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Interview with Carey Casey on fatherhood

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Carey Casey has been a tireless advocate for dads, children and families for decades, including sitting on the White House Task Force on Fatherhood and Healthy Families under Barak Obama. Carey was also the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a non-profit organisation established in 1990 to encourage and equip men in their role as fathers and father-figures.

Whenever you ask Carey Casey what makes a dad a great one, he will first give you a very important qualification: “There is no perfect dad. So, just relax”, he tells me with a big smile on his face.

What a relief, hey. Whilst we don’t need to be perfect, we can and should aim for excellence in the home. That’s important. For our children’s wellbeing and for the health of society generally. So, my questions to Carey today were around our key roles and responsibilities as dad’s, centred around our children’s needs. Here’s what he had to say:

Carey, you not only played American Football at a high level but you have also served as a chaplain for the Summer Olympic Games, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Kansa City Chiefs. What have sports taught you about being a good dad?

I have been really blessed to see first-hand what high performing sports teams do and let me tell you this: the champions are the teams and the individuals who practice and perform their fundamentals better and longer than anyone else. A lot happens in sports that cannot be controlled, but you can control how to do the basics, and that makes all the difference. The same goes for fathering.

Championship Fathering is mostly about time and doing the basics. You start doing the fundamentals, and you keep doing them. There are three fundamentals and they are ‘loving’, ‘coaching’ and ‘modelling’.

If we keep practicing and performing these fundamentals, then wow! But we have to keep practicing and doing these fundamentals because the requirements will change over time. For example, loving, coaching and modelling a two-year-old is very different to loving, coaching and modelling for a teenager!

You deal with the fundamentals in greater detail in your amazing book, ‘Championship Fathering’ but could you talk me through the first of them – ‘loving’?

If we men are honest, we will say that we have more questions than answers when it comes to love. And that’s ok because whether we are ‘loving’ as a husband or a father, it can be tough to figure out how to love properly.

Jesus’s great commandment (Mark 12:29-31) is the key to grasping the ‘loving’ part of the Championship Fathering fundamentals. Let me sum up the principle this way Christopher: Love isn’t nearly as much as about how you feel as it is about what you do for the other person and how you make them him or her feel. That’s an important thing to grasp as a husband and a father because you set the tone for the culture in your household.

A friend of mine said loving is a responsible and deliberate beneficial action on behalf of another, and you can’t go far wrong with that – in thought, action, decision. I’ll give you an example. If your kid is at a pre-school age, pick up your phone when you are at work and call them to say, ‘I miss you’, What you are doing there is letting them know that, even when you aren’t there with them physically, you are still thinking about them. It builds a strong foundation for them.

I just want to stop on the ‘loving’ fundamental for a second as it is so important. In your book you have a whole chapter on loving the child’s mother. Why is that so important to our children?

Let me say it this way Christopher. I always wanted to be married and to have children. I married my bride Melanie when I was 21. I have been privileged and honoured to be married for 45 years. Where did the time go!

My mother used to say, “Boy, if you didn’t marry Melanie, you wouldn’t be anything!”. I agree with her! And that’s definitely true of parenting – there are no championship fathers without the mother.

So, if we truly want to love our kids, we start by loving their mother. And many men start off strongly in this regard. They ask their partner to marry them because they loved them. They vowed to love them in our wedding ceremony. And rightly so, because as a husband, one of my number one jobs is to love my wife. But we can’t stop there. We need to love intentionally and consistently, for the rest of our lives.

That’s really important. Our research shows that there is an overwhelming need in children to see their father love their mother and vice-versa. So, can I give all the dads reading a challenge? Tonight, I want you to go home, walk through the door plant a big kiss on your bride in front of your kids.

Now, expect to hear, ‘Ohhhh Dad, nooooo. What are you doing?’ but don’t let that intimidate you. Your kids need to see that you have a genuine passion and deep love in your marriage. The evidence of this unbreakable bond between you both will be a wall of security around your kids, and that’s wonderful.

Amazing, thanks Carey. Your next fundamental is ‘coaching’. What is coaching, and how can dads apply it to their kids?

Do you know Christopher, I played under a lot of coaches in my time. All of them had a different personality and style, and they left an impression on me. But I can now see that they were all assistant coaches to Pop, working under his supervision. He was the one coaching me through life, often interpreting how what my coach said in a sporting context, applied to life.

Coaching isn’t preaching. It does include discipline and correction of course, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about sharing from our own experiences and practicing the principles. It’s also about taking into account each child’s unique gifts, challenges, interests and more. Remember in part one I spoke about my journeys with Dad in the car – those were great coaching moments!

Now, once again, coaching looks different at every stage of your kid’s life. At pre-school, you will need to bend down and get to their level and your coaching will be more directive. When your son or daughter is a teenager, your coaching style will be more interactive and conversational. For example, I used to take my kids for a walk in the park and we would talk about life.

Coaching is an art form, and it can make a big difference in your kid’s life. As is the case in American Football, a good coach works with his players so that when they are in the game situation, and the coach is on the side line, those players can make good decisions under pressure without him.

Thanks Carey. Your final fundamental is ‘modelling’. What do you mean by that?

Our kids are watching us and taking cues from us even before they can tell us what they see. What we do and say in front of them can shape their lives, and so the question you have to answer as a dad is: ‘What kind of model will I be?’

Now, that’s an important question because it will impact your son or daughter in a big way. For example, the things you model to your daughter will help her decide who she marries one day. If you are a good man, there’s a high chance she will judge other men by the standards you set.

I should warn you. You never know what your kids might imitate about you. Sometimes it’s pretty funny! My pop was a blessing but he wasn’t perfect. When I was a teenager, there were times I questioned his fashion sense. He used to wear his pants hitched up to his belly button. He looked like El Nerdo! used to say to him, “Pop, it ain’t working. You gotta sag those pants a little bit.” He would just smile and go about his business.

I’m here to tell you, the shoes I wear and the way I dress today are just like Pop. Now I am El Nerdo! But joking aside, it is important to understand our kids tendency to imitate us. Model well.

This interview was first published by Sorted Men's Magazine. It is Part 2 of a 3 part interview.

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