This journey we call fatherhood is extraordinary. In every way. From the birth of my first child, to the adoption of my second, to the arrival of my third, I am in awe of the little lives that have been entrusted to my care and my love. As much as I hope to teach them, they, by far, have taught me way more than I thought even possible. Through their adventures, I see the world in bright, new colors. Through their sleepy eyes, I am reminded, myself, to slow down. I relish in the pure bigness and unencumbered love they radiate towards me. How can I possibly hope to live up to their expectations of me? What can I possibly give to them that is more valuable, or at least of equal value, than the bursting joy they so freely share with me each day?
A lot, I hope. I try to show by example a good life, one of patience and kindness, love and acceptance. Is there always perfection in everything I do? Certainly not. I also hope to show them what it means to be human, what it means to stumble, get back up, dust oneself off, and continue on. And, in that little nugget of the human experience, we find “empowerment”. I want to empower my children. I want them to feel empowered.
So, what exactly does this mean? Do a quick Google search of “empower”, and you get back a straightforward and pretty boring definition of “to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official mean” (Dictionary.com).
Whoa! Wait a minute there…you mean to tell me that I am going to give power and authority to my children? Am I really going to cede my parental rights to have full control over everything until they reach the ripe, old, wise age of 18? Nope. Don’t worry. Traditional roles will remain intact. But, empowerment, for me as a dad, involves identifying particular personality traits in each of my children, and focusing on helping them realize the beauty in those traits, and using those qualities to build an amazing life. Let me share.
My youngest daughter is strong. I don’t mean physically strong (although she definitely is that, too, as a super energetic 4-year old). Rather, she is steadfast, confident in her thoughts and in her perspective of things, and certainly not afraid to challenge me. There are many times when I think to myself: “Gee. She is stubborn.” And while that may be true (she gets that from me…), my way to empower her strength is to frame her as a “leader”. In doing so, I value her strength not as something negative, but as a quality that will suit her well in life. In order for me to empower her with leadership qualities that I value, too, my focus is on situations that create in her a sense of servant leadership: helping friends and siblings, showing compassion with the decisions she makes, sharing, storytelling, and imaginative play with various outcomes, allowing her to experience wins and losses. This, I hope, will empower her.
My son, our amazing son who found in us his forever home, is sensitive. I love British comedies. Two years ago, I found myself watching the Vicar of Dibley series, a really great comedy with talented actors. The opening credits, though, despite it being a comedy, strike a more somber tone as Psalm 23 is angelically sung by a boys’ choir. At one point, after firing up an episode on Netflix, my son runs into the family room, stops in front of the television, and listens transfixed to the opening song. I think nothing of it, until he turns around with tears streaming down his face. Immediately, I inquired what was wrong, and he replied to me “It’s such a beautiful and sad song.” In that moment, I came to know his soft and sensitive heart. To be sure, he is as rambunctious as you would expect a freshly minted 6-year old to be. But, in the quiet moments, if a particular song is on, or if he has settled for the evening and has reflective time, he can ask the questions that hit straight to my emotional center. In November 2015, we lost a precious family member – my mother. She was an awesome grandma, too. Recently, my son was watching The Lion King, and there was an exchange between Rafiki and Simba that reminds Simba to not forget who he is because in him are his ancestors. My son came directly to me and declared: “Grandma is in you!” My way to empower my son is to acknowledge his deep understanding of humanity, even at his young age. I will frame him as a helper, a caregiver, a humanitarian. His sensitivity will be a strength, not a weakness, and give him the opportunity to truly understand the impact of words, actions, and emotions within his interactions with other.
My oldest daughter faces the most challenges in daily life, as she was born with a very rare condition known as Joubert syndrome. Over the past 11 years, we have had (and still have) countless therapies, innumerable IEP meetings, and just an overwhelming expenditure of energy. Yet, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our daughter is extraordinary, unique in every sense and not only because of Joubert syndrome. She has given me a perspective that I never thought I would have, and that is often difficult for me to articulate well enough for it to make sense beyond “she has taught me to see the world in a different light”. It is so much more than that. She is non-verbal, yet I understand everything she says (most of the time!). She can give a hug like no one else in the world. She gets fiercely mad when she is frustrated, but perfectly calm and pensive when she finds peace. While I always assume that it is me that must empower her, it is actually her life that empowers me. Through her, and through my other two children, I become the dad that I always wanted to be.