What makes a good father?
I was considering this question this week before Father’s Day. As the father of a 20-month-old, I decided I should ask someone with more experience.
Of all the fathers I know, I can think of few with more experience than Steve West. Steve, 50, of Liberty, runs the sheet-fed press at Lincoln County Publishing Co., which publishes The Lincoln County News. He and his wife, Beth, have eight children ranging in age from 32 to 8.
Alexis, 32, lives with her husband and six children in Milo. Alden, 26, is a veterinarian in California. Bronwyn, 23, and Brennan, 21, are studying nursing and mechanical engineering, respectively, at the University of Maine at Orono. Evan, 18, and Ethan, 16, are in high school and work part time at a lumber mill. Aidan, 11, and Abri, 8, are the youngest.
The Wests home-school their children. Beth, a painter, stays home and teaches.
I run into Steve’s kids from time to time. Brennan worked in the print shop one summer. Ethan mows the lawn here. Aidan and Abri often accompany their father to work on Sundays and stop by my office to say hi.
Each of Steve’s children is cheerful, hardworking, and polite. As a new father who hopes to raise a son with the same traits, I had to know his secret.
Steve is a humble guy and had to mull this over for a while. “They all seem to like me a lot,” he said, “but I don’t know what makes a good father.”
If he could choose one lesson, or a couple lessons, for his children to remember from everything he tries to teach them, what would it be?
“Don’t lie,” he said – because the truth will come out. “Be responsible for what you do and what you want. Treat people with the respect you want to be treated with, no matter how old or young they are.”
When one of the younger children misbehaves, Steve will send them to their room for 10 minutes to give himself time to calm down. Once calm, he sits down with the child, discusses the situation, explains why there are going to be consequences (his lengthy lectures are “half the discipline”) and administers the consequences.
And then? “You don’t harp on it,” he said.
As the children grow into their late teens, “I just try to keep them paying attention to adult responsibilities,” he said. “If you want adult privileges, you have to have the responsibilities that go along with them.”
He stresses the importance of financial responsibility.
“I never hide finances from the kids, not even the little ones,” he said. “I make sure they understand the value of working for your money.”
As Steve’s kids grow older and want more expensive toys, they have to earn the money to buy them.
“Nothing is free,” Steve said. “The teens want motorcycles and four-wheelers and snowmobiles, and I say, ‘Yeah? Me too!’”
After lessons and lectures, he aims to treat his children with the respect he would show another adult. The approach encourages responsibility and leads to a stronger relationship when the children grow up. “I didn’t raise children,” he said. “I raised adults.”
The hardest thing about being a father is “watching your children make mistakes,” Steve said. It’s painful to give your children advice, then “step back and let them make the mistake because they are who they are and they have to learn the hard way too.”
One of the best things, he said, is to watch the children take responsibility – to come home and see the children have split and stacked the firewood and completed other chores without having to remind them to do those things.
“I see that I’m creating thinking, responsible people,” he said, and it’s important to recognize that. “Give them lots of encouragement when they do things right, and randomly treat them to things they like.”
There are other rewards to being a dad.
“When I come home at the end of the day, they will come running out of the house to give me a hug,” Steve said. “I can’t even get out of the car before I get a hug.”
So what makes a good father? I think it’s somewhere between the lines. A good father leads by example. A good father works hard, but still has time for his kids. A good father provides for his children without spoiling them. And, of course, a good father works hand in hand with a good mother.
Thanks for the lesson, Steve.
And from all of us at The Lincoln County News to all the fathers out there, happy Father’s Day!