Promises to my child

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Dear _______,

In about 45 days, you’ll be born and I’ll be a father for the first time.

Your mom seems to be super prepared but I’m not sure what to do. Our basement is full of the things we’ll need to take care of you. We had the cloth vs. disposal diapers discussion. We have a few names picked out. I read Your Self-Confident Baby to learn how to be a supportive parent without smothering you. I read Be Prepared to understand how to support Stephanie during and after your birth and do the basics like hold you and feed you. I made a slide deck to teach you about rapid prototyping and customer development when you’re ready (2 years old?). I’m signed up for a Dads 101 class. I’m not sure what else I can do to prepare.

The reading and talking to and observing of other dads has me thinking about the kind of father I want to be.

My dad had his first son when he was 18, a daughter two years later, then divorced his wife, met my mom and I was born four years after that. He had 3 kids by the time he was 25.

I’m 28.

I figure if my Dad did it while working construction, going through a divorce, paying child support and not having baby monitors that send live video to your iPhone, I should be able to do at least as good of a job as he did.

My dad was a better father than his dad. I intend to continue the trend of improvement. If you turn out to be a boy and you choose to father or adopt children someday, my hope is that you’ll be an even better father for your children than I was for you.

Fatherhood is important. I’m told it’s the most important role I’ll ever play. Many say it’s even more important than being a husband. I know it’s certainly more important than being an employee or a boss. It seems obvious, but a lot of men don’t know that. There are a lot of bad dads out there. Hundreds of movies have been made about families living with demeaning or abusive fathers. I’ve met a lot of men and women carrying around serious baggage resulting from an unsupportive, depressed, impatient, unforgiving, selfish, too-busy or just plain lazy male figure.

You’ll be glad to find out that I’ve decided to take my role as your father very seriously.

As I grew into my 20s, I thought I didn’t need a relationship with my dad. He did a great job raising me, but after I moved out of the house I thought I was mature enough and independent enough to not need my father – to not let my relationship with my father affect the rest of my life. But then I got a little older and a bit more self-aware. I started to understand that my beliefs, my internal motivations, the way I treat women, the relationships I have with other men – all of these things were shaped by the things my dad did or didn’t do for me, the things he said or didn’t say to me, the times he was or wasn’t there. It feels like a weakness in some ways, but even at 28 I want my father to be proud of me. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away, even after he dies.

So you see, my beautiful child, why it’s important to me that I get this fatherhood thing right.

Therefore, in these final days before your mom and I welcome you into our home and our lives, I’d like to make the following promises to you:

  • You will know that I love you. I’ll say it to you often and you’ll feel it in your heart.
  • You will be healthy. You will always have a clean place to sleep, good healthy food to eat and opportunities to be active.
  • You will be safe. I will fight anything that tries to harm you. When you’re ready, I will teach you how to protect yourself.
  • You will live a life full of wonder and awe. I’ll see to it personally.
  • The world is yours to explore and I will let you explore it. You won’t be on a leash. You will feel protected but free.
  • I will have great patience with you. While you’re learning, when you’re talking, when you’re in trouble, when you’re making decisions, when you ask me if we can buy candy at the checkout line – I will have tremendous patience.
  • I will not interrupt you and I will teach you the importance of not interrupting others.
  • Sometime I will lead you down a path, but as often as I can I will instead follow you. I believe unguided exploration is the best way to understand the world and ourselves.
  • I will surprise you as often as I can.
  • Throughout your life, I will observe you. Through observation, I will learn how to know what you need and want. If you’re not ready to learn something, I won’t push you too hard. If you’re bored, I will introduce new challenges. If you enjoy something, I will provide you with opportunities to dive deep into it.
  • Whatever your dreams are, I’ll encourage you to pursue them. The world is the way it is because people no smarter than you decided that’s how it would be. If you want to do something or you think something ought to be different, there’s nothing stopping you from making it happen.
  • I will not use the word “impossible” when you tell me about your ideas. Nothing is impossible. As I write this, the world is just learning that self-driving cars could be a real possibility. Some scientist hooked one guy’s brain up to another guy’s brain and allowed him to control the other guy’s motor functions with his thoughts. The Mars One project is recruiting astronauts to colonize Mars. None of these things seemed possible just 10 years ago.
  • When you ask me a question, I will not give you vague explanations just to shut you up. There was little more frustrating to me as a child than seeking understanding from someone older or more experienced only to be dismissed because they thought I wasn’t smart enough to understand it. I will give you the understanding you seek so that your mind can grow. If I don’t know it, we’ll find the answer together.
  • I will not talk down to you.
  • I’ll be honest with you. I’ll be honest with myself. I’ll be honest about myself with you. You will know about the mistakes I’ve made.
  • I will do what I say.
  • I’ll pick you up on time.
  • I will lead by example. I’ll love my wife. I’ll love my mom. I’ll be a great friend to my friends. I’ll respect the opposite sex. I’ll forgive others. I’ll give without expecting anything in return. I’ll get up when I fall down and try again. I’ll continue to be a life-long learner. I’ll avoid addiction and keep healthy habits. I’ll smile a lot and laugh often. I won’t let my head get in the way of my heart when it comes to decision making. I’ll do all these things knowing that you’ll be looking up to me.
  • I’m on your side. I’m on your team. When no one else has faith in you, I’ll be the only guy on your bench with my face painted blue cheering for you like a mad man. There is always hope. You can always come back from hell to win it.
  • If you get in trouble. I’ll be there to save you and to make sure the lesson is not lost on both of us. If you can learn to not make the same mistake twice, you will have a massive advantage over most people.
  • You will choose what to believe in. If you ask, I will explain my beliefs, but it’s up to you to look inside of yourself and discover what you believe in. We can research the world’s religions together if you’d like. Whatever you choose to do or not do, I’ll support you. Faith and spirituality are very personal matters.
  • Oh the places you will go! You will travel. You will travel with me. You will travel with friends. You will travel alone. You will travel near. You will travel far. Through travel, you will gain perspective and you will have a lot of fun. The world is huge and beautiful. People in other countries have different priorities. They eat differently, they appreciate life differently, they express love differently, they communicate differently, they dance differently. It’s crazy. You have to get out there and see it for yourself.
  • I will try my hardest not to lose my temper, but when I do, I will apologize.
  • I will buy you things, but I will not buy you too many things so that you have the opportunity to understand how to get the things you want out of life.
  • I will teach you very early about money. You will not leave high school without knowing how to manage money, pay taxes, save for retirement, invest, etc.
  • I will not speak about college as if it is a life requirement. You will decide to go to college or not.
  • I will read to you.
  • I will sing to you. I plan to softly sing “Take Care” by Copeland to you when you’re sad or afraid or when I have the mic at the karaoke party I’m going to throw for you on your 16th birthday in front of all of your friends.
  • I will participate in things with you, not just watch. The lazy/busy/afraid parents can watch us from the sidelines.
  • When you’re little, I will get on the ground and play with you. We’ll play in the mud together.
  • I will keep myself healthy and active while I’m your father (e.g the rest of my life). It’s no coincidence that I started CrossFit and eating Paleo two months ago.
  • I will touch you. I will kiss you. I will hug you. Proudly. In front of others. You will grow up thinking that physical affection is natural and okay. When you’re about as tall as you’re gonna get, I will challenge you to hug contests in which we both hug the same person and ask them who gives better hugs.
  • You will have privacy. I will not read your text messages or put a tracking device on your phone.
  • I will love whoever you love. I will always make your family and friends feel welcome and loved.
  • I will remember what it was like to be your age.
  • I will help you identify and conquer your fears.
  • I will help you reduce stress and anxiety in your life.
  • I will teach you how to make decisions while facing extreme uncertainty.
  • I will listen to you. Hard.
  • I will miss you when you’re not with me.
  • I’ll be there for you always.
  • I will be your father first and your friend second. But I will be a great friend.

Finally, I’ll review these promises yearly to make sure I’m keeping them and to add new ones.

Love,
Your father

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