It was nearly two years ago that I found myself lying on a gurney at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. It was July 6, 2017. My sixtieth birthday. I had just suffered a mild heart attack and entered the vast and unfamiliar world of emergency room doctors, cardiologists, attending nurses, and multi-syllabic medical procedures.
I had two wishes that day: to survive the ordeal with my husband; and to speak with both of my adult sons to let them know I was okay. Thankfully, both of my wishes came true.
Late in the afternoon of July 6, Jacob, an EKG technician in his early thirties, turned me on my left side. He applied a cooling gel and ran a device across my chest to record images of my heart.
At that moment, Jacob gave me an unexpected gift that carried me past the immediate task and my pain. He confided in me that he was a new father adjusting to a sleepless existence. Working to raise and protect his newborn son. Overwhelmed by the sudden changes in his life.
Strange as it was–with my health hanging in the balance–Jacob and I entered a new landscape. We talked about something we had in common. We were both dads. It was something like staring into a painted desert of fatherhood (like what you see here in Arizona) where unexplored layers of possibilities abound.
As I spoke with Jacob, I conjured fleeting memories of my two sons as tumbling toddlers and testy teens. I told him to hang in there and relish the early years. To try to realize that the heavy lifting of fatherhood would fade over time.
I told him there would be meaningful moments ahead with his son. Moments I cherished with my sons. Moments he might cherish with his boy too when he looked back over his life.
Occasionally, over the past two years, I’ve thought of Jacob and wondered how he was coping … knowing we will likely never meet again.
Now, with Father’s Day upon us, I wish I could offer him more ideas on what it takes to be a good dad. To that end, I’ve composed the following list … friendly advice from a fellow father who’s looking out for all the Jacobs in the world who are striving to be the best dads they can be.
Love your son … and tell him you do.
Listen to and validate his dreams.
Provide him with an honest and safe home.
Buy him nutritious food and encourage him to exercise.
Cheer him on when he succeeds. Encourage him when he fails.
Don’t spend a lot of money buying him new things. Spend it on shared experiences instead.
Teach him the importance of lifelong learning and saving money for a rainy day.
Show him what it means to respect animals, nature and diverse people.
Explain to him that it’s a sign of strength to ask questions and show vulnerability.
Love your son no matter who he loves. Remind him you’ll always be his dad.