Passing on More than Genetic Material to the Next Generation

When COP (my oldest who we refer to as the Child of Promise) was a little younger, one of her doctors suggested we take her for some genetic testing. So, we did. For me, it was one of the more eye opening healthcare experiences we’ve had. Talking with the Geneticist (or whatever the nerds call themselves) after the results came back was humbling for me. I am, by all accounts, an intelligent man. Everyone says so. But this guy was a legit genius. We learned a ton of things about our daughter’s genetic makeup and I got a feel for the extent to which she is marked and even driven by genetic factors. The prevailing lesson I have learned is that my children are drastically and sometimes irreparably shaped by who their father is. And this is a worrisome truth that extends beyond physiological characteristics baked into their DNA; it goes all the way to behavior.

Along with their physical genetic make up, my children will absorb and inherit my behaviors, my habits, my preconceptions, and my weaknesses. The real difficulty in fatherhood lies in the hard work of self evaluation to put to death the worst things in me before those things have a chance to take root in the lives of my children. This is also my greatest source of failure.

So, how do we do this? How do we pre-empt the passing on of our worst traits to the next generation? How do we protect them from even ourselves?

  • Routine Perpetual Self Examination. One of the more pervasive traits of fathers everywhere is each man’s blindness to his own weaknesses. Fatherhood is difficult. It is even more difficult when you’re an idiot and still further difficult when you don’t know how much of an idiot you actually are. For the sake of our families, we have to be willing to confront what needs to change in ourselves. A practical way of examining self is to make it part of your routine. I have begun to set aside a few minutes every Thursday morning to specifically list out where I am most unskilled. During that time, I’ll make a list of 3 (that’s not to say I only have 3 areas of need. I just need to focus and I wouldn’t be able to do that on the 721 faults I currently possess). Once I have those 3, I think about one practice I can implement to correct each one just this week. Brother, if you can’t come up with 3, ask your wife. She’s got you.
  • Call Out Your Own Weaknesses. The worst thing we can do with our mistakes is to try to hide them or act like they don’t exist. Man, your kid knows you aren’t perfect and she loves you anyway, so why on earth would you fake otherwise? There’s a better way. If we acknowledge when we fail, and actually call attention to those failures, they can then be used as effective object lessons. Don’t waste teachable moments. Tell your kids about your mistakes and let them see how you work to make sure you don’t repeat them.
  • Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. Some of the most memorable moments in a deep father daughter relationship stem from the exposure of the behavior of one met by the tender forgiveness of the other. When a father recognizes his own faults and asks his daughter to forgive him for them, he draws her in to the process of his own development and solidifies a unique bond. He also provides her with real life experience in seeing how healthy adults resolve conflict.

My aim is for my children to be better humans than I am. They will have difficulties and face challenges all their own, but one of the greatest gifts I can give them is to see to it that my faults go to the grave with me. What are you going to pass on?

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