I recently was visiting my three grandchildren (ages 3, 2, and 1) in Florida. I asked Micah, my 3-year-old grandson, what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said he wanted to be the driver of the tram at DisneyWorld.
He then turned the tables on me and asked, What did you want to be Grandpa?
I told him that when I was a kid I wanted to be a major league baseball player. His Dad told him he wanted to be an NFL football player. Obviously, neither of us achieved those dreams. But for me, giving up a dream of becoming a major league baseball player and becoming a successful businessperson who could provide for my family turned out to be more rewarding than I could have imagined and surprisingly, it has been a lot of fun too. I had some amazing coaches in my sports days and incredible mentors in my business experience and now I am enjoying being a coach and mentor to others.
As a Father, I have made many mistakes and I’ve learned a lot. I wish I knew all of this when I started, but like any job, the only way to learn is through on-the-job training and the only way to attempt to master the role is with experience. Here are the eight most important lessons I’ve learned in my 30-something years as a Dad.
Teach them to dream big. Make sure your children know that anything is achievable, regardless of the current circumstances. Show them the value of meritocracy over entitlement.
Play with them. Some of my favorite memories as a Dad have been playing wiffle ball, wrestling with the kids and reading books they liked to them (books were always able to be purchased in our household and didn’t count against allowance).
Laugh a lot. When a child learns to laugh hard and often, including at themselves, it releases incredible positive energy. My youngest daughter has such an amazing belly laugh that it becomes contagious and soon everyone is laughing along with her.
Encourage them to work hard. Show that you not only expect to see good results, but that you also expect them to try hard. And there¹s no time off from this effort. In order to achieve we all must get re-voted onto the team every day.
Teach them to enjoy what they do. Whatever you are doing together, be it homework, sports, or family vacations, make the most of the time you spend together. I¹ve always enjoyed relaxing vacations where we could refresh after a grueling schedule. When my youngest son was a teenager though, he called these trips “mind numbing” so we added something he found more interesting and more enjoyable.
Don’t bring work stress home. There is actually a study that outlined the dangers of a parents lower job satisfaction and the negative mood that results from it and effects family life. The more negative the mood, the more likely a parent is to punish or reject a child, and the more their kids are punished and rejected, the more likely they are to act out or exhibit shyness. Imagine the inverse result? What happens when a parent finds passion and meaning in a job, and what can that inspire? It’s not about the amount of time we spend together, it¹s about the quality of the time.
Make it count. Inspire them to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Politeness and manners never go out of style. Help them learn to give back. Teach them to have compassion for those who are less fortunate.
In a world where the average S&P 500 company lasts only 15 years, it is very hard to create an enduring legacy in business. When I became a father (and, more recently, a grandfather), I was struck by how I had the opportunity to influence lives for generations, a thought that was simultaneously humbling, terrifying, and inspiring. While I can’t say I made every decision perfectly, I can say that of all the titles I’ve held in my life, the one that I’m most proud of is “Dad.”