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Follow my lead

blocks in front of two cups

Wooden blocks sit in front of a coffee cup and a child’s cup at Vogelweh Military Complex, Germany, Apr. 27, 2021. The blocks represent the foundational knowledge a child learns as part of their upbringing. The cups represent the growth a child experiences by modeling the behavior of their parents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew J. Alvarado)

toddler plays with blocks

A toddler plays with wooden blocks at Vogelweh Military Complex, Germany, Apr. 27, 2021. There is a common association of building blocks with the foundational knowledge a child learns from their parents during adolescence. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew J. Alvarado)

RAMSTEIN AIR FORCE BASE, Germany --

“What type of parent do I want to be?” is the question many of us face when approaching the prospect of parenthood. I believe the answer to this question is found in the answer to another question: “What kind of child am I hoping to raise?”

My wife and I have two sons who are five years old and 11 months old. As we raise our children, I’ve come to realize that when we better ourselves, they also reap the benefits of our reflection and growth.

Many facets of being a military parent mirror the values we hold as a society. Professionally and socially, there is a framework built by the community which defines how to conduct ourselves successfully. I want my two sons to embrace open communication, use discernment when the best decision isn’t always obvious, practice empathy, forgive quickly, infuse their life with love and maintain the unshakeable mindset of a life-long student who never plateaus in their endeavors. Together, these values form a foundation upon which I hope to see their personalities and strengths grow.

Maintaining open communication is key for any functional relationship. As my wife and I try to model through action what open and honest communication should look like, our kids will also observe and understand. We realize we’ll be the first influence on how they respect others, their loved ones and themselves. Striving to remain approachable and honest with each other provides our children with a model for how to help others gravitate towards their own character. I hope my children enrich their communication with others through trustworthiness and affability.

Understanding when to challenge ideas, seek compromise or follow direction is a balancing act based on discernment. When I make a decision on anything, I communicate to my children how discernment is making the best choice when there are multiple solutions to a problem. Couples obviously have more leeway in this regard, but children also gain a strong understanding of how to communicate with others through our example. I hope my children learn when to choose what is “great” over what is “good enough” through discernment.

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what someone is feeling and what they are enduring based on their perspective of life’s joys and trials. I believe this is one of the hallmarks of great leadership. As a parent with authority, I can lovingly guide my child towards recognizing how to process the world around them in a healthy way. For example, if my oldest son is struggling in school, we can acknowledge an area of weakness and build on it. However, meeting him where he is emotionally and explaining how we can imagine what he is going through builds trust between us. I hope my children use empathy to connect with the experiences of those around them.

Forgiveness is the ability to move on from a hurt or offense for the purpose of growth, healing and progress in life. As my wife and I practice forgiveness with each other, we communicate to our sons how holding onto a grudge or the idea of revenge is ultimately a distraction or hindrance to living life purposefully. As we forgive ourselves or others alone, we promote healing and a healthy acceptance of what we’ve experienced. As we forgive others in-person or through other means of communication, we allow vulnerability to strengthen our resolve to push forward in life. I hope my children forgive quickly, while learning from the mistakes of others and themselves.

Love selflessly uses the qualities previously mentioned through words and action when serving those around us. Being a military parent is one of the most difficult, yet most rewarding jobs in the world. For this reason, I use love to help me navigate parenthood’s many obstacles and difficulties. I find love to be the purest motivator and fortifier for everything I can do as a husband, father, Airman, and friend. I hope my children use love to propel them forward in the service of others, while simultaneously taking care of themselves.

Becoming a life-long student of wisdom and knowledge means accepting that we’ll never “arrive.” I refuse to plateau in the mastery of my craft, education and hobbies because there is always something to improve. I teach my sons how to embrace learning as an endless pursuit by positively reinforcing what they know with praise and reward. However, as a parent, I try to present them with new challenges and information they didn’t previously have access to. I hope my children always strive to better themselves by learning more about any given endeavor.

There’s only so much I can do to help my children live a life of meaning and purpose. I’ve come to accept that the biggest responsibility I have to my children is setting a good example to follow and allowing unconditional love to be their refuge for the years to come. As I live out these principles, I live out the best version of parenthood I could ever gift to them ... because they are a gift to me.