Making the most of the most important job: being a dad

I was recently asked what accomplishment in my life I am most proud of. A couple of things immediately came to mind. Through my work at United Way, I have been fortunate to help develop many programs and projects that have assisted people in our community. I have also found great satisfaction in personal volunteer experiences.

But ultimately I concluded that, by far, the aspect of my life that I am most proud of is being a dad. I’m not sure I would call it an accomplishment, because we all know that parenting is never complete. To the contrary, my wife and I are still right in the middle of raising our two daughters, who are about to begin junior high and high school.

I always tell new expectant parents that being a dad is both the most rewarding and most challenging thing I have ever done. Their smiles, hugs, questions and new adventures together bring me incredible joy. Simply spending time with them is often the highlight of my day. But we’ve also experienced painful trips to the emergency room, had to work through the emotions of disappointment and the loss of loved ones, and have sought to consistently provide the guidance and tough parenting lessons that simply come with the territory.

Of course, every parent’s journey is unique. So, to collect some additional data, I recently took to a highly scientific method, otherwise known as social media, to find out what some local kids and their dads had to say about the role of fathers. Here are a few things that I heard from kids in our community:

“My dad loves me no matter what. Even when I’m in a bad mood, he still loves me,” Leah said. “Be there. Listen. Be loving and teach your kids what you know, especially about God,” Joshua said. “Tell your kids you love them, hug and kiss them, and encourage them when they’re feeling down,” Luke said.

I also heard from several fathers on this topic, and there was a clear theme summed up by George Lightner: “Love your kids no matter what they do and then tell them that you love them over and over and over again.” Multiple dads talked about unconditionally loving their sons and daughters, being available, and letting them know it’s fine to be less than perfect.

In fact, research confirms the powerful impact that can be made by a committed father. According to the National Center on Fathering, when dads are involved, children do better in school and make healthier choices. Data also indicates that teens with involved fathers have fewer emotional and behavioral issues and more satisfying marriages. Research also reveals unique benefits that result in boys and girls from having an engaged father or positive male role model in their lives.

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But what about those kids who lack an engaged father figure? Unfortunately, fatherless children are more likely to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, suffer emotional problems, and drop out of school.

So, as we celebrate Father’s Day, it’s a good reminder to each of us dads of the responsibility we have and the potential impact that we can make in our children’s lives. As simple as it sounds, just being there, listening, and consistently loving our kids pays huge dividends in their future.

And even if you’re not a father, you can still make a difference. There are kids across the Inland Empire who lack a positive role model, and volunteers — especially men — are needed to spend time getting to know them, playing catch, and simply showing up. Big Brothers Big Sisters and CASA of San Bernardino County are in need of volunteer mentors and advocates to give just a few hours a week. To learn more or get involved, visit IEBigs.org or CasaOfSB.org.

To the many dads reading this article, I hope this is a reminder about the most important job that any of us have. It’s not in an office, on a job site, or on a sports field. It’s loving our kids and helping to shape this community’s next generation.

Gregory Bradbard is president and CEO of the Inland Empire United Way.

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About the Author

Gregory Bradbard

Gregory Bradbard is president and CEO for Inland Empire United Way (IEUW). Based in Rancho Cucamonga, IEUW improves the lives and futures of low-income families in the Inland Empire. Gregory also serves on the Inland Empire Funders Alliance and the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He can be reached at Gbradbard@ieuw.org and at @GregBradbard on Twitter. Reach the author at gbradbard@ieuw.org or follow Gregory on Twitter: @GregBradbard.