Several years ago, I wrote a book called, “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need.” We titled the book “Hero” because we wanted to show fathers who they really are in the eyes of their children.
But fathers didn’t see it that way. They saw the title and put the book down thinking, “This isn’t for me because I’m no hero.” This was very telling because it showed how poorly fathers regard themselves in our country. It not only made me sad, but it also infuriated me because it wasn’t true. No child—in my 30 years of practice and interviewing thousands of kids—has ever told me that they didn’t need their dads. They always said the opposite—they ached for more from their dads.
Why do dads feel they don’t matter? They have very legitimate reasons. First, try to find a Father’s Day card that says something nice about dads. They are depicted as sloppy, beer-drinking guys plopped in La-Z-Boy chairs hogging the channel changer. Or they are told that they are not needed. We women often say, “Thanks but no thanks; we can parent very well on our own.” The message to fathers everywhere is that women and kids don’t really need them.
I have been guilty of communicating this to my husband. We raised three daughters and a son. When my husband would talk to the girls, halfway through the conversation I would insert something “very important.” My tone of voice conveyed that he didn’t really know what he was talking about when it came to our girls and furthermore, I knew how to talk to them far better than he.
What a horrible thing to do not only to my husband but also to my daughters. Many times, they needed his understanding, his words, his perspective more than they needed mine. Most mothers do this—we put husbands (or ex-husbands) down because we don’t think they really get our kids.
Then we have ads, movies, social media, comics, musicians, etc., constantly putting men down. Find a movie where the husband looks like a hero. You won’t. No wonder dads saw my title and put the book down. Let me take a moment and tell you fathers what your kids really think about you.
You are the most important man in their lives. Period. If you have a decent, not perfect, but loving relationship with your kids, they are home free. They will be stable, confident, and successful adults.
You are their first male love. This sounds weird when it comes to sons seeing their dads as a male love, but he is. You are the one who shows your son what it feels like to be loved by a man. You are the one who shows him how to love as a man. Daughters learn what it feels like to be loved and respected by a man. They learn what to expect from boys and men in the future. If that man or boy doesn’t treat her as well as her father, out he goes. With a father’s love, boys fly. Without it, they can drown. Look at the inner cities where boys ache to find identity and turn to gangs. Why? Because they need fathers. Can you imagine how drastically inner cities would change if fathers were present in these troubled areas? I am convinced that drug use would plummet, and gangs would move elsewhere. This is the power that dads have, and you and I both know it.
You need to know dads that you are your child’s hero. You know this because this is exactly what you wanted from your dad. Every child starts life seeing his or her father as the strongest (“my dad can beat up your dad”), smartest and wisest man alive. Of course, you aren’t, but your kids don’t care. Through their eyes, he is. You are their hero.
If a father leaves the home, so goes the hero. He has left his kids feeling that they don’t need to be loved, they don’t need to be protected, and that they aren’t worth sticking around for. This is the deepest pain a human heart can feel. The problem is, dads really don’t know this because no one has told them.
This Father’s Day let’s tell the fathers and husbands in our lives that they are needed and that they count. They change our kids’ lives. Let’s stop focusing on how we mothers feel about our kids’ dads and be strong enough to face the fact that we and our kids need them. When a show comes on making fathers look dopey, change the channel. Make a statement. And fathers, when you even begin to embrace the idea that you are no one’s hero, kick the thought from your mind. And don’t you dare believe that you don’t matter because to your kids, you are the most important man in their lives, their one and only hero.
Dr. Meg Meeker has been a practicing pediatrician for 31 years. She’s the author of seven bestselling books, host of the national podcast “Parenting Great Kids,” and a mother, grandmother, and wife of 39 years. Learn more at MeekerParenting.com.