The Power of a Father’s Example

I remember watching my father when I was five or six years old. He greeted people as they left the worship service. I watched him closely. I saw the way he shook hands. I listened to how he spoke to people. I observed how he moved and the tone of his voice. I wanted to be just like him.  Several years later, as a teen who wanted only to be myself, I volunteered at Father Daughter Chata nursing home where my father worked as chaplain. One of the residents saw me walking toward her and said, “You’re the chaplain’s son aren’t you?”  “Yes I am. How did you know?” “I could tell by the way you walked,” she replied. “You walk just like him.” I had watched my father closely and become like him, even in actions as subtle as walking.

Fathers play an enormous role in their children’s development. They teach, guide, and discipline their children toward maturity. They also influence their children in subtle ways. Specifically, they teach their children through example. Children watch their father’s closely…very closely. They imitate their fathers. They long to be like their fathers. And, they become like their fathers.  Fathers can respond to that responsibility by carefully considering what behavior they exhibit for their children to imitate.  Strive to exhibit positive behaviors like respect, service, honesty, humility, kindness, and love.

I want to offer one more caveat in this regard. Children not only imitate the good, the trivial, and the bad in their father’s behavior; but, they imitate it without adult constraint. In other words, they will take their father’s behavior “to the next level.” A Jewish story tells of a young man who was caught stealing an apple from the merchant. Upon examination, it became apparent that he did not become a thief “out of the blue.” It began generations ago. His grandfather read from the Torah and related commentaries while exhibiting a false sense of humility. All who saw him praised his pious humility. In effect, he “stole” the admiration of his followers. With his false humility, he became a thief of the people’s praise. His father, following the grandfather’s example, read various commentaries and took credit for the wisdom they offered. He had stolen the ideas of others and passed them off as his own, a thief of intellectual property. The grandson, following the example of his ancestors, stole an apple from the merchant. Each generation followed a downward spiral of imitation.

Very few of us need worry about how we read the Torah and related commentaries. However,…

  • Do your children hear you speak badly about other people? They will likely learn to do the same, but without adult restraint and caution.
  • Do you children see you get tipsy at a party? Perhaps they will see nothing wrong with smoking marijuana or popping a few pills as they enter the teen years.
  • Do your children hear you lie and so breach trust with your employer by saying you are sick so you can miss work? They may learn to lie to cover a breach of trust with their spouse.
  • Do you speak harshly to your wife? Your child will learn to disrespect her as well. Your child will learn to ignore her requests, disregard her rules, and speak to her rudely.
  • Do you come home from work to sit around the house and watch TV rather than remain active in maintaining the household? Your children will learn that helping around the house is not important. In fact, it is useless, not their job. They will come to believe that housework and maintaining a household is their mother’s work. In response, they will become couch potatoes avoiding all housework and playing video games.

You get the idea. Your children are watching…and learning. They will imitate your behavior without adult constraint, taking it to the next level. So, make sure you leave a positive example for your children to imitate. Let them imitate your respect, service, helpfulness, and honesty without constraint. Your home will be a happier place.

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