Ten Commandments for Successful Fathers

Father and son laying in grass together
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Occasionally, dads look at their own fathering and that of other men they consider successful fathers and see what they could do better. Watching successful fathers over the years - with success defined by how their children have turned out and the quality of their relationships with them - we can see some common practices. While perhaps not every successful father does all of these all the time, they tend to be the practices that we see over and over again in the lives of these successful fathers.

1. Thou shalt talk with thy children. Successful fathers communicate regularly and effectively with their children. Rather than sitting together in the evenings watching television, playing video games or surfing the Internet, fathers who have had success with their children have spent time talking together. Every conversation does not have to be serious, but some are. Creating a tradition of communication, both positive and negative, opens the door to critical and sensitive conversations as the children grow. But that sort of relationship begins first and foremost with communication.

2. Thou shalt spend one on one time with your children. Many families have lots of family activities and time together. But the really successful fathers commit time and energy to being with their children one-on-one. Some great dads have a monthly interview with each child to talk about their lives, their fears, their successes, their needs and their goals. Others like to have one-on-one dates with their kids. But it is clear from my experience that quality time individually with the children by their fathers is a significant builder of relationships and predictor of success.

3. Thou shalt set rules and live by them. Raising successful children is not just about having fun and building relationships. It is also about instilling values and building responsible adults. Setting family rules and living by them is a way to teach consistency and responsibility. In one family, curfews are strictly followed and consequences applied if not. The children know in advance what is expected and how things would be if they failed to comply. Other families start early teaching these principles with fun and creative "chore charts" that would encourage the kids to complete their morning and after-school assignments, and we built from there.

4. Thou shalt not spoil thy children. Giving a child everything she wants when she wants it teaches her to have unrealistic expectations in life. Learning the importance of delayed gratification is important to becoming a responsible adult. Likewise, helping children learn the value of saving for a desired item and waiting for it teaches them a life skill that will serve them always.

5. Thou shalt show love to thy children in their "love language." Children experience love in very different ways. Author Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages helps us see the way our children (and others) best receive expressions of love. Tailoring your loving expressions to your child's love language will help them feel your love in a more focused way.

6. Thou shalt read with thy children. When children develop a love for reading, they have a skill and a direction for their lives. Their ability to read and comprehend gives them the best chance of life success. And successful fathers spend time reading to and with their children from the earliest stages of their lives.

7. Thou shalt love thy children's mother with whom thou livest. While not every father lives with their children's mother, if you do, loving their mother is one of the best gifts you can give a child. The research is clear that children have the best chance for success when they live with both their mother and their father. Successful fathers invest in their relationship with their children's mother.

8. Thou shalt not speak ill of thy children's mother. Particularly after a divorce, there is a huge temptation for fathers to be critical of the kids' mother. We seem to feel a need to compete with her, as if their love for her somehow diminishes their love for us. Successful fathers resist that temptation; in the long run, your children will love and respect you for taking this posture. Obviously, if their mother is abusive or drug addicted, this principle needs revision. If mother is toxic for the kids, then they need to understand that dad will not only protect them, but will be a good example of stability and love in their lives.

9. Thou shalt know thy children's friends. Successful fathers make sure they know the children with whom their children hang out. Make your home inviting to them and then invite them over. While not hovering, make sure you know these friends, and, ideally, their parents as well. Know the influence these friends are having on your children and help steer your children to the best of them.

10. Thou shalt protect thy children from danger. Fathers need to be aware of the dangers lurking in our modern world and help their children avoid them. Sexual abuse, drug abuse, gangs, bullying, pornography and other risks seem to be ever present. Teach your children values and the power of saying no to those who would put their lives and their well-being at risk. Successful fathers prepare their kids and protect them. 

Following these basic practices will, based on my experience and observations, bring the greatest chance for a father to successfully raise his children to be productive, self-reliant and responsible adults.