As gender roles have changed significantly over the past decades, so too have the roles of parents. Today the role of “dad” is being continually negotiated and redefined ― from household to household, and in our culture at large.
We asked men across the country (and one Canadian!) what it means to be a “good dad.” These are their responses.
Doyin Richards: Los Angeles, California
To me, being a good dad means removing your ego in order to be whatever your kids need you to be. Dance partner, a shoulder to cry on, a Care Bear, you name it. The best dads I know aren’t “too cool” to be silly with their kids, and because of that, they end up creating powerful bonds that last a lifetime.
Marc Castle: Colorado Springs, Colorado
To me, being a good dad is the end result of several pieces working together. A few that stick out to me:
Be intentional. Every action or inaction that I take must have a purpose. Talking through teachable moments and helping my son understand which battles are worth fighting are a part of that.
Teach the value of hard work. My son has earned coins for helping around the house since he was 4. At one point this year he had earned over $50 and couldn’t have been prouder to go buy his own toy. Goal setting is an important part of this.
Apologize when you’re wrong. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. I expect a lot from my son and he has the right to expect a lot of me. When I display actions that I don’t tolerate from my son I apologize to him, let him know we all make mistakes, and discuss how I should have reacted.
Mike Reynolds: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Being a good dad is about being willing to learn with your kids and to be open and honest in the conversations you have with them. It’s about not being afraid to talk to your kids about the things in life you are nervous to talk about and not passing these conversations off to other people. I like admitting that I don’t have the answers to every question they ask but that I’m willing to learn the answers with them. I love that me not knowing the answer to something doesn’t prevent my kids from asking me more questions in the future and that me showing curiosity makes them more curious too. I think this kind of relationship helps us challenge stereotypes about what it means to be a girl and what it means to be a dad together and in a fun way.
Scott Posey: Baltimore, Maryland
The one thing I have always tried to push is being present. I’m a working dad, I’m usually gone before my son wakes up and I get home close to 5. With a bedtime of around 8 p.m., that’s not a lot of quality time. So, I try to make the time I do spend with him worthwhile and talk with him, maybe play a game, or just hang out on the couch together and watch TV. Sometimes it’s hard. My body usually just wants to crash after a long day (and sometimes that tiredness wins) but I really try my best to be present when at all possible and spend quality time on the weekends when I have more time.
Elon James White: Oakland, California
Being a good dad means so many different things based on so many incalculable formulas that I can’t say what it means because it’s almost undefinable. Being a good dad is finding the unique set of skills that only your kid will be in need of and you will only learn upon actively “Daddying.” Being a good dad I guess means knowing you won’t know what to do until you do it and then be prepared for doing it wrong. And don’t take too much credit even when you get it right because kids are such complex, unique individuals — even when they’re being textbook — that it could be because you did “A” or it could be your kid was just that awesome. You can’t ride the tide of your kid’s development or emotional state; otherwise you’ll be [more] parentally distraught than you’ll already be from the lack of sleep. Oh, sleep. I remember thee well ...
Mark Penix: Papillion, Nebraska
I’m a father and a stepfather to two boys, age 4. For me, being a good (step)dad isn’t about being liked or being their best friend, although a lot of dad-like actions can lead to the same “best friend” feeling. Being a good dad is about teachable moments. Being a role model by your own actions and leadership, and I feel it’s even more important to explain your own failures to your children. Especially the ones they notice. Raising your voice when a calm one would do, losing your temper, being late to activities/games, generally making poor choices. While most might shy away from highlighting the bad, I feel, as a guy that grew up on both sides of the tracks, that it is paramount in building a well-rounded and well-adjusted functioning child.
Everything is a teachable moment, good or bad ... and even the best dads can have bad days. It is all in how you react to it. Ultimately you have to realize that children are learning from you even if you don’t realize you’re teaching.
Jeff Sparhawk: Boulder, Colorado
In my opinion, a good parent is one that supports and guides a child to be a healthy, happy and critically thinking adult. If I do my job as a dad well, my son will have a fun and carefree childhood while learning what it is needed of adults in the society of his future. At the same time, I hope I can instill the habits of joy, responsibility and caring.
To me, a good dad sets an example of thinking and acting not only for himself and his family, but for his community; and not only for himself, his family, and his community but for the future of all.
Graham Isaacson: Portland, Maine
A good dad is an ongoing process and it changes as life changes. I have tried to instill in my 6-year-old daughter that trying to control things will usually leave you empty-handed. I encourage flexibility and encouragement to move beyond challenges that may arise. I speak to her about the importance of vulnerability and empathy. I remind her that life is easier if taken in with a calm mind. A good dad asks questions. Questions about the kind things that happened during the day and the kind things that other kids demonstrated. It’s important to embrace creativity. Fun days include trampoline gyms, walks on the beach and family time. Allowing for the young mind to wonder. Being there to support and love.
Bob Rearick: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Being a good dad begins with love. It means that everything that you do and say to your children begins and ends with love. It doesn’t mean you’re perfect in your attempts, but it sure means you’re working at it.
It means laying down your life for your children. Quite simply put, that means taking your kids to their game, their concert, their whatever takes precedent over your desire to lie down on the couch and rest, even after a long day at work. It means giving your time when you don’t have time to give ... giving an ear when you don’t have time to hear ... giving advice when asked ... even when you’re not sure what you’re talking about. It means giving your very best, even when there isn’t much to give.
I believe that above all, a good dad gives, and doesn’t demand anything in return (but sure likes it a lot when his kids tell him that they love him).
Jack Stewart: New York, New York
Commitment, sacrifice and a passion for life. Need all of the above if you are going to be up at 3 a.m. to help your child sleep, out the door at 7:30 a.m. to be at work knowing full well you won’t see your kid all day, and back at home in the evening with the energy and spirit to lead your child through life.
Jeff Bogle: Exton, Pennsylvania
There are many ways, some complex (do you discuss race relations and gender bias in society?) and some rather quite simple (have you avoided dropping them on their noggin to this point?), to contextualize what it means to be a good dad. In my 13+ years of experience, and how I judge whether or not I am any good at this fatherhood thing, it comes down to a simple question: Are my children poised to be kinder, more patient, more curious, smarter, happier, and overall just plain better, than me? I feel as though if I provide my daughters with a childhood worth remembering fondly and a bevy of diverse experience to build upon, guide us through the difficult patches together having open dialogue the whole while, and come out the other side of youth still loving each other and the world around us, then I can and will say, “You’re a good dad, Jeff Bogle.”
Matt Kingston: Marysville, Washington
To be a good dad, you need to have unconditional love, a lot of patience and be able to advocate for your kids. You need [to] know how and when to ask for help when you need it. You must be there for your kids wherever they need you or not. Be a good listener, be a good role model, teach them right from wrong, give them a safe place to be in. Encourage them, celebrate them when they accomplish something, teach them respect and humility, and discipline them when they deserve it, teach them right from wrong and help form them to become good and respectful men and women, of all ages and races. Teach them about money, cleaning, cooking. Give them responsibilities ’cause life is not going to be easy otherwise. Encourage them to become independent. Not dependents. Teach them how to treat others, and how to interact with others.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.