It’s easy to know what a dad is supposed to say. Work hard. Be a good sport. Do your best. Mind your manners. Say please and thank you. Be polite. Respect others. Keep your hands to yourself. These are the basic rules of parenting that every parent knows and tries to get their kids to follow.
There are a million others—cliches or truisms—that we believe are essential to growing up. That’s why we repeat them generation after generation. What we think less about is whether we’re actually following them ourselves. In his interview with Tim Ferriss, the billionaire Charles Koch explained that the main lesson he learned from his father’s very hands-on parenting was that you can’t lecture your kids on anything you don’t live up to. You can’t tell your kids to respect others and then talk rudely to a customer service representative on the phone. You can’t tell them that it’s important to find your passion and follow it, and meanwhile work their entire childhood at job that pays well but makes you miserable. You can’t tell them that family is important if your actions don’t show it.
It’s not that you have to be perfect, but you do have to live up to your own standards—or actively show them what the struggle to get there looks like. Otherwise, you ought to shut your mouth. Because what you’re showing your kids is the worst lesson of all: You’re showing them that the principles we claim to hold dear as a society are meaningless, that all you have to do is pay lip service to them, that no one has to actually do anything about them.
Don’t lecture your kids. Live the way you want them to live. Live up to your standards, and they’ll do the same.