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John R. Eggers: A dad’s four favorite words

What are a dad’s four favorite words to say?

Unless you are a dad, you have no idea what it’s like to say, “I am a dad.” There is nothing that gives a dad more happiness. Yes, even better than the feeling you get when your kids move out of the house.

Well, our dog, Simon, is learning what it means to be a dad. At least we have been telling him he is going to be one. We got the news a few days ago that he fathered seven tiny golden retriever puppies. And, because we will choose one to bring home, his behavior will need to change just like it did for all other dads.

We have been telling him, “Simon, you have to be a role model for your daughter.” (We think we will select a female.) Simon says, “You mean I can’t eat socks and underwear anymore.”

“No Simon, as much as you enjoyed eating socks, you have to begin acting more responsible.”

All parents learn to be parents the hard way — by doing something stupid and then trying not to do it again. I know it’s tough being a teen these days or even a younger person, but it’s more difficult being a parent of one.

Dads worry about their children — a lot. Moms don’t realize how much they worry and it never ends. Although they won’t admit it, dads feel that they are to blame if their kids do something stupid.

I am looking for a word that describes what it is like to be a dad. The only word I can think of is “perplexing.” Dads would define “perplexing” in this manner. It’s when your 16 year-old daughter comes home at 3 a.m. carrying a Gideon Bible. That’s perplexing wouldn’t you say? What do you do? What do you say?

Since we broke the news to Simon, I think he is beginning to come around. When I called him the other day, he came around the corner of the house faster than usual.

I also think he is beginning to understand the difference between the words “yes” and “no.”  “Yes, Simon, you can eat your dog cookie.” “No, Simon, you can’t eat your Frisbee. That’s a toy. We don’t eat things made out of plastic or steel. Remember?”

I hope he remembers some things from his two dog obedience classes even though he finished at the bottom in each one. If Simon could just teach his daughter to heel, that would be sweet. To this day, Simon sort of, kind of, heels.

Dads learn quickly that they have to be pretty intentional in telling their kids what they can and cannot do. It’s probably more important today than ever before. Remember the words of the police sergeant before he dismissed his men in the TV show “Hill Street Blues?” He had them pay attention and then he said, “Now be careful out there.” We live in a messed up, fast moving, no holds barred society. We need to remind our kids regardless of their age to be careful out there.

We could be less careful years ago when I grew up because we had all kinds of surrogate parents in the form of neighbors and relatives and even older teens who had our backs, you might say. They didn’t hesitate to remind us of what “yes” and “no” meant. And if they didn’t think you knew, they were on the phone telling your dad.

Simon will need to show unconditional love, which comes easy for dogs and less for dads. There are lots of times when dads don’t approve of their children’s behavior. I often wonder what dads of celebrities, sports starts or even politicians think when their children do really dumb things. They have to say to themselves “Did I teach my son to do that? Where did I mess up? Could my kid be that dumb?”

This is the dilemma for dads. They need to show unconditional love no matter what their kids do. They need to remind their children that it’s not them they disapprove of; it’s their behavior. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to understand this. Kids get all bent out of shape because dad shows disappointment in something they did and kids mistake it for being disappointed in them.

I wonder if Simon will show unconditional love when his daughter eats his food. Will he show unconditional love when his daughter seems to be getting more attention? Will he show unconditional love when his daughter gets in trouble and has to be locked in her room? For dogs, unconditional love seems to be instinctive.

I think 99 percent of dads try to do what is best for their kids. Because each generation is different, what worked when they were a kid doesn’t necessarily work on today’s generation. This is why being a dad is so tough, there is no consumer guide that will tell them exactly what to do. There is no Blue Book guide with the answers like there is if you want to find the price of a used car. Even “Googling” won’t help. In spite of this, kids turn out pretty well. No doubt, moms get at least half the credit for this but I will save those remarks for another column.

Simon will see that he will be a very special guy in the life of his daughter. She will try to do the things just like he does them, which includes swimming, barking, running and, I hope, sleeping late.

Local author Kent Nerburn said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.” All dads know this to be true. It is time for Simon to grow up.

“Yes Simon, it is time for you to grow up. You are now a father and I hope you enjoy every minute of it. Happy Father’s Day.

“Now stop chewing on your Frisbee.”

— John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.