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Becoming a Top Dad in a Changing World

I remember waking up at 4 a.m. with a feeling of excitement. This is the day I had been waiting for for a year. My brothers and I had slept in our clothes and packed the red eight-seater Chevy suburban with my dad the night before so everything was ready. We picked up my best friend and his dad on the drive. My dad was taking us to a week of hiking, camping and trout fishing in Yosemite National Park and I could not have been more excited.

As a Psychiatric Physician Assistant at Denova Collaborative Health, I treat Arizona dads over telehealth who are experiencing a range of psychiatric issues from insomnia to PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The fathers I treat have one thing in common: They love their kids and they want to be the best fathers they can be. This desire is often the driver behind them seeking to improve their mental health.

Here are a few tips to making a great connection with your kids and setting them up for success in a changing world:

1. Share Your Interests with Your Kids

Many fathers struggle to strike a balance between earning a living and being present at home. The pressure to provide can overshadow the equally important role of bonding with their children. It was a struggle that my dad faced every day working a demanding job with a long commute. Growing up in a large family, I was blessed with an exceptional dad. He read to us in the evenings, coached my brothers and I on our respective soccer teams, and spent a couple weeks every year in Yosemite National Park camping with the family as well as boys-only backpacking.

Tip: Include your kids in the things you enjoy. My dad found ways to include us in the things he enjoyed. He loved soccer, so he put us on soccer teams and coached them. He loved literature so he read us the great works of fiction and non-fiction in the evenings. Whether it’s sports, off roading, or music, find things that you can share with your kids from an early age.

2. Teach Communication by Example

A common misconception is that dads must always be “strong,” which can lead fathers to not say the most important things that kids need to hear. It’s important to tell your kids, “I love you”, “I’m proud of you”, “You are really good at this”, “forgive me”. Our kids are learning from us all the time. The patterns of communication and expression that we use will become our children’s toolset later in their lives.

Tip: It’s okay to show emotion. Sharing your feelings with your children teaches them emotional intelligence and strengthens your relationship with them. Set aside time after your kids go to bed to communicate with your spouse. Loving, forgiving, and appreciating your spouse is key to teaching your children how to have good relationships.

3. Include Your Kids in Decision Making

I always appreciated how my dad included us in his decision making. When it was time to find a new religious faith as a kid he said we would decide that as a family. Ultimately, the faith that we kids chose was not his first choice, but as he got to know it better, he has loved it more than any other. When we discussed family commitments, vacations, or school events, he put us first and included us in those decisions.

Tip: While many decisions should be made by parents (such as limiting technology, and negative influences) including children in decision making can teach them to make good decisions when you are not around.

4. Becoming a Great Dad is a Lifelong Journey

Today’s dads are expected to be more involved in hands-on parenting than past generations. There are many thing dads can do to stay involved. It’s important to respect your children and be proud of them.

Show your children you’ll do anything for them. You can play “beauty salon” for your kids helping them with painting their nails, arranging their hair, or doing a foot spa. You can set up a “carnival”, arranging stuffed animals into a zoo, setting up carnival rides and feats of strength competitions for jumping and lifting. When your kids ask to play, try your best to answer yes.

Tip: Educate yourself. There are plenty of resources, from books to local parenting classes, that can help you gain confidence in your parenting skills. Be present with your children, you won’t get the time back. Consider reading parenting books. I recommend:
Girl Dad by Madeline Anderson, which shares stories from real dads as they learn to relate to their daughters.

The Intentional Father by Jon Tyson, which teaches you how to set your teenage son up for success by being an exceptional dad.

5. Supporting Dad’s Journey

Fathers play a unique role in their children’s lives, and it’s important for family members to support dads in these struggles. Family members can ease the load on dads in a variety of ways:

  • Encourage open dialogue. Create a safe space where fathers can express their worries without judgment. My mom always made it a priority to talk to my dad in the evening without interruptions from kids so they could be on the same page. She never talked negatively about our dad.
  • Offer help. Sometimes, the best way to support is by offering practical help, like taking care of a meal or managing a carpool shift.
  • Acknowledge their efforts. Recognition goes a long way. Celebrate the small victories as well as the big ones. The patients of mine who have exceptional relationships tell me that they have a partner who is grateful for them, loves them, and is calm and gentle with them in the face of stress and arguments.

The world is changing quickly for our kids and we dads need to stay a step ahead. By recognizing and addressing these challenges head-on, dads can not only navigate but thrive in their critical role within the family. Remember, being a great father isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being present, engaged, and willing to grow alongside your children.

If you’re a father who’s experiencing significant stress, struggling to balance it all, or you simply need a listening ear, consider contacting your primary care doctor or reach out to Denova Collaborative Health. You can schedule a virtual behavioral health therapy session, and be seen within 24 hours. Learn more at denova.com.

Thomas Silva PA-C is a Board-Certified Physician Assistant whose experience includes managing acute behavioral health units and caring for a wide array of psychiatric emergencies. He is a proud provider within the Denova Collaborative Health network and has helped countless patients improve their social relationships. Thomas’ passion is driven by the bonds he has with his patients and loves to see clients enjoy their marriages, jobs, and social relationships.



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