• Valerie Bryant Felder

7 Special Gifts a Father Should BE for His Children - a Tribute to My Dad

A latchkey kid in a Chicago ghetto, I would have known no better life had it not been for my incredible parents. Together, they combined the strongest aspects of who they were and produced their finest for our family. Life moved smoothly as silk from my perspective as a child; however, now as an adult, I can only begin to appreciate the many sacrifices they made to see that I survived that rugged phase of my life. Only recently, I heard a man describe me as a woman who had had a rough upbringing – because of the locale of my early years. I vehemently retorted a correction that, yes – the southside Chicago ghetto where I lived was indeed a place of dizzying crime and dilapidation. Still, like any harsh environment where growth is expected,


When you have a gardener wisely nurturing his saplings, they are the ones spared from brutal weathering of their surroundings.

I was such a sapling because of my father was that gardener. Through the care, peace and nurture with which he parented, I grew most unaware of what regularly threatened my well-being. He spared me from being needlessly scarred while bearing the brunt of that reality for me. I essentially basked and benefited in the sunshine he reflected over me.


I describe my dad as such a man who designed my early childhood in a way that left me always feeling sheltered, loved and accepted by him. My family was a warm place where everyone was respected and treated with care. If the winds of harshness blew around me, Daddy kept me well occupied in the richest stable soils of growth – playing games with me, challenging my mind and imagination, and giving me appropriate attention. All this served to keep my eyes focused on the goodness of him and our family; it enabled me to see what and who I truly was even as the ghetto winds of crime, poverty, and apathy daily swirled about me.


As I grew, I knew I could depend on Daddy to be that special man in my life who cared more for me than any other. He continues to be special in his own way, even as dementia today slowly steals him away from our family. Still, were it not for the nurture and special role he played in my life, I would have ended up another statistic on those harsh Chicago streets. Through him, I was given a real chance at life because he keenly molded me into one who could possess an indomitable attitude...


An attitude that would help me live above failing societal norms and low expectations...doing whatever it took to fight against terrible odds that would try to snuff out the hope of a better life in me.

Today, as I witness the lives of scores of children be destroyed by ill-equipped fathers – men unaware of the significance they play for their children, it disturbs me. I am moved to remind our fathers of the key role they truly play, ensuring theirs grow from vulnerable saplings into towering robust oaks able to weather the storms of ridicule, unfairness, accusations, moral challenge, failure, and even bullying – to name a few.


Dads, use your time wisely and do everything you can to “be there” in special ways for your children. Before I share the 7 Special Gifts you can give them, first gain from my short list of how to just "BE" for your children and family:


If you want to be a Powerful Dad - First, Just BE


- Be that man who loves so much until one day you hear/see the blessings pour from your child’s lips/life attesting to the significance yours played in theirs.


- Be that man who is consistently dependable for your child who then knows they can depend on you, even after they have left the proverbial nest.


- Be the one man in their life who supports them, holding their hands or "hugging them up" (yes, real men do hug their sons and daughters) when the scrapes of life try knocking them low, and


- Be one of the decreasing numbers of men in our nation who are even remembered/regarded by their children on Fathers’ Day – because they lived life like they cared for their posterity.


Dads – I now share the following 7 critical points from my childhood about my father for you - real ways you can be S-P-E-C-I-A-L for your children as they grow:


· S – Sturdy. As a child in elementary school, I saw my dad as my STURDY superhero who was there for me to lean on during life uncertainties. He was paid by the hour – and not a whole lot, yet he took off what time was needed to present himself in a show of force for me when he knew his face needed to be shown. It was his way of reminding adults and even bullying classmates alike that they would reckon with him if they dared disturb his little girl.


· P – Provider. If we moved often, it was due to his unfailing determination to be that PROVIDER who secured the safest shelter, adequate clothing, and ample food to sustain us, sometimes even at the expense of his own job progression. On at least four occasions, I remember him moving us like nomads to protect our family from dangers of increasing gang violence or deteriorating neighborhood. (I never fretted the dangers of the streets because I knew my dad stayed in tune with the climate and - even as I slept - would be constantly calculating when and where to position us next for greatest safety.)

· E – Enricher. I watched him then and now continue to live out a positive, “can-do” nature, being an ENRICHER for me in numerous situations. He was largely responsible for the love for math I developed in my early years, playing cards and logic and strategy games with me like Rummy 500 and Monopoly (vintage Monopoly with money – not the one with mind-dulling, swipe-able plastic cards). If I ever did beat him, I knew I had done it outright because he was a tough opponent at the table. I’m so glad he never regarded me as a fragile being – like I see so many parents do today with their children in less challenging matters. He knew that the more confidence and grit he poured into me, the better chance I would have at surviving life. He made it his place to enrich me like no other.


· C – Corrector. Suffice it to say that if I miss-stepped in a major way with my dad (the “Bear” -as he was affectionately called by his friends…but not by me. I knew better than that!), I would stand before him, absorbing his role as ultimate CORRECTOR. Do know that my parents did not raise a fool in me. I learned at a young age that to disturb the bear with wayward behavior notions would mean meeting with specific fire as his daddy-growl manifested. I’ll leave the details of those corrections to your imagination. Only know that my dad was always fair and appropriate – and he got his point across…swiftly!


· I – Intellectual. From my childhood through my life today as an adult, I have always seen my dad as being an INTELLECTUAL, one possessing more sensible knowledge in his little finger than many with capitalized letters behind their names. His was a smart that came from living and seeing how to wisely adjust for the sake of preserving our family – and then passing that same knowledge on to us. I recall Dad stepping outdoors on evenings to intentionally peer heavenward, basing our weekend activity on what he read in the clouds, the air, and the color of the sky. Who needed a weatherman when you had him? He applied his best mental skills, using it to promote a safety and well-being for us to be able to thrive. Dad was one who understood and lived out positive impact of his own intelligence upon his family.


· A – Aware. From tracking community issues to dealing with challenging life matters, dad showed himself to be AWARE of events and issues. He listened, he watched, he engaged. In times of visiting by phone with him as an adult, I appreciated the depth of his thoughts. He earned no college degree, yet he would analyze and reason in ways to rival many a college prof I have since studied under. That he was steeped in such an array of areas was impressive to me as a child – and it still wows me. My phone chats with him have always been some of the richest moments of my life.


· L – Laborer. My dad was the chief family LABORER for some time. He took work in dangerous parts of town, sometimes where crime was heightened. I never really knew of his workplace whereabouts, but now hear stories of close brushes he or his co-workers had near crime hot spots. Sadly, some of them did not survive. Still, Dad worked odd hours, securing good work as a painter throughout the city. He did the best he could with what skills he possessed – making something out of nothing. Yes, I am certain he and mom wished to have been able to do more for us children – what parent doesn’t? Nevertheless, I was always clothed, comfortably sheltered, fed and celebrated – enjoying all the fruits his labor afforded us. That alone communicated to me that we (I) was worth something powerful to him – because we were his family.


YOUR PARENTING TAKEAWAY:


Parenting to build a close-knit family begins with a determined and loving father who knits strong starter stitches for his family. Dad’s, begin this new year using these 7 tips as a springboard to be SPECIAL to your children - that they may live powerfully after you.

"Thank you, Daddy, for being so absolutely SPECIAL to me." Your "Little Girl"





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