Once upon a time being a good father meant you made a living, provided a home, gave occasional advice and were the terrifying end point on disciplinary matters. But gone are the days of, “just wait until your father gets home,” and moms being the go-to parent for nurturing and child-rearing. The expectations for today’s fathers run much deeper than that, and most men are looking for more meaningful ways to parent and be a part of their child’s formative years. 

Figuring out what it means to be a good father today can seem really daunting. Do you rule with an iron fist, or do you make a point to express all emotions and validate every feeling your child has? Do you give them everything they want, or do you make them work for everything? How hard is too hard when it comes to pushing your children in academics, sports, or other endeavors?

There is no universal right or wrong answers to these questions, and no one who should answer them for you except you. There are, however, some things to consider as you ponder these things and other aspects of fatherhood that can help you find the best answer for you. 

Your Own Childhood

Being the best father you can be really starts with taking a look at your own childhood. Everyone’s circumstance is different, but if you had a father that was a factor in your childhood, recognizing the impact he had on you – good or bad – will help you realize the influence he has on you now and challenges you to be the kind of father you want to be. A father has an enormous influence on his children. He is the example of what a man should be, and sometimes that example is a good one and sometimes it’s not. Since we’re all human, it’s always a combination of both. Taking the things your father did that made a positive difference in your youth and incorporating them into your parenting can be an effective guide for many. The converse is true for the poor choices your father made. Recognizing and acknowledging the practices you don’t want to repeat will help you work hard to avoid those missteps. However, trying hard not to become your father isn’t always enough to overcome his influence.

If, for whatever the reason, you grew up without a father in your life, you have the unique perspective of knowing that something was missing and what that void feels like. The absence of a father means you may not have a firsthand male role model on which to base your own parenting and relationships, but it also likely means you are keenly aware of the importance of that role in a child’s life. 

Knowing What You Like and Don’t Like About Yourself

None of us is perfect, and none of us will ever be a perfect parent. Being a good father means you recognize both your strengths and weaknesses and work towards maximizing one and minimizing the other. Always remember that you set the standard. What your child sees as they grow is what they think is normal – just like you did. If you have bad or destructive habits and behaviors, it’s quite likely your son or daughter will either emulate them or end up in relationships with people struggling with similar behaviors. 

For instance, if you are a drinker, gambler, or wrestle with addictions, it’s far more likely that your child will too, and possibly at a younger age. If you have poor money habits, or poor eating habits, your child probably will as well. So, evaluating yourself as a person and making yourself a person your child can follow is a crucial step in becoming the best father possible. 

Decide What Kind of Adult You Want to Shape

Children can be trying. They push their boundaries and test your patience over and over again. That’s completely normal. How you respond to these actions will play a big part in the way they turn out as adults. 

So, as you are trying to figure out what kind of dad you want to be, stop and first consider what kind of adult you want to shape. Do you want them to think money fixes everything, or that society will take care of them? Do you want them to yell to make their point, or quit when things are tough? 

Teaching a child the skills they need to be a hard-working, honest, generous, compassionate and productive adult starts as soon as they are born. This often means making tough choices like letting them fail, allowing them to experience the negative consequences of poor choices, and telling them “no” when all of their friends’ parents are saying “yes.” 

It also means being clear on what your family values are and making decisions that demonstrate these values. Being clear and unwavering on these principals and staying consistent with the family expectations will minimize confusion for both your children and yourself. 

Additionally, fathers are faced with showing their children what it means to be a “man” in today’s world by balancing typical masculine attributes. The idea of the alpha male that doesn’t ever show emotion, controls or diminishes the women in his life, and shows physical prowess at every turn has gone by the wayside. Teaching your child, son or daughter, that men can be both strong and vulnerable, respectful of everyone, thoughtful and hardworking is crucial. 

Possibly the best thing a father can do for his children is to treat their mother well and with respect – no matter what your relationship. The relationship between parents is what children follow as the model for their own relationships going forward. Families come in all shapes and sizes these days. What your family structure looks like doesn’t matter nearly as much as ensuring that your family is a safe and positive environment for a child to grow.

Ultimately, parenting is a personal and uncharted path. There is no definitive manual and a lot grey area, so it’s impossible not to get a few things wrong along the way. Remember that although you may be raising your child, they are not a carbon copy of you, and ultimately they will become the person they want to be. Being a good father means that you do your best to give them all the tools for life, model the best and most positive behavior possible, and love them freely and unconditionally.