Monday, July 4, 2011

Dad's Rules

I am a Dad.  I hope a good one.  Sometimes I THINK I am a good one but ALWAYS I HOPE I am a good one.  You see not one single child of mine came with an instruction manual. Ssshhh it’s a secret, I’ve totally been making it up for years now…I haven’t a clue what I am doing. 

My kids are everything to me.  NOW, before this goes any further, let me clarify, my wife is everything to me too, but this isn’t about being a husband, it is about being a Dad.  Maybe one day I’ll be bold enough to write about being a husband, but I’ve been a husband long enough to doubt that will ever actually happen.

OK - back to the matter at hand.  In addition to being a Dad, I am a mortal.  I am going to be here until I am not.  Don’t get me wrong, I “plan” to be a here a very long time, but the fact of the matter is none of us KNOW how long we are going to be here.  A few years ago, I was reflecting on this and I started building a list of Dad’s Rules.  We discuss them on special occasions and I share them here for two reasons: 1) I am not sure if I’ve ever meaningfully written them down and 2) I wonder what your rules are. 

Let me be clear, Dad’s Rules have nothing whatsoever to do with doing your homework, clean underwear (in case you’re in an accident) or taking out the garbage.  They have nothing to do with the parent-child relationship.  Dad’s Rules are my rules for being a good human.  They are my rules for living a whole and fulfilled life.  The idea is simple, if you let these guide you, everything else will become a little easier.

Here Goes!

1) Treat others with love, kindness and respect.  It is easy to say, but so very hard to do.  The fact of the matter is that there are people on this planet that don’t like me, let alone love me. More than one person has been unkind, and I assure there is a long list of people who don’t respect me.  So???
I have found that when I treat others with love, kindness and respect, the list of those who treat me the same way continues to grow. 
There is a famous military quote “Schofield’s Definition of Discipline” which I still quote to myself in more trying moments.
“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”

Most important though, each morning I wake up, find my way to the bathroom and look in the mirror.  Every single day the same guy looks back at me and begs me for a cup of coffee.    I’ve known this guy for as long as I have a memory.   I like him; he’s a pretty good guy.  Imperfect.  Flawed.  Capable of great kindness and horrible mistakes.   He is my biggest fan and my worst critic.  He’s helped me achieve great things, and he’s been there at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey on more than one occasion.  I’ve tried keeping secrets from the guy, but the fact is, he knows it all.  He knows everything about me, even when we don’t talk about it.  He knows what makes me happy, proud, joyful, mean, angry, and ticked-off.   He has been there through it all, every step of the way and, well, here’s the thing, I have found unequivocally, that if I treat others with love, kindness and respect, handing the guy a cup of coffee every morning is just a little easier.  No, upon reflection…it is a lot easier.

2) Make Great decisions and repeat as necessary.  Life is the sum of your decisions.  It is no more or no less complicated.  NONE of us will make the right decision for our entire life.  Each of us has made dozens upon dozens of bad decisions and mistakes.  (Damn I wish I could count mine using dozens…hundreds is more like it! Thousands?) The trick is to hone your decision making skills so that you make fewer and few mistakes.  The trick is to NOT make life altering decisions or career ending decisions.  The trick is to LEARN from your both your good and bad decisions and to use that learning to make better decisions tomorrow.  The trick is to learn from your mistakes and to have the courage to go make new ones, so that, ultimately, you are making mostly great decisions. 

3) Work ethic and attitude will always be more important than your natural gifts.   Each of us is blessed with a unique set of gifts.    By and large most humans are capable of infinitely more than they give themselves credit for; it is our work ethic and attitude that dictate how much of our human potential we can actually achieve.  (mental note blog topic on potential).   

4) It is often better to be happy than right.  Now listen, I am competitive.  I am committed to winning, pretty much everything.  I am also smart enough to be right…often.  You know what though. WHO CARES???  Is it worth it?  Let me put it another way, ever heard of a “cost benefit analysis”? Do you have any idea how many arguments could be avoided by simply taking the time to assess the value of the win vs. the cost of the win? Here’s another view of it…If you have to violate rule #1 “Treat others with love, kindness and respect,” in order to get the win, is the win worth it?  Honestly, this is probably the hardest rule of them all because it requires split second, no, nanosecond CONSCIOUS decision making – typically at a time of emotional distress. 

I would never suggest that someone ought not fight for what they believe in, uphold their values, and ethics.  I am absolutely suggesting that some of us, most of us, have argued, and hurt one another, over some of the most ridiculous, obtuse, meaningless, frivolous, inconsequential, utterly, incomprehensibly nonsensical bits of nothingness.  STOP IT!  Please?

Until now, those have been my four rules and my hopefully coherent explanation of those rules.  I think by and large, my kids do a pretty good job of “getting” them.  I hope so.  I hope that I do a reasonably good job of living by these rules on a day in and day out basis and demonstrating them through the way that I live.  There is that word again…hope.  With it comes the new, until now, always important but less poorly communicated rule #5.

Bonus Rule #5) Be faithful and hopeful.  Life is full of promise.  It is also full of twists and turns, bumps and bruises.   Faith in something greater than yourself and hope for what might be are drugs no man should live without.  Life is bigger than we are.   It’s too complex and too fast paced.  How many of us have wandered smack dab into the middle of a wall that was apparently in surmountable.  Yet somehow, some way, we prevailed.  Not only that but, the effort of overcoming the obstacle made us stronger, better, and more successful.    Really, when you think about it, do faith and hope really need any kind of explanation? 
There you have it.  That’s it…at least from me.  I genuinely believe that if I can teach my kids these 5 rules, I will have been reasonably successful.  Sure, they’ll need physics and Econ, chemistry, Spanish and Chinese, but, honestly, I am just not up to the task. I will leave that to the smart people in education.  I’m sticking to the basics.  If I am here a day, a week, or another hundred years, these are the things I want my kids to learn from dear ole’ Dad.  

How about you, what do you want your loved ones, your family, your kids your friends to know?  Did I miss something?  What are your rules? What do your kids know that mine need to know?  I’m open to suggestion…

(hhhmmm…was that another blog thought crossing my mind?)


  1. Those are great rules! I like 'em and will incorporate them. My only addition, really, and it's kind of part of (1) and kind of part of (3), is to do what's right, even when it's difficult to do. It's different from "being right" in that it's not an argument. It's an action. It's ethics. Once in a while, someone may encourage you to act in a way that doesn't seem quite right. But you still have to look at that guy or girl in the mirror, and if you don't follow your gut and act ethically... well, asking for that cup of coffee in the morning might not be so easy. :)

  2. I completely agree about the importance of this one. In fact, we ALMOST take it for granted around here. Remember where I went to school? ("A Hamilton will not lie cheat or steal nor tolerate those who do.") Integrity is the FIRST RULE... but for our purposes here, it is embedded in rule #2 around decision making...maintaining your integrity is a decision that a person has to make thousands of times.