Good Father 101 – How to raise happy, healthy kids

Tony Spencer discusses what being a good father means and shares his honest and insightful experiences for others to see the challenges and triumphs of fatherhood.

men's stories featuring tony spencer

First and foremost, I am honored and very humbled to have been asked to write this piece. I believe that being honest with ourselves and others is the key to becoming better people.

In this case, better fathers. 

It has occurred to me that most of the work I have done publicly in Christian Ministry and in my podcast The Examined Life, has been about sharing what I’ve learned through my mistakes. 

This has also been true in my experience as a father. I have always endeavored to be honest with my children about my failures and trials as a man and as their father.

The Hard Part – Opening Up

It’s not easy and can be very embarrassing to open up about my missteps and reveal my doubts and fears. 

My ego has never liked this practice of honesty much, but I have never really liked my ego very much, so I guess we are even. 

I will be 50 years old in September. I have a biological son from my first marriage; he is 24 years old. I also have two stepchildren from my current marriage; they are 21 and 19 years old. I don’t call them my stepchildren, though. 

I became their father when I married their mother 15 years ago. They have always only known me as their father because their biological father abandoned them when they were young. 

His loss, my gain, I’ve always said. 

So I will try my very best to be honest with you about my experience being a father, and I sincerely hope you find something I write helpful. 

How do you Measure Fatherhood?

I usually overthink everything, so taking that into account, I still must say I am not sure I am a good father. 

I mean, how do you measure being a good father? 

Do I compare myself to other fathers, self-help books, my father, or the media? 

Do I evaluate my children’s lives and measure my fatherhood based on their subjective health and happiness? 

What about whether they like me or not? 

Maybe these measurements are starting points at the very least, but I want to get down to the very core or truth of what it means to be a good father. 

What is Your Motive? – Choices & Priorities 

I have to consider motives. 

I made a decision that once I became a father, my main goal, my main priority, primary responsibility in life was my children. 

I have made so many mistakes. I’ve over-disciplined and under-disciplined. 

I have been inconsistent and overbearing. 

I have been a bad example, lost my temper and failed morally in front of my children. 

All these mistakes matter.

We can’t pretend that just because we have good intentions that our failing in front of our children doesn’t matter because it does. 

But we are going to fail and make mistakes, just like our fathers also failed and made mistakes. 

The key to being the best father you can be is to choose to not give up. 

Make a choice that no matter how many times you screw up, you will keep trying to improve. 

We made the choice to become fathers, so our own personal desires need to take a back seat. Make a choice that you put the needs of your family ahead of your own personal desire.

I have apologized to my children a million times and then turned around and messed up doing the same thing! 

But I believe my kids know that I love them, and I will always be there for them. They knew I would die for them and work jobs I hated, so they were provided for. 

What a Good Father Looks Like

Looking back over the years, I wish I had spent less time disciplining and more time having fun and playing. 

We did a lot of playing, though. 

And once I became a father, I realized that trying to fit all my hobbies and friends into my life was just not going to work. 

After all, we only have so many hours in the day; after 10 or 12 hours of working, there is even less free time. 

If we want to be good fathers, we must spend time with our children when possible. 

We went camping, fishing, walking, eating out, picnics, swimming, and biking. We watched movies together and played board games. We laughed and wrestled. 

And we went to school functions as a family. 

Like I said, I messed up and fell short of even my own expectations many times. But if we are not present with our family when we can be, we don’t give ourselves any chance to succeed or make mistakes. 

Even though I messed up a lot, at least I was in the game and not on the sidelines. 

Lessons from a Father

It seems like there is so much more to say. The task of defining what a good father is so daunting. These points I have made so far will have to suffice for now. 

  • Be honest with yourself and your children. 
  • Examine your motives and make a choice to put your children’s and your family’s needs above your ownas best you know how. 
  • When you fail, apologize and try to do better. 
  • Most important of all is being present. 

Nothing you know about or think you know about being a father matters if you’re not actually in your children’s lives when you can be.

If your motive is to put your children first above yourself and invest the time to be in your children’s lives, then I think you’re most of the way there. 

Don’t give up, never give up. 

Children love their fathers and want them to succeed.

Children will forgive many mistakes, but they can’t forgive you if you’re not there. 

God bless you, and thank you for trying to be the best father you can be. 

The endeavor to be a good father not only helps your children and yourself but the whole entire world. 

And there may not be a more important undertaking within our power to engage in.

Sincerely, Anthony J. Spencer


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