The knock on men is that we’re typically uncommunicative and insensitive, whether with our mates or our kids, and this is especially the case with public praise. It might stem from uncertainty of knowing what to say, but more likely from a fear of sounding too sentimental or simply dumb. But the kids want your approval – certainly private if not public – and there are very few children who don’t want to hear it. When we fathers pass on these rare opportunities, we’re forgetting the Principal Law of Fatherhood – that it’s no longer about us – and doing a real disservice to our children.
If you doubt the impact and value of these moments, I wish that you could have witnessed such a moment at a graduation party that I recently attended. The party was to celebrate the high school graduation of a young man, the last child in his immediate family. After time for visiting and eating, the father approached the front of the room and took a microphone, at which time the crowd grew quiet. After thanking everyone for attending, he told the young man that he had a few words for his benefit. The son advanced to the forefront of the crowd and stood directly and attentively before his father as the older man withdrew a simple index card from his shirt pocket.
The father read from the card in an unadorned style with no apparent deviation from what he’d penned earlier. What he’d written was straightforward and simple but the content of his message had a noticeable impact upon his son, who perceptibly straightened as he listened. The words were a combination of blessing and toast, an acknowledgement of his passage into manhood and the pride felt for the man that he’d both become and into which he would continue to grow. It concluded with a few short words of simple and heartfelt advice. The remarks probably lasted no more than two minutes but the brevity didn’t detract in any way. For the young man, the effect was clear. He walked forward at the conclusion and swept his father into a bearhug that caused the older man to stumble and recover before the two of them collapsed in a heap.
Children, whether boy or girl, crave the attention and affection of their fathers and such a public proclamation of love – and respect – will carry the youngster a long way, no matter what road is chosen. It’s a practice based upon ancient traditions when the parent would finally acknowledge that the children who they’d raised were now adults and equals, deserving of their own respect outside of the family shadow. When I left for college decades ago, my own father wrote a long letter that he packed into my trunk, to be found when I unpacked. I’d long ago decided that such a communication would go to each of my own children, but watching this event has me rethinking the format of the message. Perhaps I’ll have to work up the courage to seize such a moment as it appears in the future.