Q: I've been married for two years, and my wife is expecting our first child. I'm excited but terrified. My relationship with my father was terrible, and I'm afraid I'll be a lousy dad just like he was.
Jim: I completely understand. I used to worry that I'd be a poor father because my own dad was such a poor role model. He was an alcoholic. In his drunken stupors, he would threaten my mother and scare the daylights out of me. My dad walked out on us when I was just 5. For years, he floated in and out of my life, but was never a positive influence and didn't model for me what good fathering looked like. He mostly broke his promises and disappointed me again and again.
Research does seem to indicate that most of us parent the way we were parented. But we can break the chains of dysfunction. Learning to be a good dad hasn't always been easy for me, and it may be tough for you, too. But I was not "destined" to follow in my father's footsteps as a parent to my two boys -- and you're not locked in to how your dad failed, either.
The most important lesson I've learned is that being a good man and a loving father isn't about "fate." It's about choices.
To this day, I still parent out of the void my dad left behind, but I do my best to turn those negatives into positives. I make it a priority to connect with my sons in areas where my own father dropped the ball so terribly. I show my kids unconditional love and assure them that I'll never leave them, no matter what happens.
I hope you want to be a different father than you had growing up. Just remember that new choices aren't always easy, but they are possible. Your kids are counting on you.
We have plenty of resources available to help men be good dads at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: My wife often vents about problems with her co-workers, friends and family members. I can usually see a reasonable solution, but she never seems to want to hear it. What's wrong?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Here's the deal -- as guys, we like to fix things. That's a useful skill when it comes to cars and broken lamps, but not so much when it's your wife.
It's a pretty common scenario in a lot of relationships. Even now, as a trained expert with more than 25 years of marriage behind me, I still forget and do this to my wife, Erin. She'll start to share her feelings, and I jump in with the perfect solution before she's stopped talking. That's when she'll cross her arms and look right through me -- and I realize I made a big mistake.
This issue gets to the core of who we really are as men and women. Guys try to take the mystery out of things, especially relationships. We reduce things to their basic parts and solve what's wrong. We're quick to identify both the problem and the solution, and we want to just get it fixed and move on with the least hassle possible.
However, women generally want to be heard and connected to, not "solved." It's part of their relational wiring. The "process of processing" is what helps most women work through things.
So remember this the next time your wife opens up: She's probably not asking you to crack a code or solve her problem. She just wants you to listen and offer your love, understanding and support.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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