By Anne Gagliano
What does it take to be a good father? Words elude me on this topic, for I am not a father but a mother. I will, instead, quote my son, for who better to define a good father than the child of one?
In our family, we have established a wonderful tradition with our sons: When we give each other a book (we are all avid readers), the giver must sign the book with a personal note. This gesture turns an ordinary gift into a memorable keepsake. On Father’s Day 2007, our son wrote these words in a book that he gave to my husband Mike:
“Dear Dad; I am the only guy I know who can honestly say that the person I look up to the most, the man I consider to be my hero, is my own father. It’s not just because you’ve spent the last 20 years saving people’s lives, fighting fires, and risking your own life to help total strangers; it’s not just because so many people now look up to you in awe as a decorated captain and instructor. Mostly, it is because you have sacrificed so much, and given your own time and personal desires so that we, your family, could have a perfect home life. It is because along with your terrific example, you have also been all the things a father should be: a loving presence, a guiding hand, a leader by example, a protector, and a spiritual head of the family. For all this, I thank you. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.”
A terrific example. This is step one in being a good father, and firefighters, you are already this simply by virtue of being what you are. As our son clearly stated, children of firefighters admire what their fathers do for the community; they are everyday heroes. Firefighters are hard-working, brave, and committed; these are all traits that kids can be proud of. But being a good father does not end there, it takes so much more.
A loving presence. A good father is a tender, gentle, affectionate man that clearly shares his heart and his feelings with his children. He is approachable. This is always important to remember, firefighter Dads, as your profession can harden your heart, even to your own children, if you let it. In the business of life and death, a tender heart is more easily broken, hence the tendency to become “tough.” It is therefore even more of a sacrifice for you to remain “soft” for the sake of your kids, but this sacrifice is well worth your efforts as you will raise emotionally healthy children who flourish in the secure knowledge of your love.
A guiding hand. A good father teaches his children respect through proper discipline. Children will walk all over you if you let them. Undisciplined children tend to be unmanageable, and lazy; poor students; and, ultimately, dysfunctional and unemployable adults. Mom can do a lot of the discipline, but let’s face it, the ultimate authority, the “heavy,” the one kids truly tend to fear, is Dad. With but a word, Dad can bring his unruly child back under control. Good dads don’t check out when parenting gets tough; instead, they step in; take a hands-on role; and keep the kids from getting out of control, especially through the teen years, when limits are stretched to the ultimate. Guidance will keep the kids on course to becoming the best that they can be.
A leader by example. A good father inspires his children to follow his advice if he leads by example. Who listens to those whose lives are a mess? A true role model is someone whose actions are exemplary, even in their private lives. An honest man does not portray himself one way to the world and another way to his family. Children watch your every move; they can spot a phony a mile off. “Do as I say and not as I do” is a recipe for disaster as a father, as the footsteps you try to cover up are the ones your kids will follow.
A protector. A good father makes his children feel safe, not just in the world but also at home. Dad is strong, Dad is capable, and Dad has my back. He will keep the bad guys away, he will help me fight my battles, and he will be a source of encouragement at home. With a dad like this, a child can accomplish anything, for feelings of safety develop confidence; fear, on the other hand, only produces weakness.
A spiritual head of the family. A good father instills morals and values in his children. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Whatever your religious beliefs may be, it is important to share them with your children, as these views are the ones they will tend to adopt for themselves as adults. If a father is a poor role model, mothers will be forced to look to other men in the family to guide their children, as men have a profound influence on children. A good father does not neglect his children’s spiritual needs, for this is the area from which character is developed.
How is a father to do all of these things? The answer to this question is also found in our son’s book dedication—it takes time and sacrifice. A good father gives his time to his children; he gives careful measure to work and home life and does not neglect either. This is where the word sacrifice enters in—the sacrifice of personal pursuits for the sake of family ones. Remember, firefighters, your job is the noblest of callings, the finest of professions, and it is one to be truly admired, but even it pales in comparison to fatherhood; your children are your most worthy endeavor.
Don’t be tempted in your desire to serve the community to turn over your parental responsibilities to your wife, as she will come to resent this. Every wife knows that the best husband is a good father; in fulfilling your parental duties, you will be strengthening your marriage as well.
A firefighter and a father—the two toughest jobs on the planet. If you are successful at both, then you are, in every sense of the word, a hero.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 27 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.