Looking Back

What I Wish My Dad Did More When I Was Little

There’s always more to do.

Waist up shot of proud single white father pointing answers on the notebook to little son. They are ...
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As a parent, you’ll never get everything right. There are wins and losses and at the end you hope the scoreboard is in your favor. Part of notching that win is hearing from other dads about, say, their biggest regrets or hearing from adults about what they wish their dads did more when they were growing up. We recently asked the latter question to a dozen men, each of whom shared something worth considering. One mentioned how he wanted his father to let him help more; another simply wishes that his dad had played more with him. While all had complimentary things to say about their fathers, what they shared highlights something important to remember: Kids want to be involved in your world, and have you involved in theirs. Here’s what these men shared.

1. ​​I Wish My Dad Hugged Me More

“My dad was always very good at doing stuff with us kids. He would come to my soccer games, take me and my sister on multi-day hikes, and plan cool holidays with us. Looking back I have lots of fun memories with my dad. But, I’ve realized that he rarely expressed what he was feeling when we were enjoying those good times. I am sure he loved me and felt proud of me, but he almost never actually said it or gave me a hug. Instead, it was assumed. Especially in my teenage years — when I was often admittedly distant — I think a simple hug and a few affectionate words would have gone further than we both suspected.” — James, 30, New Zealand

2. I Wish My Father Would Have Let Me Help More

“My dad was/is a car guy. Growing up, he was always in the garage, and I was always keeping my distance. I wanted so badly to help him fix, polish, and repair everything. But he was always nervous that I would get hurt. Or, more likely, I might break something. That’s how it felt, anyway. As a father, I can appreciate not wanting to put my kids in harm’s way. But I also know there isn’t a ton of danger to turning a torque wrench. I don’t resent him for any of it — riding around in the cars was still super fun. But I feel like I could’ve been a good helper beyond just holding the flashlight.” — Tom, 40, Indiana

3. I Wish My Dad Would’ve Played More Sports With Me

“Even as a little kid, I think I was more athletic than my dad. That’s what my mom tells me, anyway. We used to play catch and kick here and there — football and baseball, mainly. But it was never for very long, and it was always by ourselves. I think my father was embarrassed to try anything athletic in front of the other dads. His brothers (my uncles) used to give him a hard time about not being very sporty, and I think he really bought into it. I’m grateful for the time we did spend together, but I wish he would’ve known that I didn’t care whether or not he was an all star. I just wanted to play sports with my dad.” — Leon, 40, Brazil

4. I Wish My Dad Would’ve Cried More In Front Of Me

“I’ve never seen my father cry. Not once. He was never discouraging when I would cry as a little kid, but it was weird hearing him say it was okay but never seeing him do it. As I got older, I began having issues with my mental health. So, whenever I would find myself down and prone to crying, I would subconsciously feel guilty about it. That’s not his fault, but I have no doubt it comes from the lack of that visual. It sounds weird, but I’d love to be able to remember my dad — a strong, capable, wonderful man — showing his emotions during those times I needed to remind myself it was okay to do so.” — Aron, 37, Australia

5. I Wish My Dad Would’ve Played With Me More

“My dad was a workaholic. He still is, even though he’s retired. There’s always some project or job he needs to keep himself busy. I remember being bored a lot as a kid. I didn’t have a great imagination, I watched a lot of TV, and played a lot of video games. When my dad was around, he wasn’t really present. It seemed like he was always thinking about his job, or stuff to be done around the house. I never really had those moments of playing pretend with my dad. Or camping out in the backyard. Things my friends and their dads seemed to do a lot, which I envied. At least reflecting on that part of my childhood has helped me try to give my kids all of my attention so they don’t grow up with the same regret.” - Paul, 43, Michigan

6. I Wish My Dad Helped Me More With My Homework

“Everyone in my family helped me with my homework except my dad. He was always too busy. Or he told me to figure it out myself. To his credit, I learned a lot that way. And I learned to be self-sufficient. So I guess his style worked. But I have so many fond memories of my mom and older sister helping me figure things out, and making me feel smart, that I wish he was a part of. He’s a brilliant guy in just about every subject, and I know his parents didn’t help him figure any of it out. I guess he was just sticking with what worked for him.” - Michael, 45, Texas

7. I Wish My Dad Took More Of An Interest In My Hobbies

“Growing up I loved LEGOs, Ninja Turtles, karate, Transformers, drawing… Like, I had a ton of hobbies. I feel like I cast a pretty wide net. My mom drove me to and from karate. My brother and I played with toys and action figures all the time. And while my dad would drop in every now and then, I never felt like we connected over one of my ‘passions’. I did my best to follow college football and basketball, which he loved, as a way to bridge the gap. I still think he would’ve made a great Megatron or Master Shredder.” - Jim, 41, New York

8. I Wish My Dad Taught Me How To Do More Little Things

“Shaving. Changing a tire. Resetting a circuit breaker. I learned how to do all of those things on my own. And, make no mistake, my father is incredible. He’s been a provider, a friend, and a role model for everyone in our family. But, somehow, we never shared any of those traditional father/son teachable moments. I learned how to shave from a friend. I figured out how to change a tire by myself. My wife knew more about the circuit breaker in our first house than I did. All things considered, I’m very blessed in terms of the memories I have of my dad and growing up. But those little things would’ve been nice to share.” — Al, 39, Connecticut

9. I Wish My Dad Did More To Get To Know My Friends

“I had so many friends whose dads would make a point to be involved when I would go over to their houses. They’d play with us. They’d watch TV with us. They’d be silly with us. My dad was nice and cordial, but he usually just sat in the den while I had friends over. He never said it, but sometimes I felt like we were invading his space. I don’t know if he felt awkward, or if he didn’t like my friends, but it always made me feel kind of guilty for having people over. I’ve never brought it up, because I don’t want him to feel bad. And it hasn’t really affected me in a negative way, I don’t think. My friends never said anything about it, either. We had fun playing together. I just wonder if it would’ve been more fun if dad played, too.” — Max, 40, Delaware

10. I Wish My Dad Complimented Me More Often

“My dad didn’t put me down, but he didn’t go out of his way to build me up either. I would come home with a good report card, for example, and he would smile and tell me to do it again the next quarter. It was like he was proud, but wanted me to do better. All the time. I’ve grown up with real confidence issues, and I think it’s because I’m still in that mindset and thinking I can always do better. I don’t wish he would’ve blown smoke, but I do wish he knew how much his words of praise - or lack thereof - would have affected me. I looked up to him. I still do. His approval meant the world to me as a kid.” — Jack, 50, Toronto

11. I Wish My Dad Gave Himself More Credit

“My dad is the most humble man I know, and I remember seeing that in action a lot growing up. He would go out of his way to do something — throw a surprise party, remodel a room, or make sure we didn’t miss practice — and refuse to take credit for it. He would always just say, ‘Here to help.’ Or, ‘No big deal.’ But, they were big deals. To me, to my sister, and to our mom. I’ve found myself going overboard with humility, too. Sometimes it’s just a genuine reflex, but sometimes I think, ‘This is what Dad would say’ and I follow suit. He gave us such a wonderful childhood, and he’s an amazing grandfather. I wish I knew that he knew how much it all meant to us, especially growing up.” — Edward, 42, London

12. I Wish My Dad Read Me More Bedtime Stories

“My mom usually read me bedtime stories. Or my brother. I can remember staying up with them and feeling so happy as they read our favorite stories. There were so many, too. Dr. Seuss. The Berenstain Bears. Fairy tales. I remember them all. My dad was always working when I went to bed, and I can only remember one time when he read to me. The book was called The Muffin Muncher. It was about a dragon eating muffins in a castle. And I loved it. I’ll always have that memory, but I definitely wish there were more like it.” — Clint, 38, Colorado