Growing up without a father is difficult for any young man, but one of the consequences of that challenge is learning how to be a great father himself without a solid male role model of fatherhood in his own life.
My friend Scott's father left Scott's family when Scott was about 3 years old and was never part of Scott's life. While his single mother was amazing in supporting and raising Scott and his sisters, he only experienced the influence of a father in his life by watching how other boys and their fathers interacted.
He explained to me that he felt many of the consequences of growing up without a father, like not having a dad as his youth sports coach or not having someone to talk to about the issues involved in growing up from boy to man.
But he really felt the lack of a consistent father figure in his life when he and his wife became the parents of a new baby. He felt totally overwhelmed and quite frightened at the prospect of wanting to be a great dad for his baby but at the same time having almost no personal context, having experienced growing up without a father of his own.
Scott's story is tragically not all that unusual. Today in the United States, 24 million children do not live with their biological father. 40% of these American children have not seen their father in the last 12 months, and 26% of their fathers live in a different state. Given these statistics, more and more young men will be embarking on fatherhood without having had a solid father as a male role model in their lives.
So, if you are a young father who experienced growing up without a father of your own, how can you make the transition, break the cycle, and become a great dad for your own children?
Find good male role models now. It is not to late to find some great examples of amazing fathers as examples to inform your own fatherhood.
You can find them at work, at your children's school, at church or in your extended family. Watch how these fathers interact with their children and with the children of others. Ask them about their keys to success as a father. Get advice and invite them to share their insights with you.
Consider joining a fathers support group. Nearly every community has a fathers support group in which fathers get together (with or without the kids) to talk about fatherhood and to share ideas and successes with each other. Your local church may have such a group or one may be sponsored by a local fatherhood initiative. A little investment by a dad of time in such a group can pay big dividends for a young father who needs a good male role model or two.
Identify your own key principles and live them. There are many basic principles associated with becoming a great father. Ponder these principles, write down the ones that resonate with you, and then work to implement them in your own life and in your approach to fatherhood. Committing to live your life in a principle-centered way will help you make decisions and embrace behaviors that will build a great family, even though you may have grown up without a father like that.
Make family your top priority. One of the challenges of a young man growing up without a father is that he has perhaps not seen a man subordinate his own needs to that of his family. And yet responsible and successful fatherhood requires that we put our families first. Watching good male role models do this is important, but there is no substitute for making the personal commitment to make family your highest priority.
Become a full partner in parenting. Boys who grew up without a good male role model may have arrived at the mistaken impression that parenting is primarily a mother's job. When you link arms with your children's mother in the responsibilities and opportunities that parenting can bring, you will learn quickly why it is important that you are part of the parenting equation. A mother and a father have different parenting approaches, and the blending of those is important in the life of a child.
Don't leave all the hard stuff to Mom; share in both the hard stuff and the fun stuff together as you raise your family.
Life as a father is incredibly rewarding, and you become a much better man as you experience the full range of life as a father. Growing up without a father was painful emotionally and created its share of challenges for you. And yet you can experience the joy that comes from being a great dad. Doing so will help your children develop a relationship with you that will be a blessing in their lives and those of their own children as you commit to becoming a great father and a positive male role model to them and to others.