An Open Letter to Dads from Tony Dungy

Former NFL coach and best-selling author, Tony Dungy, opens up about his experiences as a father, and shares vital wisdom for all dads.

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Today, fatherhood remains one of the critical foundations for the health of our current generation and for those that will follow. The way fatherhood is viewed in the future is in large part dependent upon the way that today's fathers, grandfathers and father figures handle the responsibilities of this role that has been entrusted to them.

Have We Forgotten?

I'm worried about the vacuum we've left in this country with the ever-growing problem of absentee fathers. It seems that it has almost become perfectly acceptable to not be a part of your child's life as long as you meet your financial responsibilities. This would be fine, I suppose, if child support was what defined fatherhood.

I worry that we've forgotten what it means to nurture our children, believing that as long as we provide financial support, the mothers of our children can provide whatever emotional growth our children need. I strongly disagree.

Strongly.

I know not all of you are fathers, but to those of you who are, I have one request: Be there for your children. Too many young men and boys are growing up without a male role model in the house to show them what it means to be a man.

Be Present AND Supportive

There are so many reasons beyond financial support for us to be present—really there, physically and emotionally—in the lives of our children. Studies have shown that the father's relationship with his daughter will be the primary predictor in the success of her marriage, relationships with men and her sexual behavior prior to marriage.

In particular, the research shows that if she isn't treated well by her father or has no father in the home to nurture her, love her and make her feel secure, she will attempt to fill that void through relationships with other men.

As for our sons, if there is no father to model proper behavior for them, they will never learn what it means to be a man or a father.

I was fortunate, I know. My father was always a part of our lives, married to my mom until the day she died and involved in everything his children did. And I'm trying to do the same with my children. Believe me, it's difficult. As much as I try, I don't think I've done as good a job as my father did.

The Consequences of Absentee Fathers

Yet even for those of us fathers who are in the home, we need to be careful not to become absentee fathers by handing our children over to television sets or other people while we attend social events, catch up with friends, pursue career advancement and do other "important" things.

Many of our children go to bed without their dad at home, or at least without one who is regularly there.

We need to realize that the boys in those homes might become fathers and the girls might become mothers, and without some intervention, they are destined to continue the dysfunctional cycle. These children are missing an important part of the emotional stimulation they need: the part they can only get from their dads.

When it comes to being present in the lives of our children, the limitations and obstacles are enormous. Some of you are divorced, while others have jobs that involve long commutes or constant travel.

In any event, you may find it tough to be there every evening for dinner, to attend your children's activities, or to tuck them in at bedtime—all of which are important to the healthy development of your children.

My Experience as a Traveling Parent

I'm often in that situation during the football season. In fact, I coached football seasons in Indianapolis while my family lived in Florida, so I was just like a lot of the parents who travel several nights a week or live apart from their families.

I missed more time with my children than I would like.

I was committed to making it to my son's high school football games, and my family came up to Indianapolis for Colts' games, but otherwise, I didn't see much of them during the Colts' season.

I watched my father do this for years. He took a job teaching at Delta College in Saginaw, Michigan, but we wanted to finish high school in Jackson. He decided he would sacrifice to make it work, and I'm finding out now what a big sacrifice that was.

Through it all, however, my dad remained actively involved in the household and was unified with my mom in raising us. He also spent a lot of time driving to events that were important to us. And before that, he had spent a lot of time with us, letting us know we were his number one priority. That's what made it easier for us to accept the times that he wasn't there.

Making Sacrifices to Maximize Family Time

Every year since 1983, when our first daughter, Tiara, was born, I have tried to figure out, given the time demands on NFL coaches, how I could maximize my family time. When I went to work for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989, the work hours increased even more.

One of the things I decided to give up was golf. Although I enjoyed playing, I was never very good at it, and we had such limited time off in Kansas City that I couldn't justify not being home when I got the chance. I've never really picked it back up, and I'm sure if I did, my game wouldn't be pretty anyway. Maybe, however, if one of our younger children takes up the game and needs a playing partner or a caddy—we'll just have to see.

When I lived full-time in Tampa, I always drove my children to school. In fact, I've even driven the neighbor children to school. Some of these trips, of course, came after a late road game, and other parents would look at me strangely, wordlessly saying, "Didn't I see you in San Diego last night on TV?"

But I have always believed that as my children's father and Lauren's husband, I was responsible for driving the children to school. So, whether we won or lost, regardless of how tired I was—or even if I had been fired the day before—I drove the carpool. (And yes, I did drive the morning after I was fired!)

Time Is Precious. Spend it Wisely.

I became aware of how much my job impacted our kids when they stopped wanting to go out with me in public, even to the mall, the movies or to dinner. They got tired of the fact that we were always stopping to talk to people who recognized me.

I realized then that my job already takes a lot of family time away from them—either because I have to be gone so much or because we are often interrupted when we are out in public. Because our time is so limited, it's even more precious—to them and to me.

I will continue to evaluate the time I spend with my family every year as long as we have children under our roof, I'm certain—for their sakes and mine.

Taken from UNCOMMON, by Tony Dungy. Copyright © 2009, 2011. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Article courtesy of Parenting Teens magazine.

Continue Reading: The Single Greatest Thing a Dad Can Do for His Kids

 

Tony Dungy is the first African-American head coach to win a Super Bowl, leading the Indianapolis Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI. He coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001 and is the New York Times bestselling author of Quiet Strength, Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance, and The Mentor Leader. He blogs regularly at allprodad.com.