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Everything in life can change with just one or two words Imagine if you chose only

GOOD aNd

POSITIVE

Words with your children?


TM

Editorial: Ellen Rodger, Plan B Book Packagers Design: Rosie Gowsell-Pattison, Plan B Book Packagers Proofreader: Mary-Anne Luzba Photographs: front cover: Laura Rees p. 127: Carmen Elefante back cover and p. 128: Dina Elefante All ofther images from Shutterstock.com.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloging in Publication Elefante, Carmen How to be a great dad / Carmen Elefante. ISBN 978-0-9879841-0-4 1. Fatherhood. 2. Father and child. 3. Parenting. I. Title. HQ756.E44 2012

306.874'2

C2012-901968-2

Copyright Š 2012 LB CARMEN SENSE. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Carmen Sense. Printed and bound in the United States.


Dedication This book was inspired by the three most important women in my life: my beautiful, devoted, caring, and forgiving wife Dina; my courageous, brilliant, and beautiful eldest daughter Vanessa; and my caring, considerate, intelligent, and beautiful younger daughter Victoria. These women teach me life lessons everyday and inspire me to be better and do the right thing.


Acknowledgements We all leave a legacy. We all make choices everyday. In choosing to write this book, I acknowledge the inspiration and assistance of many people who have touched my life. I am thankful for everyone who has come into my life to teach me lessons on how to be and how not to be. Of course, this book would not exist if it weren’t for my family: my wife Dina, and my daughters Vanessa and Victoria, who inspire me daily. I would like to thank: My parents, Anne and John (“Johnny the Shoemaker”) who I think of everyday. Be at peace. My many good friends and clients who have helped me learn and reflect on the meaning of “do good and forget about it.” Chris Wesenhagen, whose trust and honesty I respect and cherish. Pauline Raby, whose guidance and direction helped me see what this book could be. Rosie and Ellen, who made a 25-year dream come to life.


Contents Preface

.....................................................................11

Chapter 1 A Work in Progress .....................................17 Chapter 2 Stepping Up to Fatherhood .........................28 Chapter 3 Do Good and Forget About it ......................44 Chapter 4 Bring the Love ............................................55 Chapter 5 Respect and Trust .......................................63 Chapter 6 Building Memories .....................................80 Chapter 7 Commitment and Involvement ...................87 Chapter 8 A Note on Growth and Change ...................98 Chapter 9 Activities ...................................................104 “Be� Attitudes................................................................124 About the Author ..........................................................128


Get your feet wet


Preface I have been thinking about writing this book for a long time—not just for others, but for myself as well. Nobody hands you a manual on fatherhood when your kids are born. You do the best you can with what you have. Sometimes that means you stumble along the way, or struggle with things you have done or things you have not done. If you are aware and sensitive, it means you worry about some of your decisions. After all, raising children is an enormous responsibility. I had been searching through stores looking for books on how to be a great father for some time when on one visit a bookstore clerk told me the book I was looking for didn’t exist and someone should write one. So, here it is! How To Be A Great Dad is part of an amazing journey that

Preface

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I hope other fathers and caregivers of children will want to take with me. I’ve been told that I am a natural storyteller. I love to observe the world around me and look for connection and meaning. This book is a collection of stories culled from my observations and my relationships. I’ve also included some “fun stuff,” or relationship-building exercises and activities for dads and their children, or the whole family, however it is configured. This book is for all fathers, regardless of how old their children are. It is never too late to work on being a great dad and children are never too old to have a better father. I recognize that some of the people I most want to reach with this book will be the ones who will never read it. These are the dads who are full of anger, or consumed with their own issues. They can’t, or won’t, see how their actions, or inactions negatively affect their children. This saddens me. The bar for what makes a good father is set so low that often these days just being present in your child’s life is seen as sufficient. I want to change that. I want to help fathers realize their full potential and become happier and more fulfilled in that role. Part of my desire to do this stems from my own childhood. It was rocky. My parents didn’t always know how to love me the way I needed to be loved. My mother, who I now know had her own demons that haunted her,

12


meted out lessons with a leather strap. My father acquiesced. My childhood formed me and informed me. When I became a father, I vowed to always love my children without condition, and protect them from harm. But I wasn’t always equipped. So I worked on what I thought were my shortcomings. Luckily, the love of my life, my wife Dina, has been with me every step of the way. Helping others has become one of my passions in life. I really, fervently believe that being a good and loving father can help change things—can help change the world in fact. Most importantly, it can change your children’s lives, and that is the most significant, lasting monument to love. How To Be A Great Dad isn’t a roadmap to fatherhood. It is just one step to self-realization. Everything you say and do in life can have an effect on your child. Becoming a better parent is simple—but not easy. It is something I work on everyday. I invite you to read this book and join the journey.

13


How to Use This Book Each chapter of this book contains personal stories and anecdotes. These stories about the meaning of fatherhood, and the importance of being there and listening, are intended to help readers make connections within their own lives. Each chapter also includes inspirational messages throughout. These uplifting sayings are meant to give encouragement. Each chapter ends with helpful tips and Building The Bond boxes that readers can easily skip to, or refer to, at any time. Parents (or grandparents, or caregivers) looking for suggestions on activities they can do with their children, can refer to the activities section. A “Be� Attittudes section at the back of the book is intended to show the power and blessings of positive actions. Visit www.carmen-sense.com for more tips, articles, and interactive materials.

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It all starts with you

15


Learn to forgive


Chapter 1:

A Work in Progress There are no rulebooks out there for fatherhood. No guides that describe what to do in each situation in life. We’re all born blank slates and then we learn what we are taught and what we see—or what we teach ourselves. Often, we repeat the same things, or the same patterns and mistakes passed on by our parents and caregivers. This could mean that if we were ignored, we will ignore, if we were abused, we will abuse, and if we were mistreated, we will mistreat. I say “could” because I don’t believe it is a fait accompli. Not everyone who has a rough childhood grows up to repeat the same behaviours with their children. The cycle can end. That contract can be broken, and things can change. My mother used to hit me with a leather strap that she “hid” behind the toaster in our kitchen. I knew where it was but I was such a compliant kid that I wouldn’t throw

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it away. I would just push it back and hope that she didn’t see it. I used to think of my father as my protector because when he came home from work he would see her running after me with this leather strap and he would say, “Come on Anne, he’s just a kid.” The thing is, my father was a shoemaker. It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that my father made that strap. He made the strap that was used to beat me so that my mother wouldn’t hurt her hands when she hit me. I don’t relay this story to make my parents out to be monsters. I loved them and although they are now dead, I still do. But I recognize that they were human beings who chose to do this. The strap wasn’t used to teach me a lesson or to punish bad behaviour (although, it would be used for that too.) It was used when my mother was frustrated or angry, regardless of whether that anger or frustration had anything to do with me.

Choose the Present As an adult, I know that the way I was parented wasn’t the best, but it may have been the best that my parents could do at the time. Being a parent is hard. There are so many responsibilities. It is my responsibility to ensure that my children are loved and cherished. I must keep them from harm. I must not make them the victims of my past. I made a conscious choice some time ago to not inflict violence on my children—to pass on the best parts of my parents and discard the rest. This means that when

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something triggers feelings of anger or frustration in me, I must be aware of it and alter my behaviour. For me, as with many people who have grown up in situations like mine, being aware and altering our behaviour and manner is a continual process. I must continually work to become a better parent and partner. The alternative is misery, for myself and my family.

Understanding Triggers When I was a kid, my mother would always be angry at me for coming back in the door after I had left for school because she had already started her day and I was disturbing her routine. You know how kids sometimes forget things? This would set her off. To this day, I am anxious when I approach my door. It is a trigger for me. I have to tell myself “your mother is not behind that door, and no one is going to open it and yell at you.� I have to be aware of my triggers so that I manage my feelings of fear, pain, and inadequacy. As a child, the pain I felt drove me to thoughts of suicide. This was particularly acute when I was a teenager. My parents weren’t getting along, I was getting hit by the leather strap, and I felt nothing I could do would please my mother. As an adult, I went to counsellors, or therapists, for years, to work on my feelings, behaviour, and self-regard. And I must still work on myself daily. I

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can be difficult sometimes—ask my wife! But her love and support, and the love of my children reminds me that true self-discovery is a journey. I want other men, other fathers, to know that getting it right is a process. I’m not perfect, but I am seeking something closer to it. If I can do it—and I still am doing it—others can too.

True self- discovery is a journey

I must continually work to become a better parent 20

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Building Self-Esteem For many people, particularly those who were hit as children, building your own self-esteem is important. I think when you are hit, every slap beats out a piece of your self-esteem because you believe you are worthless. This was an issue I had to deal with growing up— overcoming my self-esteem issues. Self-esteem isn’t the outward trappings of success. I am a successful businessperson. I have nice “things,” but these things do not make me a better, or even a happier person. Healthy self-esteem does not mean a big ego. Abuse is a harmful thing. Even now, I hesitate to even use the word abuse because as a child who grew up with it, the thing you want to do is protect your parents. You don’t want people to know what happened because you believe it will reflect badly on the people you love. At the same time, you are afraid to trust and are scared of losing your parents and their love. Over time, you may even think it wasn’t that big of a deal, or that you even dreamed it up, or worse still, that you deserved it.

Growing and Learning As a child, I felt I had to protect my parents. I thought I was their happiness. I lived at home until I was 30 years

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old because I was afraid to leave. I didn’t get married until I was 30. I didn’t go away to college like other young people did. I stayed with my parents and went to the school closest to home. I didn’t leave. I didn’t go because I was afraid to leave them alone. What would they do if I wasn’t there? What would my father do without me? I gave them love but so much more was expected. What I want for my own children is that they grow up to be healthy, caring, loving, honest, independent, and successful with healthy self-esteem. And I don’t think any of my issues need to be their issues. I want to teach them to open their eyes and be aware. I want to teach them to love with open hearts. I want them to sing more, and dance more, and laugh more and have more fun. That’s what I’m here for.

Fear is A Killer Being hit scars you for life. To this day, if I am in confrontation with anyone, I will back down. I back down because I’m afraid. It is not a good way to be. Building self-esteem can be difficult, because it is something that needs constant vigilance until it becomes natural. When you have experienced childhood abuse, you have to remind yourself that you are a good and

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worthy person. You have to make a deliberate and conscious effort to love yourself and be true to yourself and to act in a manner that is positive and healthy. You don’t need the outside trappings of wealth (although, money does make life materially easier) to make you important. You don’t need to degrade others or hurt them to feel whole and powerful. You can do something nice for yourself and your family without expectations.

Fatherhood is a lifetime commitment

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Self-Esteem •

Always remember that you are worthy of love.

Don’t let your fears and accumulated pain stop you from doing good.

Act like an adult and take charge without being abusive or manipulative.

Heal yourself. Recognize when you have a problem and seek help from a trained professional.

Think positively about yourself and others. Your thinking can influence your behaviour so that you act positively too. This will be seen by your children.

Always act out of love. Don’t allow your baggage, such as fear, resentment, or anger to affect your child.

Be sensitive to your children’s feelings and needs.

Fear and anger are learned. Your child does not need to learn fear and anger from you.

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Be a good role model.

Give positive encouragement, even when your child has had a setback or has failed at something. Tell them you are proud of them for trying.

Spend time with your children and teach them how to have fun.

Always tell your children how smart they are.

Have an opinion, but don't be opinionated.

Teach your children self-respect so they make the right choices in life. And trust them to make good decisions.

Always treat your partner with respect.

Don't ever yell at your partner. It teaches your children that it's acceptable to yell and be yelled at. It's not acceptable. Ever.

Take your child to their favourite clothing store and have them pick out an outfit that they want.

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Treat your children as blessings and gifts.

Laugh at your child's jokes.

Always smile.

Do not criticize your child. Use positive words always.

When you ask your child to do something, acknowledge their efforts and thank them. Realize good enough is great.

Compliment your children often.

When your child is invited to a birthday party have them come with you to pick out the special present for their friend.

Plan a special day to celebrate them other than their birthday. Let them know how wonderful they are.

Give your children space to grow. Allow them to do something today that will make them more independent and then praise them for a job well done.

Don't interrupt. Let your child finish what they are saying.

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How you love your children is how they will learn to love themselves


Chapter 2:

Stepping Up to Fatherhood We’ve all heard the expression “stepping up” right? It is often used to describe increasing something or bringing something to the fore. Too often, I see men who don’t, or worse, won’t, step up to their role as partners, husbands, and fathers. It really hurts my heart. One of the things I really want to do with this book is impress upon other men how important fatherhood is, and how they should relish their role. It is my great hope that the men who desperately need to work on their fathering skills will read this book and use the stories, lessons, and activities in it to start a new path to relevant fatherhood. There are far too many absent fathers in this world, and many of them aren’t even physically absent—they are sitting on the couch, zombified by their own wants and needs, and anesthetized by work and other “meaningful” or

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“necessary” commitments. Meanwhile, their families exist in misery (or in some cases learned indifference) without them. I want to show these men that their actions, and inactions, have real consequences both for them and their families.

Listening Skills One of my favourite things to do, is observe people. As a successful real estate agent, I am in people’s houses everyday. It pays for me to watch and understand human behaviour and family dynamics. I can often tell when a couple I have sold a house to are not going to make it, just by observing their body language and the way they interact. Sometimes, I will be so bold as to ask them how their relationship is going. It is a risky proposition for a person in my position, but more often than not, they will be shocked that I noticed a problem and will admit things aren’t right. Usually, when that happens, I can offer some suggestions or advice. I’m not a trained counsellor, but I do think I am a bit of a relationship whisperer. I can see where things are rocky and help clients zero-in on what needs work. Sadly, many of the problems involve men not stepping up.

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Advice to Other Men

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Learn to really listen. Sometimes people hear, but they don’t listen. It is easy to ignore your partner or your child’s needs because you think you know best. Ask them what they need and really listen. You may be surprised what you hear.

Don’t make everything about you. There will be plenty of opportunities in life for you to have things your way.

It only takes one second to make a mistake and a lifetime to forget one.

Learn from yourself. Admit when you are wrong and ask for forgiveness from others. Promise yourself you will be a better father and forgive yourself for lost tempers, hurtful words, and selfishness. Start fresh today.

Sometimes you may feel unappreciated but that's okay. Always remember that the time and energy you're putting in will come back to you in the future.

Read self-help books, and finish this book!

Don't fall into the pattern of using vices such as drinking in excess, using drugs, and gambling as an escape from the stress in your life.

chapter 2


We don't have to be hard-core on rules all the time, children need to learn about spontaneity and flexibility.

Not everything needs to be analyzed.

Don't hold grudges.

Don't disrespect your children.

One disappointment is one thing, many disappointments have a lasting effect.

Keep promises.

There is no room in a father's vocabulary for the words stupid or loser.

Think of the kind of legacy you want to leave to your children.

Be who you aspire to be as a father.

Do as you want to become.

Be in the present; live in the moment; give your undivided attention to who you are with and where you are.

Giving is more important than receiving! If your child gives you a gift, say thank you and accept it!

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Let your children see you cry.

It's not just about shelter, bread, and water. In a child's life, the love they feel from you, and the encouragement, support, guidance, and commitment you give to them are what affects the quality of relationship you have with them.

Learn how to receive graciously and how to give willingly.

It's not what we do or even what we go through that counts, it's what we learn from it all.

Honour what's obvious, what’s simple, what's basic, and what's essential. Then your heart will win!

Don't complain—say thank you.

Trust in the universe and trust in yourself—all will be fine.

Trust your instincts!

Never wear a speedo.

Learn that you can’t fix everything. Sometimes just listening and being there helps.

Be your child's biggest fan.

chapter 2


Hearing What People Say Last year I took some family members visiting from Italy to the CN Tower in Toronto. As I had recently made the trip up the tower with my kids, I decided to let them do it alone and enjoy their time, while I grabbed a bite to eat and indulged in a bit of people watching. I was in line at a sandwich booth when a man approached a younger woman and an older woman (his wife and mother-inlaw, I would later find out) who were waiting in line with a couple of kids. “I told you to just look at the menu because I wanted to go to the (sit down) restaurant,” he said angrily. As they had already ordered lunch, you could see the look of disappointment on the faces of his loved ones. “I told you…you didn’t hear me…” he yelled. It didn’t take long for anybody within earshot to figure out this guy had some deep-seated issues. It was about control. He felt no one was hearing him. I think that’s a big issue with a lot of people. They feel small and diminished, and to compensate they become angry or resentful. Often, this is a remnant from childhood that triggers fear and anger—from memories of not being heard or acknowledged. I watched the scene unfold—this man’s wife was crying

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and her mother was consoling a crying child, while he walked ahead of them with a face on. I thought, here they are on a nice day out together, which could have been a beautiful, fantastic day, and it’s all gone to pot because of his baggage. It was that obvious. Something was triggered inside of him, and it is likely that he didn’t even know exactly what it was. The older woman noticed me watching and came to sit with me on a bench near the food concession. “Did you see that?” she asked, the answer being obvious. “He has problems and he just blurts out things in anger.” She said they didn’t know what to do about it. It was pretty clear to me that the future for this family was grim if the man didn’t start to recognize his behaviour as abusive, and take steps to change things. I couldn’t see the situation continuing if this was his usual mode of behaviour. His wife would either leave him, or stay with him and continue being miserable—risking their children’s self-esteem along the way. The most heartbreaking thing was what one of his children said: “My daddy yells at me all the time.” It was a good lesson for me, and it visibly reinforced how I believe some men—some fathers—treat their families. The angry man could have just had a sandwich, and he could have thanked his wife and mother-in-law for

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ensuring that the children were fed. Instead, it was all about him and his belief that no one was listening to him. Then it became about control.

Dropping the Baggage Often when we react to things, we are reacting using our history and baggage, and it’s not just a reaction to the issue at hand. This is especially true of people who have lived through abuse or early trauma. For these people, it is important to be aware of what triggers them. In order to do this, they have to step up to the plate. Like this man, they have to accept that what they are doing is wrong and that it isn’t working. Most importantly, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again and again, they have to examine their motives. Sometimes this means dealing with the past by addressing the young child in you who may have felt hurt and ignored, or who may have witnessed this kind of behaviour in the adults who cared for them. By yelling at his family, this man made his voice heard, but at what cost? He didn’t even gain the control he wanted. He didn’t eat at all and nobody ate in the restaurant that afternoon! He lost the respect of the people who should love him the most—his family. When there is no respect, there can be no trust and honour. If he could put aside his baggage and examine the situation

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from the perspective of his loved ones, he never would have raised his voice in anger.

Stumbling Blocks I think when we get angry and we get bitter it is a stumbling block that we can’t hold on to. If you do, you carry it with you for days and days. It isn’t useful. Years ago, I created a board game called Stumbling Blocks. It is a game about communication where you start with a wall, and the object of the game is to ask each other questions to break down the wall. I think that is why there are so many separations, so many divorces, so many unhappy children—because people put up walls that get higher and higher and are never broken down. I want people to break down the walls of communication, and that is what I try to do with Dina and my kids— destroy the wall brick by brick so there are no longer any barriers to love and understanding. It is a constant work in progress and a constant journey. I realize that changing ourselves, and our habits, takes time, but I have some simple (although not easy) suggestions for men who want to “step up” as fathers.

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Emotions and Feelings •

Don’t make it about yourself. This means consciously thinking about what your kids and your wife/partner (if you are still involved with them) would want. It doesn’t mean you can’t have time to yourself, it just means you should be present and involved in the time you spend with them. If you take them to a theme park, be there and have fun. Leave work and other time-and-mind -consuming things behind.

Don’t ignore your children in your own home. Be there for them.

Deal with your issues. This is important. You can’t be fully committed and involved as a father if you are consumed with your past. Find a counsellor, or invest in some self-help books. Do whatever it takes to deal with your past and not carry the dark parts of it into the present.

Show affection to your wife, girlfriend, partner, or significant other.

Address and correct your own issues to avoid repeating them or passing them on to your children.

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Let them have fun.

Think about how you feel and how you behave towards your children when they are “good” and when they misbehave. Can you feel proud that you have given them a good example of honourable behaviour?

Do not negate a child's feelings. Never tell your child "It doesn't hurt" or not to cry. Ask them instead, why it hurts and why they are crying. Teach them to how to trust their own feelings and how to express them.

Building The Bond I feel ________ when ________ because ________ is a great way to open the door to communication with your child. This exercise is meant to be constructive feedback and clearly explain how you are feeling in a certain situation as simply as possible, without getting caught up in emotion or conflict. For example, a father might say to his child: I feel worried when you don’t call to say you will be late coming home because I am fearful something bad happened to you.

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Nuture and Care •

Recognize that you don’t own your children. They are independent beings that you must protect from harm. You should not strive to control their every action and thought. Control is a losing battle on all fronts: children resent it and the controller becomes an embittered, paranoid jailer.

Power and control have nothing to do with love.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t let things fester. Talk and, more importantly, let others talk as well. And really listen.

Co-parent with your partner or wife. If you live with them, be there for them and don’t make them a single parent in a two-parent household. If you don’t live with them, try to get along. Your children don’t need the added stress of animosity. On another note, if you don’t live with them, pay your child support willingly and promptly. It is the least you can do. It is your child’s money—the thing that makes it possible for them to eat, be housed, and be clothed. ‘Nuff said.

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Have fun with them. Kids know when you don’t really want to be around them. If you are tired and not in the mood, try to do one thing with them that they want to do. Concentrate on the moment. I promise you that once you do it, you will enjoy it.

Do not ignore or deny your child's invisible friend. Encourage an imaginative mind and be a friend to the invisible friend.

Surprise your child by making them their favourite breakfast.

Do not use physical discipline with your child. It is a form of bullying and it teaches them to resolve issues in the same way.

Think of your kids by bringing extra changes of clothing, sweaters, gloves, hats etc. when you go out.

Hug your kids at least once a day for a minimum of 10 seconds.

On your way home from work, stop and surprise your child with their favourite treat.

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Hold their hand firmly, and as often as possible.

Kiss your child good night and good morning. Especially when you have had to reprimand them.

Say I love you at least once a day and mean it!

Listen today! Hear what your child has to say. Really listen to them without judgment or taking things personally. Hear what your child is actually saying.

Put a special note in their lunch bag or on the refrigerator before you leave for work.

Keep an open mind to new ideas from your children.

Speak to your children in a calm and nice voice— you will get more out of them this way.

Sit down and have meals as a family.

Go with your children to the doctor or dentist.

Have a manicure and pedicure with your child.

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•

Never tell your child they can't do something, or are incapable of doing something. You'd be surprised at what they can do.

•

Write down ten of your favourite characteristics of your child and give that list to them. Start with something like: I really love how you show kindness to your siblings (cousins, friends, animals etc.) Other examples: I love how you smile. I love how you say please and thank you. I love how you are respectful to others. I love your imagination. I love the clothing you chose to wear today.

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Have fun with them


Chapter 3:

Do Good and Forget About It “Do good and forget about it” is a saying I learned as a kid. It is one of the hardest things in the world to do. My dad used to say it all the time. If something happened he would say, “Carmen, just do good and forget about it.” It’s an old Italian saying: “do good and forget about it, do bad and you have to remember.” I think it is quite profound, and it’s something that I say all the time. I even use it on my business cards and in my advertising. It is engraved on a plaque on the side of my house and on my parents’ monument at the mausoleum. When you do something good for someone else, do it from your heart and don’t expect anything in return. Making my father’s saying my own is a way of keeping a little part of him close. When he passed away at Christmas in 2001, my then three-year-old daughter Vanessa told me

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that she saw him in our dining room after the funeral. “Grampa was here,” she said. “No honey, Nono was here,” I told her, referring to my wife’s father. “No daddy, Grampa was here,” she insisted. “Where was he?” I asked her. “He was standing in the dining room and there was 1,000 people running behind him and he was wearing brown pants and a white shirt,” my three-year-old said. “What did he say, honey?” I asked. “Grandpa leaned over in my ear and said, ‘do good and forget about it’. ” I was blown away. I wondered how she could say it so clearly. I had to believe he was there. And it gave me comfort. Now, the real lesson of Do Good and Forget About It, is in its actual application. It is something I like to practice in life. I find that it is often easier to do with strangers than with those we love. There are so many more complications when it comes to those we love.

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Putting It Into Practice Last year, we went on a family vacation. I was really excited about having tickets to a Cirque du Soleil performance one night. I had phoned ahead and purchased excellent seats so we could all enjoy it with a good view. When we got there, my wife said, in passing, “oh, we’ve seen this show before. It’s going to be the same.” It wasn’t said to be deliberately mean or nasty. But it upset me. It upset me because, like many men who like to take care of their families, I just wanted to be appreciated. I had planned a nice evening and now I was upset because I wasn’t being recognized. I think everyone struggles with that. I had to think about my personal mantra, my father’s old Italian saying, “do good and forget about it.” I did good, but I wasn’t forgetting about it. I was wanting my generosity of pocket to be recognized when I wasn’t being generous of spirit. When I watched my children watching the show, I could see that they really loved it, even though they had seen it before. They were seeing it through different eyes. Which is what I had to do with my mantra, my saying “do good and forget about it.” I had to see it through different eyes. I wanted to do good. I wanted to plan a fun night for the kids and for my wife—and it was—but I was

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looking for appreciation for my doing good. That’s not the way it should work. I wanted, “daddy, or Carmen, you’re a great dad and you’re trying so hard to be such a good father.” I wanted their approval. I wanted them to be grateful. And that is not “do good and forget about it.” The funny thing was, a day previous to the cirque, a man came up to our car at a restaurant and asked me for money to get himself something to eat. I told him to come in to the restaurant and I would pay for his meal. “You know sir, I would really rather have some money so I can go to a place where I can get a lot more,” he said. He wanted to take his wife for dinner on her birthday, but they had no money. I gave them some cash and his wife said: “You know, I just prayed to God for someone to help us and you did. God bless you.” They walked off and stopped at the corner, held hands and started praying. I didn’t expect recognition from them, but I got it. But I did expect recognition from my family for having arranged for a wonderful night out. It wasn’t right.

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The Meaning of Doing Good I think for dads who really want to do a good job —who are really trying to be great fathers—we really have to think of the meaning of doing good and forgetting about it. We shouldn’t need gold stars for good behaviour. Doing good should be enough. But we weren’t given textbooks on establishing and maintaining good relationships, or for raising children. Some of us may even have had bad examples or no examples to follow. But for the guys who are trying and who want to do better, doing our best is important. It is important to examine our motives and our needs, too. We need to do good and forget about it with our families as much as we need to do it for people we don’t know.

It only takes ONE SECOND to make a mistake and a LIFETIME to forget one

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A Little Note about Power and Control The ancient roots of fatherhood may have been in power and control, but we live in different times today. We don’t have to always have things our way. In fact, it is important to not always have things our way. One way to do that is to listen to others. Listening is a radical concept. It takes putting your own wants and needs on the back burner. And when you listen, you need to really hear what your family is saying. When you do things with your family, do things that are important to them. I’m not saying ignore your own desires completely, as sometimes

they

are

also

good

learning

experiences for your children. I’m saying that if they want to play Frisbee instead of swimming, go with that. If they want to play soccer instead of baseball, go with that. If they want you to watch a program on television with them, go with that. You can chose to do your own thing later, outside of family time. I think things happen for a reason, so, you need to take the time to learn what the lesson is in every action, everyday.

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You Have A Choice I am an early riser. On weekends and holidays, my family likes to sleep in a bit. In the early mornings, I can choose to go for a run, or in the summer, a swim, and when I come back everybody is ready for the day. I don’t have to make them adhere to my schedule and my desires and needs all the time. These are choices that I can make— that we as men can all make. We have options and choices every single day. We also have the choice to be happy or to be sad. Yet many people choose to be miserable and to make others miserable. We have to remember that everything in life can change with just one or two words: I do, I will, you’re fired, I’m leaving, I’m staying, love you, hate you. Imagine if you chose only good and positive words with your children? Even if you must teach them a lesson, or point them in the right direction, you can use positive words to do it. Our words have meaning, just as our actions do. Say the right things and do good and forget about it!

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Teach them


Tips for Encouraging Good Behaviour •

Show your kids a better way through your deeds and actions. If you are driving in a car and another driver cuts you off, don’t go into a rage and don’t get ugly. It can be scary for a child to see you out of control. Being out of control teaches them that it is appropriate behaviour. Show them how to be human instead. We all learn what we are taught.

Show your manners. Always say please and thank you. Teach them that civil behaviour is important. You are teaching them manners.

Open your heart and mind to new ideas. They will see that you are adventurous and loving and they won’t be afraid to share new ideas with you.

Monitor your mood. Living with a moody person is like living with a dry drunk. As with addicts and alcoholics, behaviour and attitudes are erratic and unpredictable. Children don’t know what to expect and live in a constant state of fear. It is miserable not knowing if daddy will be grumpy, happy, sad, or angry, and it takes a toll on a child’s self-esteem. Be consistent.

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Learn that sometimes you are going to feel under appreciated. That’s okay. Just remember what your intent is and do good and forget about it.

Learn to forgive. Forgive yourself for lost tempers, hurtful words, and selfishness, and promise yourself that you will be a better person. Start today: It’s in your hands.

Always be respectful of your partner and do not diminish them in the eyes of your children. Also it is worth stating again, learn to co-parent with the mother of your children (whether you live with her or not). It is important that your children learn that people can get along. Do not undermine the other parent. Children will see this and either take advantage of the situation, or will learn that it is okay to manipulate and disrespect others—including you.

Quality time is important, but quantity also matters. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t want to make the effort.

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Be the hand they hold onto


Chapter 4:

Bring the Love When I first started this book, I was inspired by the idea of unconditional love. It is one of my guiding principles in raising and parenting my daughters with my wife. I firmly believe you can’t spoil a child with love. You can spoil them with material goods. You can spoil them by not establishing limits or boundaries for their behaviour. You can spoil them by not allowing them to grow up and experience life and develop resilience and skills for living. But love is essential. Extra love is even better. Unconditional love means your child should never feel they have to earn your love. They should never feel unloved or unwanted. They should never doubt your love, not because you say you love them, but because you show them love through your everyday actions.

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Now, I know we can’t always be aware of how all of our actions affect people. Sometimes we are just too busy with life to stop and examine our motives. And make no mistake, everyone has a motive, or a reason for doing something a certain way. Sometimes our own motives, or inner desires, get in the way of “the greater good.” I used to be the biggest kid when it came to vacations. I was so keen on having fun—or doing what I thought was fun—that I sometimes forgot about what my wife and children thought was fun. I was also eager to be on time. I was rushing, rushing, rushing all the time. This would mean forcing things through instead of letting them take a more natural course. One day, while on a family vacation to a beach resort, I felt things were different. I have done a lot of work on myself, trying to come to terms with my past and not let it constantly undermine my present. I was changing who I was as a person and as a husband and father. I felt different on this vacation, less hassled, and more at ease. I said to my wife Dina, “things are different this time,” and she agreed. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and believe that it was probably because I wasn’t rushing her or my kids. I was in a different mindspace where I could focus on the present and not let any pain of the past or any baggage of history influence how I felt and how I behaved. I have struggled with this. In the past, I didn’t want to be in the actual moment, so I think I just tried to go on to the next

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step instead of being present. So it’s funny that on that sunny morning we got up at a leisurely hour and it didn’t matter. On previous vacations, I would have forced everybody up at a very early hour and tried to push MY agenda. “Come on we gotta get to the beach!” Now I realize that the beach wasn’t going to float away. We weren’t going to miss all of the sunshine and fun. If we were there an hour earlier or an hour later, it didn’t really matter. This time, it wasn’t all about me. I wasn’t panicking. I was out there looking at the sky and the beautiful trees. I wasn’t pressuring my wife and children to do everything my way. So, why was this story important? It illustrates how not rushing, not pushing your agenda, and showing unconditional love doesn’t cost a thing. It didn’t take anything from my enjoyment of the day and it actually added to the enjoyment for my wife and children.

It’s all About the Journey There is a saying that it is not about the destination, it’s about the journey. I firmly believe that now. I know that rushing and always setting the agenda are not important. It isn’t about who gets there the fastest or even about the destination—it is about the trip itself. The journey is the fun and meaningful part. When you get to your

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destination, you’re done. That’s it. The journey is about the adventures and experiences you have along the way—which likely won’t always be easy. It isn’t about your actual arrival. It is important to enjoy the ride and not necessarily wait until you are there and then say “this is where the fun begins.” I’ve learned that it’s okay to have fun along the way and enjoy yourself. Don’t just view yourself at the final destination. Envision yourself getting through it and enjoying it. And bring the love along with you.

Always be in the MOMENT

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Tips for Being Aware and Enjoying the Ride •

Surprises are great. Think of ways to surprise your children such as special outings, even if it is to the library to get them a library card.

Put yourself in your child’s shoes for a day.

Ask your kids about their day, and really listen to what they have to say.

If your children need space and time to themselves, give them that time.

The next time it rains, put on appropriate attire and go play in the rain with your child. It will teach them (and yourself) about spontaneity and also give them an appreciation of your fun side.

If planning a vacation, ask your children where they would like to go. Do some research together on locations and activities. Make them feel important.

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Understand that your needs and desires are important, but not everything is about you. Other people count too.

Relax. Don’t sweat the small things.

Change starts with one small step

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Put yourself in your child’s shoes for a day


Give positive encouragement


Chapter 5:

Respect and Trust As a parent, I am aware that everything I say and do is important in teaching my children how to become adults. Adults sometimes forget that they were once children. Yes, that’s right! We were all children at one point and we were given rules and guidelines and were treated a certain way. Maybe that’s why we, in turn, treat people a certain way. When we open up our hearts and minds and allow our spirits to be forgiving and loving, we show our children that there are alternatives to bitterness, hate, and nastiness.

Nastiness begets Nastiness As I have said, I witnessed a lot of nastiness as a child, and I even partook in that nastiness. I recall as a young

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teen kicking my mother’s sister out of our home because she was upsetting my mother. I mean, I tossed her while yelling rudely. My mother and her sister had a relationship that was at times, fractious. There was a lot of back and forth nastiness. My actions on the day I tossed her from home were not warranted or necessary, but I had been taught to hold grudges and say nasty things, in the name of “love” and “protection.” These memories—of learned nastiness—are shameful to me now. Decades later I still recall them. They are a legacy that I try to replace with newer, kinder thoughts and actions. This is what I want to leave to my children. I want to teach them to respect people and give others the benefit of shared humanity.

You have to

GIVE love and respect to GET love and respect

Respect is Simple, But Not Easy Treating others with respect is a simple thing, but it isn’t always easy. Like most people, I still struggle with some relationships. But I make the effort. I feel that if my intentions are good and I abandon the nasty way, I am

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showing my children how to honour and respect others. In turn, if I treat my children with respect, hopefully, they will respect me. If I treat my children with love, they will return that love—and most importantly, they will know how to love. If I treat them with kindness, they will be kind. If I am honest and forthright, they will be honest with me. I want to treat my children as I wish to be treated.

Doing the Right Thing The difficulty in my statement lies in the “as I wish to be treated.” It may not happen automatically. Sometimes we don’t get what we want or need at the time we want or need it, but there is always a lesson to learn! If the goal is solely to treat someone nice so you get treated nice, you may be disappointed. Treat people nice because it is the right thing to do and you will feel better about yourself. Try it. After awhile it will become second nature. It won’t even matter if you come across the occasional curmudgeon who won’t return a kindness. It won’t even matter if your children are sometimes too busy being kids to always be nice to you. It will all balance out and you will know you are worthy of love and kindness. You won’t doubt it. My journey thus far has been blessed and I really mean it from the bottom of my heart. Wherever I go, I am

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accepted with open arms. Whenever I walk into a room, I am treated with love and respect. But I give love and respect, and I give it first.

Trust and Consistency All relationships require a level of care and trust. Having integrity, showing consistency, being on time, and telling the truth are important. Trust is one of the most important aspects of any relationship, especially for a parent/child relationship. Your children trust you to keep them safe, to keep them from harm. They trust in your decisions and that everything you do is going to be in their best interest. They trust that you don’t have an ulterior motive for doing something.

Be Someone To Count On I think one of the most important ways to build trust in children is to be consistent. Consistency builds trust in any relationship. If your child can’t count on you to do what you say, or say what you mean, they will doubt you. I try to ensure that my daughters know that I will be there for them. And then I follow through and I am there for them. If I say I’m going to be there for a school

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play, I am there five minutes early and, if possible, I’m front-row-centre. When I pick them up after school, I am there when school lets out—not ten or fifteen minutes later. I don’t want them to exit the school doors wondering if I had forgotten them. That’s a rotten feeling. I want them to know they are important to me and I try to show them this in my everyday actions.

Keep promises Give Them Reason To Trust If your child knows what to expect, they can deal with other things in their lives and establish healthy patterns. If they have trust they can deal with you being upset or disappointed with their behaviour, because they know, from past experience, that you love them. They won’t doubt your love. If they don’t know what to expect, or you keep changing the rules, or your reactions to them, they will be in a constant state of vigilance or anxiety and they won’t be able to trust their own instincts, or your actions. For this reason alone, I urge parents to be consistent. If your behaviour ranges from loving one moment to angry and brutal the next, your children won’t be able to trust you.

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Trust •

Always tell the truth.

Build trust and respect with your child—make sure they are not afraid of you.

Be upfront with your children and keep them in the loop about what to expect in any given situation.

Explain the rules and regulations before going to any events to prepare your children for what to expect when they get there.

Anytime they have a question, answer it honestly while maintaining age-appropriate information and being sensitive to the situation. They won't be afraid to ask you questions if you do this.

Establish a secure foundation for trust by always following through on promises.

Say what you mean and mean what you say otherwise children will think that they cannot trust anything you say.

If your child has a problem, be there for them. Don't joke about it. Get to the root of it and help them.

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Your home should be your child's safe haven. Always make sure their surroundings are safe. Make them feel protected always.

If your child is afraid of something, talk to them about their fears and what they are afraid of and why. This keeps you in the loop and offers an opportunity for you to diminish their fears.

Do not intentionally embarrass your children in public. If you do, take them aside to listen and try to understand their perspective on it. Do not do it again. They will feel confident that they will have a good time and trust that they will not be embarrassed in public if you do this.

Building The Bond We all have fears. Often they are rational and sometimes they are exaggerated. When your child tells you they are afraid of something, don’t just dismiss their feelings. They need to know they can trust you with their fears and that you will understand their feelings. If they are afraid of the boogeyman, don't just tell them he doesn't exist, validate their feelings and find a way for them to overcome them. Hunt the boogeyman together and capture him in a bag to get rid of him.

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it’s not where you start or end. it’s the journey that counts


Respect All Around I think it is important to show your children that you respect other people. They will see by your actions that this is important and the right thing to do. I haven’t always gotten along with my wife’s sister, but at some point in our relationship I decided that I had to call a truce and show my children that antagonistic relationships are not productive or healthy. I learned this over time in my relationship with my aunt, but it took a long time to translate into other relationships.

Thought and Care Sometimes we follow the same patterns without examining what we are doing and why. A fish doesn’t think about water, it just swims! But I am more than a fish. I am a thinking being and relationships require thought and care. I don’t need to pass antagonisms onto my children. So, I made an effort to reach out to my sister-in-law, and you know what? When I see her now we are pleasant with each other. I have learned to admire certain qualities about her and focus on them. We are developing a better relationship. What I focus on are the things that I like about her. I find that when I do that, my esteem for her grows and then I find other things I like about her. It has a domino effect.

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I think this approach can apply to all difficult personal relationships. Be pleasant and friendly and focus on the things you like or admire about the person. Even it is it just one thing, that one thing can help you understand the person as a human being. Soon, your feelings of affection and acceptance will grow until those things become natural and feel natural. If I want to be a better man, I have to act like a better man. By acting like one, I will be one. I don’t want to teach my kids to be dysfunctional. When they see that relatives don’t get along, then they think that is okay not to talk to your aunt or uncle. That should be unacceptable. I want to teach them that all humans deserve respect and dignity.

Stereotyping hurts A friend of mine was having some difficulty and went to see a therapist for help and guidance. The session went along and when my friend began discussing her husband, the therapist made the bold statement that “men are all the same.” My friend was shocked by the therapist’s stereotypical dismissal of men. When I was told this story, two things occured to me, one being that my friend needed a new, more insightful therapist, and the other, that men need to bust loose of the stereotypes. We need to step up, and prove that we are not “all the same.” We need to show, by our actions and words, that we are nurturers and like all stereotypes, this one is hurtful and wrong.

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Guidance and Respect •

Sit with your child in front of the computer and explore and learn new things together.

Make your children feel rich. Don't complain about money, but act as if you are wealthy and you will attract abundance.

Teach your children table manners and social etiquette. Teach them to use please and thank you. Teach them polite phone manners. They will learn to be respectful!

Bring culture into their lives by exposing them to music (including classical music), art, and history.

Visit your elderly relatives.

Help your children with their homework. Show them that you are interested in their education and they will realize how important it is. Encourage, praise, and guide them.

Go to your local library and borrow books, movies, or music. Participate in library programs.

Teach your children to iron and do laundry.

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Have a coin jar that everyone contributes to! Have a purpose for the coin jar.

Start a bank account with your child. Teach them about banking and how their money can grow. It will be beneficial in the long run if they understand the importance of finances early on.

Encourage your child to do their very best. If they make a mistake, tell them to keep trying and everything is going to be okay.

If your child asks for a specific present, try to get that exact item. Do not get knock-offs (within reason). To help with this, ask for three choices to chose from.

Give your children choices. It makes them feel more independent. It helps them to learn how to make future decisions on their own.

Wash the car together. Taking care of family belongings will teach them to take care of their own belongings.

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Don't swear.

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Children are always listening. Be conscious of what you say as young minds may have different viewpoints and interpret things differently.

Tell your children a positive story about their grandparents or someone special in their life that made a difference.

Teach them to ride a bike.

Discuss you children’s report cards with them.

Building The Bond There are no bad kids, only misguided ones. Step up to the plate and guide your children. Parents can often be the worst critics of other parents. When you see another child misbehaving, do you automatically assume that the child is bad because of bad parenting? Sometimes children have disabilities that manifest in inappropriate behaviour. Their parents may be worn out from constant vigilance. Cut them some slack. But make sure you are paying attention and guiding your own child. They need you.

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Building Listening Skills We often think that children need to learn listening skills, but most adults could do with a remedial course in listening too. Listening to your children is another way to build trust and instill respect. If you want them to listen to you, try listening to them as well. Sometimes people hear but they don’t listen. When your child says something, listen to them and try to understand what they are really saying. If you ask them something and they verbalize what they want to say, you have to listen to what they are telling you. Listen to their answer. And if you don’t like the answer, then deal with it and change your behaviour. Do not make excuses. You change it. If you don’t like the answers you are getting, then you have to change what you are doing.

Don’t just

HEAR your children LISTEN to them!

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What Listening Looks Like One day awhile back, my friend was visiting with his sixyear-old daughter. We got to talking and she said she doesn’t like to be tickled. But you know what? Her father thinks it’s cute. This is a little six-year-old saying she doesn’t like to be tickled but her father is not hearing what she is saying. It may seem trivial (although tickling can seem like torture to someone who does not like it because it is something someone is doing to them that they have no control over) but he needs to listen. Kids know when you don’t listen or don’t take their feelings into account. It can be a little thing, or a larger issue. My daughter Vanessa doesn’t like it when I make her a grilled cheese sandwich that is “squished.” It’s just a sandwich, but it means so much. So, rather than just ignoring her and forcing her to eat the sandwich the way I like it, I try to make an effort to do it the way she likes it. It makes her happy, not just because the non-squished sandwich appeals to her, but because it reminds her that I hear her AND listen to her. Victoria prefers my wife make her breakfast. Dina knows exactly the way she likes her eggs and toast cut, buttered, and salted. Does this make her a better listener or a better cook? I know the right answer is both! So I really need to make an extra effort to address her needs.

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Tips for Hearing, Listening, and showing respect •

Don’t ignore or cut your children off when they are saying something. At the same time, teach them that unless it is an emergency (the sink is overflowing, or the oven is on fire, or they just wet their pants) interrupting a conversation is rude. Give them guidelines on how to be heard.

Engage your child in conversation and teach them how to have conversations. Teach them how to disagree as well.

Be aware of your body language. Children can be sensitive to body language. If your posture shows them that you aren’t interested in them, they will internalize that message as “he never listens to me.”

Show respect to others and your children will see this as important. Refrain from bad-mouthing people in front of your children.

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Respect their mother.

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Don’t encourage your children to keep secrets. Other than not telling you what they got you for your birthday, they shouldn’t learn to keep things from you. If they feel compelled to, well then, that tells you that you must work on your moods and reactions. They may be keeping secrets because they are afraid of your reaction.

Engage in conversation

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Chapter 6:

Building Memories In my business, the phone rings all the time. I am constantly “on” and ready for my clients. Being “on” and available is how I make my living. My family knows this but it can become an excuse. I think this is true of many people. They use work as an excuse to not be present and available to their loved ones. Being on the phone is central to my income but I know that I must balance my life to maintain a good and meaningful relationship with my wife and children. This is why I find time to shut the phone off and focus on them. Often, this happens when we have a planned outing such as a trip to the amusement park, or the beach, or a vacation. I use the phone as a tool and not as a necessity. People don’t know how annoying it is when they make a commitment—a lunch with friends, or a day at the park with your kids—and they then spend half of the time

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answering calls, or worse, texting or calling others. It shows the people that you are with that they are not really important because you won’t actually commit to being with them. I know that occasionally you may have some urgent issue that needs attention even when you are out with others: a loved one in the hospital, or a vital business deal that needs your momentary attention. But this shouldn’t happen all the time. If it does, then you aren’t prioritizing.

Slowing Down and Keeping Track Slowing down the pace of life to have fun with your family is a good way to build memories. There are many ways to build good memories with your children, and all of them involve spending time with them. With all the distractions of daily living, it is easy to forget that active fatherhood is a vital and important commitment. As with any commitment, it is sometimes good to examine how much time is involved. Try keeping track of the time you spend with your kids. I’m not saying to write a book, but examine what you did today and the time that you spent with your family and write it down. Write down the physical time that you spent with them in your day timer, a notebook, or on

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your phone. If you live with your kids full time, do this for a week. Then at the end of the week, examine how much time you were with them. Examine how many hours there are in a week and how much of that time was quality time spent with your children. The emphasis is on quality time—don’t forget that word— quality. See how much physical time is spent with your children, then, if at all possible, add a couple of extra hours because it’s important. If your children don’t live with you full-time, try tracking the time you spend with them when you do have them. That may sound odd, but this is an exercise in self-awareness. Sometimes parents can be emotionally absent, even when they are with their children full-time.

Invest in Your Children The biggest investment you can make is not in retirement funds or stock portfolios, but in your children. That’s what you are really going to watch grow, and this is where you reap the rewards. Invest time, energy, and love in your children. How you treat them today may have a great influence on how they treat you when you become older. They may feel a sense of responsibility towards you, but that isn’t the same as a true desire to be with you.

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Understand the Past I took care of my mom when she became ill with Alzheimer’s after my father passed away. She moved into my house and lived there for six months until she needed more care than my wife and I could give her. It seems like an odd thing for a kid who was abused to do, but my responsibility and commitment to my mother meant that I had to understand her actions within a wider frame of reference. When she went to live in a nursing home, the staff there used to say to me, “your mother is so sweet and kind and nice.” I was flabbergasted. I used to joke and say, “do you know how many times this woman hit me with a leather strap?” My mother would say, “son, you are hallucinating. I never touched you. I loved you with all my heart and soul.”

See Through Another Lens I really think she did love me with all her heart and soul but yes she did hit me. She loved me the only way she knew how to love, but it wasn’t always the way I needed to be loved, or for that matter, deserved to be loved. That gives you very mixed messages when you are a child. You are getting hit and being told I love you at the same time.

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So I would joke with the nurses and say, “she used to hit me, that’s how much she loved me. She beat her love into me, right?” This was my way of dealing with it.

Give Yourself the Gift of Forgiveness Six months before my mother died, she became what I can only describe as “a helpless old lady.” She became a different person. My whole life, I kissed her hello and goodbye on the cheek. As she became progressively more ill, I actually kissed her for the very first time and meant it. I told her that I forgave her for everything she did. She didn’t understand. She asked what I was forgiving her for and I said, “I just forgive you for everything you ever did to me.” It was as much for me as for her, as I had a lot of anger and bitterness. I had held on to things. So, building memories for me now means spending good times with my children and making a conscious effort to be present and a force for good in their lives. There are many ways to do this. The most important ways are to be present, to love unconditionally, and to do good and forget about it.

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Memories •

Write a book about favourite memories. The Memories in the book are based on activities or events you experienced together. Spend time thinking and discussing the best parts of those moments. Stay positive and don't focus on the negative.

Ask your child what their favorite memory is. Find out more by asking questions such as when, where, and why?

Look at old photo albums together. This will help them to connect to family history.

Research your family tree.

Build a time capsule.

Make a good memory board with pictures of, or written notes about, some fond memories. It enforces gratitude for all our blessings.

Every week get together and talk about your week and what your favourite part was.

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•

Put a picture of you and your child in a card and write about that moment that was captured. Put it on display so you can see it and remember it together.

•

Scrapbook together as a family.

Be consistent

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Chapter 7:

Commitment and Involvement This book has been a lifetime in coming. When I was a child, through all my experiences, I tried to figure out why things were happening to me. I would try to write things down. I would get maybe 10 or 15 pages written and then I would read them over and realize that they were pretty much all doom and gloom about being hit and feeling sad, depressed, and inadequate. “Why would anybody want to read this?” I would think. So, I would throw them out. But the need to document some of my experiences and my lifelong search for understanding, forgiveness, and love stayed with me. Ultimately, I think I wanted to write this book—the one you are reading now—for myself but also because I know there are other people out there who are embarking on journeys of self-knowledge. I know there are men out there who are searching for a better way to be the best

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fathers that they can be. I hope this book will help them. I know my own journey will never be complete. I am always going to be a father and I will always want to do my best. Doing my best means knowing myself, not fooling myself, and being consciously aware of my needs, desires, and motives.

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Be Involved •

Let your child pick what's for dinner. Let them come shopping and help you make it. Trust me, the dinner will be much more delicious that way.

Ask your children how their day was.

Really listen to them and ask open ended questions. Ask specific questions: has anything upset you today? Did anyone hurt your feelings today? Who did you play or hang out with today?

Limit your time on the computer and cell phone. when you are with them so you can spend quality time together.

Drive your kids to school today if they take the bus.

Go to your children's play and school functions.

Every night before you go to bed sit as a family and each share one thing that made their day today.

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Meet your child's friends and their parents.

Change diapers, feed your babies, put them to bed. Get involved right from the start!

If you have your child’s friends over, be specific on the pick up and drop off times. Understand that there will always be some parents who are early and some who are late to pick up their kids. If you need to control the time, volunteer to pick them up and drop them off yourself.

Be the change

you want to see

in your children

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A Lifer Being a parent means making a lifelong commitment. As with all things in life, sometimes the commitment will seem effortless. At other times, it will require work and putting your personal desires on the back burner. The trick is to balance your own desires with the needs and wants of your children. When my children were very young, my wife and I owned a gift store. We had the store for 10 years and it was very successful, but we were also running around and spending every spare second attending to the needs of the store. In the meantime, we were not attending to our own needs. We couldn’t even spare the time to enjoy the things we used to enjoy and our last Christmas with the store we put up our own Christmas tree at midnight just so we could get it up. We did a lot of sacrificing for the store and there came a time when we knew things could not continue as they were—both of us working flat out and trying to fit a life with our daughters in there somehow. I had just spoken to a banker friend about my desire to sell and concentrate on family when a woman walked into the store and said she wanted to buy it. Now that was serendipity. We hadn’t even put the place up for sale, but we took that opportunity and ran with it. We did it together for our family. That Christmas (a crazy busy time

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for retail stores), instead of focusing on what the business needed, we could focus on our family. The tree went up three weeks before December 25, and we decorated it and had a fantastic time. We also had time to take family vacations and really spend quality family time together.

parent is a LIFELONG commitment

Being a

Making an Effort This made a huge difference to the kids. We grew closer because we realized how special our time together was. And this was all because we became aware of our actions, and of our inactions. We made a commitment to be conscious and make an effort. It is so easy to go through life on autopilot—to spend your days doing the same things the same ways, and not be present with your children and the other people who are important in your life. I struggle everyday to be conscious of my impact on the lives of those around me. It takes concentration to be present and not somewhere else, thinking of other things I have to do.

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Being Committed Commitment means pledging your time, money, and love to something. It means following through and remaining steadfast. There are many ways you can commit to your family. Some of the most important are being supportive and involved. Being there for your loved ones and being conscious of your actions and intent are important. Being a good dad is important to me, but I want to do even better. I want to be a great dad and I think other men should want this too. My wife once said to me: “I married you for your potential.” It shocked me at the time because I thought “didn’t you marry me for who I am?” But I understand that she knew that I would grow and would keep growing as a person, a partner, and a father. She saw me as a good long-term investment. If people don’t grow and change, they don’t learn. You can’t be a conscious person and not grow—not accept that you are constantly learning and upgrading. But again, you have to purposely make an effort. You have to consciously be in the moment and be in one physical and geographic space. I’m not saying it is easy. Sometimes it will be really hard! I still struggle with being “in the moment” every day— to be aware and not be somewhere else thinking of other things I have to do.

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Commitment •

When you make a promise, follow through on it. But try not to make promises you know you can’t keep. You don’t want your children to learn to be constantly disappointed by the promises you don’t follow through on.

Children know when their fathers are only half there and it can take a toll on their self-esteem. They may begin to think they are not worthy of your time, or that the time and attention you give is conditional and depends on your mood, and your ability to tear yourself away from other more engrossing pursuits. Imagine how it would feel if the person who was supposed to love you the most doesn’t seem to care. Eventually you will think “does anybody care for me?” or “am I not worthy of love?” When you are at an event with your children, try to shut your phone off and pay attention to them. And be sincere. Don’t be a “show dad” or someone who is only going through the motions to make it look good.

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Remember to say “I love you.”

Put your child’s safety first.

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Don’t replace taking your child to classes and events with one-on-one time. One-on-one time shouldn’t only happen in the car on route to and from an arena, a baseball diamond, soccer pitch, or dance class.

Eat with your children. You can help teach them table manners (a good thing to pass on) and you will get to know each other.

Understand that even when your children become independent, they still need you. Be there for them.

Children will learn to live without you if you are not there for them. Then when you do have time for them, you will find they have other plans that don't include you.

Make your children laugh. They’ll see you in a different light.

Don’t hold a grudge. It will teach your children about growth if you can learn to forgive.

Be the best provider you can be.

Always be on time!

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Don't forget their birthday.

Get a pet such as a fish, dog, or cat. Pet ownership can teach responsibility.

Never give up. If you give up on something once, it makes it easier to do it over and over.

When disciplining your child for bad behavior, follow-through! It shows you're interested in supporting good behavior, respect, integrity, and social awareness.

Do not tolerate bad behavior. Always work in partnership with your life partner or spouse and present a united front!

Fix yourself and become a well-balanced dad.

Call home and check in to see how everyone is doing. Let them know you are thinking about them.

Dysfunction can exist in all families. It is important to recognize when things are not right, and break the cycle. Seek advice, counselling, or coaching. It's your responsibility!

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Try not to cancel events with your children. Don't break promises. Being too tired is not good enough. Show them that the time you are going to spend together is more important to you.

When your children have a day off from school, try to take the day off as well so you can be with them.

Meet your child's teacher or principal.

Always keep a stash of extra batteries on hand.

Attend their sports games, and dance recitals and practices.

Building The Bond The most valuable investment you can make as a parent is in your children. Spend time with them and watch how they grow!

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Chapter 8:

A Note on Growth and Change If you are reading this book, it is likely because you feel a desire to change something or work on your parenting skills. You have also likely realized this requires growth. Congratulations on making an effort! You are worth it. I hope that this is just one step in your journey. One of my motives for writing this book was to document some of the changes I have made in my life. It is amazing how far I have come, from a scared kid who contemplated suicide and didn’t know how to effectively deal with the baggage of his past, to a man who knows his future is entirely dependent on his attitude. I have learned how to love without being controlling or manipulative. Of course, I have my wife and children to thank for that. They are so important to me that they made me want to be a great dad (and a great husband). I will always work on being a better person. I

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know I am worth it and it is a challenge I feel blessed to take up.

Change Can Be Difficult Growing and changing can be difficult. You may even encounter some flack along the way. People who knew you the way you were before may give you grief for changing. If you previously ignored your family to be with your buddies, your buddies may not take kindly to your new “family man” status. It’s like losing weight. Sometimes people who lose weight are not supported by their friends and loved ones because they fear the loss of the person they knew before. It’s a sad reality, but some people may not want you to change. Don’t let it deter you. Your family should be the most important people in your life. Becoming a great dad benefits them and it benefits you.

Alter Your Thinking One of the things I want to do is move forward. I don’t always want to look back but I also know that my past does live with me. My challenge is always to take the good things from my childhood and toss out the bad. One

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thing I know is that a person’s actions can change their thought processes. Doing things repetitively will alter your thought process. So, I try to replace bad habits with good habits and unproductive thoughts with productive thoughts. I don’t play head games and I don’t read into things. I say what I mean and mean what I say. I find that more useful than the alternative.

Strong Foundations As a real estate agent, I believe there’s a parallel between selling homes and building relationships. If you don’t put any energy into maintaining a building, it will at some point, fall apart. You need to support the foundation, repair cracks, and put energy into a building. That’s like relationships. You need to maintain your relationship and deal with and fix issues to keep the foundation strong. And remember that you have an impact on all the people around you. A good friend of mine once told me that our touch ( or imprint) on others doesn’t fade. I think that is true, whether the imprint is from a slap or from a hug. Love and be loved, and ensure that your imprint reflects that.

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Tips on Growth and Change •

Try not to send mixed messages or act passive aggressively. My mother told me that she loved me and then she would hit me. It was a mixed message and one that made me doubt her and doubt myself.

You need to let children know what is expected of them. When they know the expectations in their daily routine, they can handle the other little bits.

Teach your children how to handle rejection. Teach them that not everything is going to go their way but that is okay.

Take responsibility for things. This can mean for the material welfare of your children or for their day-to-day care. Don’t leave everything to your wife or partner.

Learn how to cook and clean. Teach your kids that gender roles are not rigid.

Cultivate a culture of respect and responsibility.

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Spirituality Belief systems can be important to our sense of belonging and our understanding of the world. Anything that brings more love, patience, and kindness into the world, is worth passing on. •

There is value in being present in a sacred place of worship. Teach your children about your sacred places, whether that be a temple, a church, or a wonder of nature.

Take the best parts of any spiritual practice or belief and teach that to your children!

Always express gratitude for life and what you have been given.

If you believe in prayer, teach your children how to pray and pray together.

Material things matter less than the human soul. Always remember this.

Always make your actions meaningful. Show love and kindness to people through your thoughts and your actions

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•

Teach your children what is right and what is wrong. Love and goodness are always right. Hate, prejudice, and bitterness are always wrong.

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Chapter 9:

Activities I’m committed to making memories with my children that will last a lifetime. We don’t know when and for how long someone will be in our life. That’s why making memories is important. Don’t put off spending time with your kids. We all feel invincible and that tomorrow will always be there, but sometimes it isn’t. Life is short and children grow so fast. Take the opportunity to be with them when you can and do more with them. You don’t want any regrets later—regret is a wasted emotion. I love taking my kids to amusement parks because it makes me feel carefree and like a kid again. In fact, my wife sometimes jokes that she has three kids, because I enjoy “kid things” just as much as my daughters. And I am grateful to be able to have fun with my kids. I can’t go back and remake my childhood, but I think spending time with my children at events is an opportunity to

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experience things I never got to experience when I was young. It gives me the chance to put a more positive spin on childhood. I think it is important to note that I am responsible for my own happiness, I don’t make my children responsible for it. I don’t force them to do things just because I think it is fun, and I ask them what they think is fun. As they grow older, I know some of the activities will change, but I hope I am teaching them that having fun is an important part of childhood and growing up.

Time and Energy Well Spent Sometimes fathers have difficulty figuring out what to do with their kids. That may sound ridiculous, but it is true. You want to give them as much opportunity to experience life but you don’t want to just do the same things over and over again. Spending time with your children is one of the most important things you can do. It doesn’t mean that you have to always plan an “event” or spend a lot (or any) money. Spending time can be as simple as helping your kid with their homework, going to the park, or reading a book. I have spent some awesome, quality time with my daughter helping her with her homework. I took the time and effort and energy to spend time with her when initially I wanted to do something else. I put my own immediate needs off to be

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with her. I would never have known I would have such an awesome time if I did not make a conscious choice for my daughter instead of my needs. I would have missed out on that. Putting her needs first was a blessing for me. I have found that when you put time and energy in, there is a shift in energy around you, and you can feel the difference when the energy is positive. I attended my daughter’s spelling bee once and felt great about being able to be there. I switched a work appointment so that when her turn came she could look out at the audience and see me there. Not everyone is able to attend their children’s school events during the workday, but with a little effort and by spending time with them, you can let them know that you care and they are important.

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Building The Bond I think supporting the wonder and excitement of childhood is one of the most spectacular things a father can do. Be your children’s Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny! Make your kids feel the special magic of a holiday. Even when they no longer believe in Santa, they will believe in you because you kept the magic alive.


Activities With the everyday grind of life, it can be hard to think of new and exciting things to do with your children. Here are some suggestions for easy and rewarding activities:

Figure out what greatness means to your kids and become that. Don’t change who you are. But if you do what’s important to them you will become great to them. Let them know that you are on their side.

Carve pumpkins for Halloween and have a pumpkin carving party with pizza. Let your children invite their friends and they can have a nice night and start a tradition. Traditions are important and they give you something to look forward to.

Have a pj party with your kids. Watch movies, play games, and have fun. Go ahead, have fun!

Play cards. Card games are great learning opportunities as they often involve taking turns and counting.

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Do something crazy, like wacky dancing, with your children. Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. It is good training for when your children are teenagers and you become a constant source of embarrassment to them.

Go for a walk or hike in your neighbourhood and notice the architecture, the cars on the street, plants in the gardens, and people around you. Talk about the things you see along the way.

Every once in awhile, if you can afford it, go to your children’s favourite restaurant and let them order whatever they want. Encourage them to be adventurous in their eating, but don’t force them to eat snails or broccoli if they don’t want to. Ask them to order for you, and eat what they order without complaining.

Teach your kids how to take pictures and spend some time photographing around home or on an outing somewhere (beach, park, etc.) Print the images and put them together in an album of memories.

Read a book (tackle a large one as a family project), or do a puzzle, or a craft together.

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Make your child laugh


Play dress-up.

Give your time and be generous about it.

Let your child pick the movie you watch.

Wrap presents together.

Let them walk in your shoes. Really!

Make something with your hands.

If your children are younger read them a bedtime story. Or put the storybooks away and create a story with them as the main character.

For Easter, dress up as the Easter Bunny. Have an Easter egg hunt.

Play your children's favourite sport with them.

Ask your children what they want to do today and do it.

Go to an amusement park. Eat popcorn and cotton candy. Remember how fun it was when you were a kid. Bring out the kid in you.

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•

Bake cookies. Here is a simple recipe and have your kids help you make it. Eating dough and the finished product should of course, be part of the fun.

Bake cookies

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Makes about three dozen cookies. Preheat oven to 375Ëš F. You Need: 1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour 1/2 tsp baking soda 8 tbsp butter softened 1/2 cup white sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 large egg 1/4 tsp salt 1 1/2 tsp vanilla 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional) 1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional) Method 1. Mix flour and baking soda. 2. In separate bowl beat butter and sugars until well mixed. 3. Add egg, salt, and vanilla to butter mixture and beat. 4. Blend flour mixture into egg mixture until smooth. 5. Stir in chocolate chips, nuts and coconut. 6. Drop spoon sized cookie mixture unto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until rims of cookie are lightly browned.

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Go for ice cream.

Send a special gift on Valentine's Day.

Have a campout in your living room.

Plan to go on a picnic. Bring sandwiches, snacks, drinks, a blanket, a ball, camera, cards, and other picnic items.

Start a pillow fight.

Play hide and seek.

Make a mini golf game in your backyard.

Read your horoscopes.

Have a backyard vacation.

Turn up the music and dance in your pjs. Invent a new dance.

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Have a limbo contest.

Go to a drive-in movie.

Go fishing.

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Go to the park, play on the swings, seesaw, slide. and have fun.

Climb mountains, or hike up hills.

Enjoy a concert in the park. Some parks offer free concerts in the summer.

Build sandcastles.

Run through your garden sprinkler.

Fly a kite any time of year.

Rollerblade on a trail or in a parking lot.

Make a chalk mural in your driveway.

Go canoeing.

Swim in a pool or lake.

Walk in the forest or a nearby hiking area.

Blow bubbles together, regardless of your age.

Go to a water park and join in on the rides and slides.

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S’mores Recipe In the summer, I like to make s’mores in the backyard around a little fire pit. It makes it an event. But s’mores can easily be made in an oven. You Need: Graham crackers, two for each s’more. If you are making four s’mores, this means eight crackers. Marshmallows (big or small). The small ones work well in the oven. Milk chocolate bar (roughly one chunk of chocolate per s’more as you want the chocolate to melt) Baking Sheet Method 1. Place graham crackers (broken into squares) on baking sheet and top with marshmallow. 2. Place the sheet under the broiler for a few seconds until the marshmallow melts a bit. 3. Remove sheet from oven and place the chunk of chocolate and then place the other graham crackers on top. 4. Press to flatten. The heat from the marshmallow should melt the chocolate. Enjoy!

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Draw a picture or color with your child. You don't have to be an artist, it's about the time you spend together creating memories.

Go to your child's favourite restaurant. Let them order for themselves and maybe for you too. Encourage them by telling them that they made a good choice, everything was delicious, and the experience was a fun one.

Dress up for Halloween with your children. Let them pick their costume and maybe if you are adventurous, try to make the costume together.

Have a tea party.

Play with cars and trucks with your children.

Play a board game.

Make homemade popcorn.

Paint their room together. Have them choose the color and decorations. Let them participate in painting the walls.

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Build a fort or hockey rink.

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Build a snowman.

Plan a party with your child. Have a theme, a menu, guests, decor, and entertainment.

Surprise your child today! Pick them up from school, take them for a walk, shoot hoops, bike ride, or do something that you know will make them smile. Surprises are great anytime!

Do a craft with your child. You can go to the craft store for ideas or go online for suggestions.

The next time it rains, go outside and splash in the puddles with them. It shows that you like to be spontaneous and like to have fun.

Play dress-up with them. Let them pick who you will be and what you should look like.

Take your kids bowling.

Have a water balloon fight.

Take your kids for a bike ride.

Wear a helmet when riding your bike.

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Homemade Popcorn Popcorn made on the stove in a lidded pot or “whirly� popcorn maker, is a fantastic treat. You Need: pot popcorn kernels vegetable oil (sunflower oil, olive oil) 2 tbsp melted butter pinch of salt Method 1. Place a couple tablespoons of oil in pot. 2. Add popcorn kernels. 3. Place on heated stove burner. 4. Move pot back and forth over the burner to ensure kernels are warmed but do not stick to the bottom where they can burn. 5. Keep pot lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. 6. When popping slows, most of the kernels should have popped. 7. Remove pot from burner and empty popcorn into a bowl. Be careful not to burn yourself. Do not allow children to do this. 8. Serve popcorn with melted butter and salt on top.

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Watch your child's favourite show with them.

Go out for a special breakfast.

Make homemade pizza.

Have a pajama day! Sleep in and don't work. Instead watch movies, play games, and have fun. Give yourself permission to have fun.

Exercise, eat right, and take vitamins. Your children are watching and will follow your lead.

Be a good role model.

Tell yourself that no matter what happens, you will handle each situation calmly and cooly.

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Spring clean with your children.

Help someone.

Praise other people and your children.

Show and teach by example.

Fix broken objects.

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Organize your household to make it work easier.

Speak to your children at their physical height and level. They will feel more important and will understand how important your message or information is.

Teach them not to talk down to people.

Be affectionate to the people around you.

You are BLESSED to be a DAD

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“Be” Attitudes

Be positive—

it teaches your children positivity.

Be generous—

it teaches your children generosity.

Be kind—

it teaches your children kindness.

Be forgiving—

it teaches your children forgiveness.

Be honest—

it teaches your children honesty.

Be happy—

it teaches your children happiness.

Be content—

it teaches your children contentedness.

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Be patient—

it teaches your children patience.

Be sincere—

it teaches your children sincerity.

Be responsible—

it teaches your children responsibility.

Be courageous—

it teaches your children courage.

Be grateful—

it teaches your children gratitude.

Be present—

it teaches your children to be in the moment.

Be open minded—

it teaches your children acceptance.

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Smile

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About the author Carmen Elefante is a loving husband and father of two adored daughters. A top-selling real estate agent for over 20 years, he is a "people person" and a keen observer of humans and human interactions. Through many years of self-development, Carmen has determined that love and forgiveness are the keys to happiness and success in life. His personal mantra, "do good and forget about it,� reflects his desire to help others become better, happier, and more fulfilled human beings. How To Be A Great Dad is his first book. He can be found at: www.carmen-sense.com

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