Read an Excerpt
How to Win at Being a Dad
By CAREY CASEY NEIL WILSON
Tyndale House Publishers Inc.
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One From One Dad to Another
As my co-workers at the National Center for Fathering know, I tend to use illustrations from the world of sports. That's because (1) I'm familiar with athletics, and (2) I know a lot of guys would rather talk sports than talk fathering.
I like to do both.
Until I was seriously injured while playing football for the University of North Carolina, involvement in athletics was a significant part of my life. That allowed me to move into some unusual territory. I was Lawrence Taylor's first roommate in school long before he was a New York Giant or headed for the Hall of Fame. In fact, I was an upperclassman starter when L.T. was wondering if he would make the team!
Later I spent several decades working for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And over the years, I've been privileged to be a chapel speaker for every team in the National Football League.
That's why I've been able to count well-known coaches and players among my friends. The picture collection on our refrigerator at home features not only our children but also the families of sports figures with whom we've shared our lives. This might sound glamorous, except that we know these celebrities as people-as mothers, fathers, and children.
One of those people was Reggie White.
A Championship Father
Reggie White played with the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers-and was an ordained minister. Every so often, he'd help me out as a guest speaker. When he visited, he never stayed in a hotel. He always wanted to stay in our home. When I went to visit him, it was the same. At one point, my bride, Melanie, and I had to put a king-sized bed in our guest room for the times when Reggie stayed over.
Reggie White was a giant of a man. But he never considered himself too important to learn more about fatherhood.
Reggie had grown up without positive fathering role models. But he was persistent in trying to find strong father figures by choosing mentors.
I believe that's why he liked staying in our home. I think he wanted to see family. He wanted to see how I as an older guy (maybe six years older) managed my household and raised my kids. He was always searching, seeking to get better beyond football-and fathering was one area in which he was determined to improve.
I was sort of a brother and a father figure to Reggie. He could ask me things, tell me things, share and be honest with me. I was an on-call friend. We didn't talk a whole lot, but when we did the conversations were about things that mattered.
One fatherly trait I observed in Reggie was that he knew how to have fun with our children. When he was with them, he was a big kid. I'm six-one-and-a-half-but I'm also fifty-two years old, so it's tough getting on the floor. This dude was six-five, three hundred and some pounds, and he would hit the carpet with my children, ready for tumbling and wrestling even after he'd played a football game or had a workout. As cool and big-time as he was, Reggie knew how to have fun with kids.
Sadly, Reggie passed away in 2004. And sadly, when I look into the faces of an NFL team today, what I still see most clearly are the effects of fatherlessness.
Some of the faces are those of wealthy young men drifting without dads-and becoming fathers themselves without a clue about what to do next. They're idolized on life-sized posters, but I know they're still little boys, wondering where Dad is and why he doesn't seem to care.
But I also see men like Reggie-young fathers who want to do better than was done for them. They're eager for principles and insights that will help them break the cycle of disappointment from their pasts.
Wherever you are in the fatherhood process, hope begins with what you do as a father from now on. I want you to know what I tell those NFL players: Championship Fathering is a longer-lasting achievement than anything that happens on the field.
Players who've won a championship trophy or ring often declare, "No one can ever take that away from me." That's right. People can't take that away, but they can certainly forget what you've done. The crowd has a short memory, and what it remembers is always selective.
Your kids and grandkids, on the other hand, are in a very special category. They're an audience like no other. When all is said and done, you want them to remember you in the best way-as a Championship Father. That's something worth keeping for eternity.
Are You Championship Material?
I meet men all the time who admit they're defeated by their shortcomings as fathers. They often feel they're simply repeating the failures of their dads. Many bear deep wounds, pain, and resentment toward their fathers. They don't know where to begin to make it right. Maybe that's where you're stuck right now.
There's a lot of practical help in this book, but to begin with I need to give you permission and encouragement to be a father. Start being Dad.
Your past failures can't erase the biological fact, and your future failures don't mean you can't do your best. You may not even know where your kids are right now, but you can accept the truth that you are their father. Begin with that fact; let it sink into your heart.
In these pages we'll look at the patterns of fathering, not the occasional highlight or blooper. Establishing and maintaining a pattern of responsible fathering takes long-term discipline, and it doesn't depend on any single victory or mistake.
I don't know about you, but it's easy for me to think of something good I did as a father and then hang my case on that: "Remember that amazing weekend we went skiing together? That was really fun, wasn't it? Doesn't that prove I'm a good dad?"
That series of questions has a logical answer, though your children may not dare to say it: "Yeah, Dad, that was a great weekend. Where were you the other 51 weekends of the year?"
You and I can't get fatherhood right by doing it well a couple of times, and we can't ruin it with a couple of failures, either. Kids are amazingly forgiving and resilient-more than we deserve!
What they deserve from us is a pattern of consistency. Our goal is to adjust that pattern into one that gives our children something they need most-a dad committed to Championship Fathering.
He Taught Me Everything I Know
Reggie White wasn't the only Championship Father I've met. When you come right down to it, virtually everything I know about fathering I saw in my dad.
It took me a long time to realize it, but almost every new lesson I learn about fathering I can see illustrated somehow in my dad's life. That doesn't mean I think Ralph Casey was perfect. He made his share of mistakes, but I know I can learn even from those. I have access to a lot more information than he did, but he got things right more often than not.
For example, Pop blended his roles as dad and grandfather in ways that still amaze me. One of our last conversations took place while he lay in his hospital bed as his body and brain were gradually shutting down. He held my hand and looked at me in a way that told me he was still all there. Squeezing my hand and with a twinkle in his eyes and a slur in his speech, he said, "Doooon't provoooke your children to anger!"
As I stood looking down at him, I realized he wasn't just trying to tell me something about my role as a father. He was telling me one of his personal codes of conduct. I thought back overmy life as his son, remembering times when I did get angry with him. But it wasn't because he'd provoked me; it was because I knew he was right and wasn't quite ready to agree with him.
One of those times came during high school. I'd been playing football, had experienced some success-and developed a little attitude. I was fortunate to be at a school with a respected football program, but began to think the coach didn't appreciate my abilities as much as he should. I wasn't playing as often as I thought I deserved to play, so I complained.
The coach was a white man, and all my black buddies were telling me to quit the team. We agreed that the way he was treating me must mean he was a racist. My friends said, "Carey, don't play for that white coach. You don't need him."
Their advice sure sounded like the way to go. So I came home, spitting that venom and sharing with my father my plan to quit the team.
Dad listened until I had it all out of my system, then shook his head. "Son," he said thoughtfully, "that man is a good coach. He's going to win football games with or without you. He doesn't need you. You need the team more than the team needs you."
He was right. At that moment I needed someone who could see the bigger picture. That was Pop.
I stayed on the team and played for that coach. Much to my amazement, I improved and he gave me more playing time. Eventually I got a scholarship and played in college-where I met my bride.
Football gave me connections I never could have made otherwise. They all go back to that conversation with Pop; his words literally changed the course of my life. I can only imagine where I'd be today if I hadn't taken his advice. And the older I get, the more quickly I want to agree with him.
My father built into my life the view that learning doesn't stop. Right up until he died, he was pouring wisdom into my mind. He's my greatest example of what Championship Fathering is all about-not just because he was a good dad, but because he taught me that becoming one is all about doing it better and never quitting. If being relentless isn't part of your profile for fatherhood, it's time to add it!
Pop understood the necessity and principles of responsible fathering, even though we didn't use those terms to talk about it. He was practical, down to earth-and experience only helps me understand and appreciate him better.
In preparing this book, I've repeatedly found myself wondering what Pop would say about this or that. I'll mention him often because even when he wasn't perfect (and there were plenty of times when that happened), he remains my best example.
Living the Dream
God must have thought I'd need more than the examples of my dad and Reggie White. He gave me a good dose of equal-opportunity fathering experience, allowing my bride and me to bring four children into the world-two daughters and two sons. He also lets me serve as CEO of the National Center for Fathering, speaking to various audiences about being a dad and meeting with many groups about concerns affecting fathers.
I'm living out my dream. Every time I speak on fathering, I can hear my dad talking about my future and saying I'd be part of a large challenge. Pop planted that dream in me.
Like you, though, I can't forget that my ultimate audience consists of my children. They motivate and evaluate my progress as a dad. They make sure I get plenty of practice. And they help define and refine my purpose as a father.
They know I want to become a better and better father-and grandfather. The arrival of grandchildren has made me aware in a new way of all that comes with the gift of life.
I realize now that my Pop understood what happens when your home is invaded by your first baby grandchild. That little creature creates what a friend of mine calls "happy chaos." When my siblings and I gathered in his home with our families, Pop would sit quietly in the middle of that riot, looking around and smiling. He must have been thinking, What on earth can I say in all this joy when no one is particularly interested in listening to me at this moment?
Now I know that his silence was wisdom, for dads and granddads, too. There's a time to speak and a time to be quiet, and Pop knew how to do both. He could be a rock in our family gatherings that the rest of us flowed around, as he said a word here or there or pulled someone aside for a little talk. He was in the center without being the center of attention.
I'm writing, in part, so that my kids will have a better idea what I'm thinking when I'm quietly smiling in the middle of that joyful chaos. I'm writing for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too.
And I'm writing for you. So many dads I talk to want to know that Championship Fathering is doable. We won't be perfect at it, but we can get better-a lot better. That's what I'm hoping for you!
Three Little Words
Most of this book is about the three fundamental parts of Championship Fathering: loving, coaching, and modeling.
The National Center for Fathering didn't pull these three words out of a hat. We interviewed and surveyed thousands of fathers and some children as well, finding that these three areas are crucial. It's a short list, so you and I can remember it. Once you know it, do it, and continuously improve at it, you'll be giving your kids the kind of fathering they need-even when they don't realize it!
Loving, coaching, modeling. As soon as you read those words, you probably had some idea of what I'm talking about. I don't doubt that you could come up with a definition of what it means to love, coach, and model.
But maybe you haven't thought a lot about how those terms apply to your role as a father. So I'd like you to put your definitions on hold as you read the rest of this book.
Sure, you'll read some things about loving, coaching, and modeling that will cause you to think, Yeah that's what I thought, or even, That ain't news to me, man! But I promise you there's more. I can promise that because I've discovered when it comes to fathering, there's always more to learn.
When I first started hanging out with the folks at the National Center for Fathering, I had to put my ideas about being a good dad on hold for a while, too. I had to be schooled in the basics. I had to learn new ways of thinking and look at familiar relationships with new ideas in mind.
All this made me appreciate my upbringing and experiences even more, and in ways I'd never considered. After all, one thing that good research does is to help us see the obvious much better.
This is my desire for you: that your understanding of loving, coaching, and modeling will get a lot wider and deeper than it's ever been before. I want to build on what you already know, using the discoveries of many men who are pulling for you to succeed in your pursuit of Championship Fathering.
Our research continues to confirm that loving, coaching, and modeling are the foundation of understanding and practicing what our children need from us as dads. That's why we'll devote several chapters to these three components. But I need to tell you right off the bat that these three factors don't stand alone, like rock, paper, and scissors. They overlap. Sometimes we can't tell where loving stops and coaching starts. At other times we may think we're being loving but our kids are "reading" us as models. That's why you can patiently explain something to your child (as a wise coach would), assuming that he or she thinks, Wow, my dad sure knows a lot about the internal combustion engine, while he or she is really thinking, Wow, I have no idea what Dad's talking about, but I know he loves me.
Our job description is loving, coaching, and modeling. None of these parts is optional. We can't just love and skip the coaching or modeling. We're doing better or worse in each of them, all the time.
It may help to picture the three components of Championship Fathering as the individual supports on a three-legged stool. If one leg is missing or too short, the stool will tip. As you read this book, you may discover you haven't been paying much attention to at least one of the "legs." That area will need your special consideration.
Fortunately, overlap can work in your favor, too. A loving dad usually practices coaching and modeling. A dad excels in coaching when he actively loves his kids and is a model for them. And you can't help being an outstanding model when you're loving and coaching.
What You Got, What You'll Give
Championship Fathering is about your legacy, too.
Politicians are asked what kind of legacy they think they'll leave behind, but it usually sounds like a long-term public relations program-a sort of permanent popularity. With this kind of legacy, your family and close friends may be pretty disgusted with your life but everyone else can think you're wonderful! That's not the kind of legacy I have in mind. I'm thinking of one that leaves a deep, meaningful, positive mark on the people who know you best.
Heritage is the legacy you've received. It's not a hot subject today, since it sounds like something you store with antiques in the attic or basement. We live such uprooted lives that it often seems we came from nowhere and no one; we just showed up in our neighborhood one day. People rarely talk about their ancestors, often seeming embarrassed or ignorant or angry about their personal pasts.
Excerpted from CHAMPIONSHIP FATHERING by CAREY CASEY NEIL WILSON Copyright © 2008 by Carey Casey. Excerpted by permission.
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