A couple of nights ago, my 3-year-old son, Jack, interrupted our normal prayers with words that nearly stopped my heart with Joy.
“Thank you God for my friend Daddy… Amen.”
It was the greatest compliment that I’d ever been paid.
I was speechless. A moment later he started singing the Barney song as if nothing had happened. To him it was perfectly obvious that we were friends. But for me, it was a very enormous revelation.
Later, after the kisses had been kissed and the lights turned out, I sat in front of the TV with the volume turned down. In the blue glow of an infomercial, I let a few tears of happiness fall into my lap. I replayed his words over and over. I also thought about what it means to be a friend.
Friends look out for each other. You can count on your friends to be there when you need them. Friends are people you can tell your secrets to. When you’re down, they cheer you up. When you’re up they celebrate with you. Friends play together, and talk about anything and everything. A real friend is the last to judge, and the first to defend you when times get tough. A friend is a lot of things.
But at three, I was sure that Jack had a simpler definition of a friend.
The next morning, at breakfast, I asked him, “What’s a friend?”.
“Uh… I don’t know.” He replied.
It’s a big question for a 3-year-old to digest, so I let it sink in. In true Jack form, he answered me about 20 minutes later, totally out of the blue. He was trying get his shirt over his head, but had gotten stuck in a sort of textile half-nelson. As I carefully untangled this little human knot he said, “Friends help me”.
Could it be that the word “friend” whose definition would have taken me pages to try to poetically elucidate had been abridged to 3 words by a child of as many years?
I believe so. I also believe that friendship is a two-way street. That means Jack is my friend. He certainly fits his own definition. He helps me in more ways than I could reasonably describe, but for the most part, he’s helped me become a better person… a better father. He’s redefined love.
Rather than weaken my effectiveness, I believe that being a friend to my children makes me a more credible and important parent. As a father, I am constantly on the lookout for ways that I can help my kids without ruling over them like a king. I believe that the only way to raise a loving decent human being, is by being one yourself. Above all, I believe that the path to becoming a good father, begins and ends with being a good friend.
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