Go on a short (or long!) vacation without your children. (I’ll admit, this one is hard to do.)

Why is this so important? You want your children to know that their parents (and their home) are secure. That mom and dad are committed to each other. That mom and dad are in love with each other. That even though their friend’s family may be falling apart, theirs isn’t. I want my children to know their home is a safe place. That mom and dad love each other and aren’t going anywhere. Ever. No matter what.

loving family child down syndrome high line new york

This family isn’t going anywhere. Noah can count on that!

My son never has to worry about dad divorcing mom (or vis versa.) We are in this for the long haul. In fact, here are the exact wedding vowels I made to my wife on our wedding day. I want my kids to know I meant every word. (It’s amazing how many husbands forget the vowels they made on their wedding day. Sad.)

I, Rick give myself completely to you, Abbie,

To be your husband in marriage; I will lead you spiritually

As I submit to the Lord and His Word to guide our lives;

I will be faithful to God and to you

and I will never leave you;

Honor, serve, & cherish you;

And divorce, whether mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical,

Will never be an option to me.

I will forgive you as Christ has forgiven me;

I will encourage, challenge and pray for you.

And I will keep Christ at the center of our marriage.

And I will love with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength all of the days of my life

All this I vow to you and to God.

Do I always do a perfect job at doing what I said I would do? Nope. Do I always strive to? Yelp. I mean what I said that day. And by God’s grace I will strive to live out those vowels until God takes one of us home. I’m not a perfect dad, but I know where Perfection comes from, and I daily seek to become more like Him. :)

happy wedding marriage ashton gardens

One of the best days of my life!

In case I wasn’t clear: I am madly, deeply, crazy, head over heels in love with Noah’s mom. I fall more in love with her ever day. She becomes more beautiful to me every day. And Noah knows it. :)

5. Don’t argue in front of your kids. (Well, at least not very often.) :)

This point goes with the one above. In addition to making your home a secure one for your kids, make it a peaceful one. Every married couple has arguments. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s ok. But as parents we should make it our goal not to have them in front of our children. (Yes, I know this isn’t always possible. Trust me, I’m a mess to be married to.) :) But we should strive for it. By the way, we should also strive to fight fair with our spouse when we do argue.

You want your kids to want to be at home. You want your kids to think of your house as the most peaceful, loving place on the planet. Sadly,this wasn’t the case with me. Many of my memories growing up are of my mom and dad arguing. It made my home feel unstable (which it was; my parents eventually divorced and my dad abandoned my mother to rise four boys on her own) and un-peaceful and I never wanted to be there as I got into my teenage years.

Dads, do all that you can to make your home a place your kids want to be at. Trust me. One day they may not be living with you, and you want them to want to come back.

7. Be Fun.

riding camel dallas zoo child special needs

Yelp. We’re riding a camel.

I’ve met a lot of dads (mine included) that seem to have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. They yell. They scream. Are quick tempered. Grumpy. And outright no fun to be around.

They don’t read silly stories to their kids, help them build universes made entirely out of legos, go down the slide with them, or put on silly puppet shows for them.

In other words that are mean-o’s.

Don’t be this dad.

Have fun with your kids. Make memories. Laugh with them. Tickle them. Jump in the ball pit with them. Be goofy with them. Create new family traditions. In other words just be FUN to be around.

birds at dallas zoo

We have a lot of fun in this family!

To combine the last three points; make sure your house is secure, loving, peacefully, and full of joy. That is the kind of a house a kid longs to be at, not longs to run away from.

8. Use Alcohol Wisely

I’m not anti-alcohol by any means. Some of the greatest dads I know enjoy a good beer from time to time. However, I am (as is God) anti-drunkenness. It’s never ok to be drunk. It’s especially never ok to be drunk around your children.

My father was an alcoholic, in fact he eventually drank himself to death. Almost all the memories I have of my father involved him drinking. A lot.

As a child I was always scared of my dad when he was drunk. Not because he was physically abusive to us or anything, but because he was a different person when he was drinking. I didn’t feel secure him. He would act strange. Sometimes he would act over-the-top-silly. Sometimes he would yell. Sometimes he would say mean things. Often times he would simply pass out. In other words, he would act drunk. I didn’t know much about what it meant to be drunk as a kid, all I knew is that when my father was, he was a different person, and that person scared me. Sadly, my dad was that different person most of the time.

He had no idea how to handle alcohol. Alcohol is like a deadly weapon. In the hands of someone responsible it can be ok, but in the hands of someone who isn’t, it can be deadly; such was the case with my father.

Fathers, you don’t ever, EVER want your children to be scared of you. And being drunk around them is one sure fire way to do just that. If you’re a person who can’t handle alcohol responsibly than leave it alone. It’s not worth it.

Trust me.

9. And The Most Important Item On This Entire List: Teach Your Children About God.

This one really combines all of the points above into one. My friend Reggie Joiner often reminds people that from the day your child is born you only have 936 weeks with them before they graduate high school.

That’s it.

After our children graduate high school and (hopefully) go on to college our influence in their life decreases drastically. That’s why it’s so import for us to use those 936 weeks to teach them all we can about God; who He is, what He was done for them, how they can know Him, and how He desires for them to make a difference in the world with their life.

 

When these 936 weeks are done, they’re done. There’s no such thing as a parenting time machine. You can’t go back and teach your adult child what you wish you would have taught them when they were a child.

These 936 weeks are all we have. Let’s make them count.

“When we understand how much time we have left with our kids, we begin to make what matters, matter more.” – Reggie Joiner

It’s Never To Late To Start Becoming A “Good Dad”

Being a good dad isn’t easy. It isn’t autonomous. It takes work. Every day I have to make a conscious effort to be a “good dad.” To put my desires aside for those of my son and wife. Some days I blow it (just ask my wife) other days I feel like I did a pretty good job. Thankfully God is always at work helping become the kind of dad he designed me to be, a good dad.

If you’re reading this and you haven’t been a “good dad” please know that it isn’t to late. Today’s the day to tell your children (and your wife) you’re sorry for not being a “good dad” and that you’re ready to make a change. To do things different. To do things the right way. Get involved in a good Bible teaching church where you can learn God’s Word, and be around other dads striving to be a “good dad” as well. Spend time reading God’s Word (again, this is great tool to help you do that) and praying that God would help transform you into the sort of dad whose children’s love to be around.

He can do it. He’s in the business of changing lives…I’m living proof.

A Father’s Day Shout Out To My Father In Law (And Mom)

Although I didn’t have the sort of father God intended for me to have, I’m blessed that He (God) did put other men in my life to take his place. There have been a handful of men that my life has crossed paths with the last 15 years who have helped shaped me into the sort of dad and husband I am today.

One of those men is my father-in-law.

I’ve been fortunate to have a font row seat the last 13 years to see the sort of dad my father-in-law is to my wife (and to me.) He is loving, patient, helpful and has many of the qualities that I want to have as a father.

down syndrome grandpa

What a great father-in-law!

He was there the day Noah was born and has always been more than supportive and encouraging to Abbie and I as we raise Noah. I could write an entire blog post on how he has loved the past 14 years he has known me (I had a lot of growing up to in my 20′s) :) but I’ll just say he is a fantastic father, husband, grandpa, and friend. I’m thankful that God put him in my life.

Noah is one lucky kid to have a grandpa like him.

In addition I have to say thank you to my mom on father’s day. She played the role of both a mother and a father to me and my three brothers for most of our life. She pulled the weight of two parents. She has gone back to school to get a college degree and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

down syndrome grandmother grandma

My mom, two of my brothers, my wife, and my son! I love these folks

I know there are a lot of mom’s out there doing exactly what my mom did and my hats off to you. God never intended parenting to work that way; I want you to know that you are appreciated and what you are doing is important.

To all the fathers out there I want to wish you a happy father’s day. Being a good dad takes a lot of work, but it’s the best job in the world. Keep fighting the good fight. Keeping being the sort of dad whose kid’s look up to and strive to be like.

What you are doing is important. We only have 936 weeks from the first day we lay eyes on our kids. Let’s make them count!

child playing water klyde warren park

I love you Noah. Thanks for letting me be your dad!

What sort of dad did you have growing up? Did he model what it meant to be a “good dad?” If so, how? 

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About Rick Smith

Hi, I'm Noah's Dad and I'm passionate about giving the world a window into our life as we raise our son who was born with Down syndrome. I also enjoy connecting with other families, so let's stay connected.

Comments

  1. Nancy Howson says:

    That was an incredibly heartfelt posting Rick Noah is extremely lucky to have you and abbey for parents

  2. Melinda says:

    Can I add 6 to pull you to an odd 15
    10. Apologize when you make a mistake, especially if it is just a simple slip of the tongue in anger.

    11. Listen to their dreams–encourage them, even if you thin they are frivolous
    12. Listen to their fears–don’t belittle them.
    13. Read to them when thy are little, medium and even full size.
    14. Never assume they don’t understand what you are saying
    And
    15. Treat them like a treasured gift, not a burden.

  3. A very beautiful post!! Great advice and some cute pictures too :-)

  4. Thanks for sharing. I too had an absent dad. He wasn’t much more than a sperm donor. But God in his goodness has given back the years that the locust have eaten. He has blessed me with a beautiful husband and a loving father to our eight children. God has healed my heart just by witnessing how my husband loves and nurtures our kids. I get to see what a real daddy is like. I am blessed and so very thankful to have him as my bestfriend. God is good.

  5. Beautiful, I didn’t meet my dad until I was 12 years old-we were getting a paternity test done. After that I didn’t see him (or my brothers and sisters) again until 2005. My sister has posted a picture of our father holding her as a baby. I didn’t think it would but it kinda hurt that I don’t have a picture like that. But reading your blog I realized that there were many good Father figure type males in my life, and I thank God for them!!

    • Tori,

      I’m sorry to hear about your dad. I know that must hurt a lot. Be encouraged though, God loves you and is well aware of what is going on in your life. Stay close to Him and He will give you a peace no matter what sort of earthly father you had.

  6. Yohannes says:

    Thanks for the post Rick. Great lesson. Indeed a challenge. Good Dad!!

  7. Just. Totally. Awesome!!! Thanks for sharing how a crummy experience can create a great one.

  8. Thanks for being so real and open in this post. I totally can relate.

  9. Thank you Rick for being so open. Those wounds aren’t so easy to open up again and you bravely did so. I was piddling around with my blog related to lessons learned with my Dad and feel fueled to go forward with it. Bless you and your family and sweet Noah, the sunshine!

    • Thanks for the kind words. And way to go for writing a post as well.

      Being transparent is one of the most powerful things a person can be. You never know how much your story can help someone else. :)

  10. Cheryl Teixeira-Joseph says:

    Lovely article and I would definitely share it. Your family is wonderful and Noah too cute.

  11. Audra-Lee Zeats says:

    Much of your story rings true for me too. My father was/is an alcoholic. My husbands father was the same and he passed away at a young age. We both have been blessed with a great pastor who is loving and patient and kind and wise.

    Thanks for sharing your heart.

    (PS… My mom ROCKS! She’s a godly woman who also went back to school later in life and got all kinds of degrees now (including theology) :-)

  12. Susan R. says:

    This was a wonderful post and it was an awesome read. You may not have had the best example, but you’ve got it goin’ on when it comes to being a “good dad”.
    My dad was not always a “good dad”, but he tried. He was a young dad and he got distracted a lot by things that young people enjoy. My dad was a professional surfer and led a very hedonistic, selfish lifestyle. Fortunately, he came to the realization of how much his family meant to him and how important his role as a dad was to his children. Unfortunately, he died in a tragic accident very shortly after he realized it. I was only 5 or 6 when he died, but having to go through life without a “good dad” was difficult and unfair. However, there is a positive side to this. My dad’s father, my grandfather and my grandmother took me in and raised me as their own daughter, in place of my father and I couldn’t be more thankful for the best grandad any child could ask for. He was the only dad I ever knew and he gave me a very good foundation and start in life. He is still alive today at 97 years young and I talk with him often. He still sends me birthday cards and little gifts and tells me I am the daughter that he and grandma never had. They had six boys, but no girls.

  13. Susan R. says:

    Just thought I would include a little photo of me and my “GRAND dad”.

  14. martha ochoa says:

    Hi Rick,
    Your words hit home for me because this is exactly the type of home my children are being raised in, I have dedicated myself to fill that void for them but I really dont think its working . Every kid needs a strong male figure in their life not just a mom thats tries very hard to be both .. I especially feel sad for him because he doesnt have the bond that I have with my children especially Jonathan who is 6 yrs old and has Downs and I feel deserves sooo much more because after all he was given to us for a special purpose , when he was born I thought that was the purpose to help his dad be a “good dad” but that never happened . Thanks for your post .. I love to see what Noah is up to

  15. Dinah Arnold says:

    Hi, Rick. I’m sorry to hear about your childhood. You are brave to share with us. My Dad wasn’t anything like that. He was strict and old fashioned, but he didn’t drink. Unfortunately. my daughter’s father isn’t a part of her life. My daughter has Down Syndrome, too. His family rejected her and said a lot of hurtful things. He told me him or her. I picked the little 5 pound baby, and told her and God I would love her twice as much.And here we are twenty years later. We wake up smiling and singing almost every day.

  16. Tammy Nobles says:

    I wanted to share a few things with you and your wife that has happened to my family. My son Logan Thomas had down syndrome and he died in the womb at almost 35 weeks. This was the most heartbreaking and worst experience a parent can go through. We went through the same emotions as others about down syndrome anger, fear etc but in the end he was beauitful angel. We love and miss him dearly and can’t understand why he was taken so soon to be an angel. But there is a reason and I know he is safe and waiting for my return home. He had an enlarged liver that happened unexpectly and quickly. I had no idea that this was associated with down syndrome. I have started a fundraiser for him to help us pay for his memorial and to have a nameplate. Right now he has none because we have to pay the balance off. Please share or do what you can. I am sure God will see this will be taken care of. https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/8Wsrb here is the link to our story and fundraiser. Take care and thank you for sharing your story.

  17. I enjoyed your article…….I was one of the lucky ones who had a great Dad who I wouldn’t have traded for anything. Unfortunely my children weren’t as lucky, the love of my ex-husbands life was a beer can….Thanks to God they, all five children, turned out to be wonderful adults and I am very proud to say none of them drink. Their dad was physically there, but not really there. He did tell them he loved them, but if it couldn’t be done with a can of beer in his hand then it wasn’t done. A lot of empty promises. The most important thing my childrens dad taught them was what not to do as a parent. Today they are great loving parents….Again thanks for your article and I agree with all of your must haves to being a great parent….

  18. steph nowadzky says:

    that was beautiful and so, so honest. I don’t have a great dad either…he’s an addict and has been since I was 9. he lives 4 miles away and hasn’t seen my kids in well over a year. it’s a lonely sad life for him, but I know that it’s not my fault. I hope for the best from him, but expect nothing. that’s what works best for my emotional well being. we can’t choose our parents, but we can choose to do better than them.

  19. Jacquelyn says:

    I have a wonderful, kind, fun God loving dad. I am so so lucky to have had him as a child…. Unfortunately my 3 sons have a dad who provides for their physical needs but has fallen quite short of being a “good dad”. We are married and love each other very much but his lack of desire to improve on being a good dad is hard to stomach….. I am at a loss for my children. :(

  20. Hi,

    I enjoyed reading what you wrote and I just want to say that sometimes less is better and sometimes you can see good in things that seem bad. I didn’t know your Dad but maybe if he had given you more of himself, you wouldn’t have been the person you are. I don’t know you well either but I will guess that you got a lot more from your Mom. I see you are sensitive and deep, which actually to me , makes you a much better Dad to Noah.

    My husband is like this too and I have to say, its not as common for American men to be this way. That is why I went overseas to find my happy match. My Dad was also sensitive and deep. I really loved him.

    His Dad was just like yours…maybe a bit worse. My Grandpa was cold and aloof. He was very insensitive. My Dads Mom died when he was 2, but his Grandma was who he was close to. The good thing though, was that because he wasn’t close to my Grandpa, he was close to his Grandma and he was a great Father to me because he didn’t end up taking on the not so good qualities of my Grandpa.

    What I am trying to say is that God can see much further down the line than we can. It doesn’t matter about your gas stove skill so much as your ability to gently love your wife and son. With that said, my Dad did have a falling out with God until he was dying. He used to say that if he had to lose his hearing or his eyes, he wanted to be deaf so he could always see our faces.

    He went blind and he was angry at God. This is a pic of my Dad having this mindset.

  21. Miranda Polacek says:

    I too was unfortunate to grow up with less than pleasant dad and the same can be said for my boyfriend. I just want to say thank you for posting this. It’s nice to know that it is always possible to turn out a good parent when you didn’t always have the best example to live by. Thankfully my mother met a wonderful man (my stepdad) who had and still is stepping up the plate to parent, love and protect my siblings and I. They have to children together now and I’ve seen more love from that man towards all of us kids (adult kids and little ones) in the last 6 years (my youngest brothers age) than I have from my own father throughout my whole life. So though I may know what it’s like to not have my real father during Father’s Day I gratefully know what it’s like to have another man who stepped up to the plate :) I wish you and your family the best!

    • Thanks for the kind words. I think the most important thing is to get plugged in to a good church and community of people that can walk with you and help you become the type of parent God designed you to be!

  22. Спасибо Спасибо Спасибо!!! Мы очень очень очень ЛЮБИМ Ноя и ВАС!!!

  23. You are a great dad! And Noah will grow strong and happy and achieve things that will make him happy because of you and your wife.
    You say: God is in the business of changing people (and families.) !
    This is so true! We feel so grateful for our son Gabriele and the joy he brings every day.

  24. I was scared… a lot… and still am. The drinking, extreme fighting, the examples we lived with… I love my dad and am grateful for the things he has done right. I just can’t imagine how great it would feel to grow up with stability

  25. This is by far the most beautiful and touching post I can remember to have read. Thank you,and, may The Force,as ever,be with you!!!

  26. I want to tell you what joy you and Noah bring to me when I see your smiling posts. My son, Jeremy, will soon turn 40 yet it seems only yesterday that your story was mine! Hearing first sounds, watching first steps, the dancing, the swimming and all the wonderful sights and sounds of authentic love! I have two other children who bring so much joy to me, but the true, gut wrenching, heart stopping moments that Jeremy brings to me cannot be replicated. I truly thank you for sharing and hope that you continue to enjoy each moment that you get to enjoy Noah! What a Gift you have been given!

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