3 Essentials Every Man Must Know to Be an All Pro Dad

This guest post is by Mark Merrill He is president of Family First, host of the nationally-syndicated “Family Minute” radio program, and author of the newly released book, All Pro Dad: Seven Essentials to be a Hero to Your Kids. You can follow Mark on Twitter.

It’s football season! From high school to college to the NFL, men are on the gridiron seeking to win and ultimately become champions. They’re digging, clawing, and giving it all they’ve got to come out on top.

Father Giving His Daughter a Piggyback Ride - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kupicoo , Image #17129354

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kupicoo

It should be no different with fatherhood. We need men out there who are in the game—the most important game of their life—working hard and striving toward the goal to be the best they can be, to be All Pro Dads.Former head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and four-time Super Bowl winner Chuck Noll said, “Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”

In other words, you don’t have to do spectacular highlight-reel type of things to be a Super Bowl winner. There are fundamentals that it takes to play the game. Executing those fundamentals day in and day out, that’s how you become great. That’s how you win. That’s how you become a champion.

Just as knowing and executing the fundamentals of football are key to a player becoming an All-Pro, knowing and executing the fundamentals of fatherhood are key to a father becoming an All Pro Dad. And the two most important fundamentals for a father are love and leadership.

Simply put, love is all about giving—giving selflessly and sacrificially to our wives, our kids and others no matter what it costs us personally. And your capacity to love will determine your capacity to lead.

In other words, when your spouse and children know you want what’s best for them, they’ll follow you. They’ll say to themselves: “You’ve loved me. You’ve earned the right to lead me. I’ll follow you.”

Here are three essentials you need to know to love and, in turn, lead your kids well.

  1. Love your wife. For those who are married, actively loving your wife will radically strengthen your marriage and will also be incredibly beneficial to your children. The number one source of security for kids is when they know that their dad loves their mother and is steadfastly committed to her for life.

    When times get tough, remember that your spouse is not the enemy. You are on the same team.

    When my wife, Susan, and I have disagreements over things like disciplining our children or finances, she’ll often say to me, “Remember, I’m on your team.”

    Marriage is the ultimate team sport. You were designed to complete each other, not compete with each other.

  2. Spend quantity time with your kids. How you spend your time is a reflection of what’s important to you. If you value your kids, you’ll want to be with them.

    As my five kids were growing up, I tried to be intentional about spending one-on-one time with each of them doing things that they wanted to do. I often put those times on my calendar as a very important appointments.

    Remember, it’s not just about quality time; it’s about quantity time.

  3. Be a good role model. One of the best things you can do as a dad is to strive to live a model life that is worthy for your children to follow. Consistency, humility, and courage are all trademarks of the model dad.

    Integrity should also be at the top of the list. Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking. Dark secrets and addictions can cause a breach in that integrity and keep you from growing as a leader in your home.

    So, if you really want to love and lead your kids well, be a worthy model of integrity for them to follow.

These three essentials are easier said than done. My wife has thrown the flag on me when I’ve been harsh with my kids. My kids have pointed out my impatience on more than one occasion.

So what do I do? I admit my mistake, humbly ask them to forgive me and then I get back in the game and strive toward the goal of being the best dad I can be.

Tony Dungy, former NFL coach and now NBC sports commentator, recently shared with me that, “being an All-Pro takes hard work, dedication, and executing the fundamentals on the field with sheer determination.” Tony says those same principles apply to being an All Pro Dad.

An All Pro Dad not only knows the fundamentals—love and leadership—but also does whatever it takes to execute them with fierce resolve. It’s my hope that you will strive, by God’s amazing grace, toward the all-important goal of being an All Pro Dad.

Question: What are some other essentials every man needs to know to be an All Pro Dad? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/danharding Daniel Harding

    Thanks Mark, I’ve been thinking about becoming a ‘pro dad’  this week! All three of your challenges have been huge for me. While prioritising quantity time seems the most difficult, I think the longer I’m a dad the more I am aware of my character (‘role model’) flaws. 

    Cheers for giving some focus to this young dad!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Hey Daniel, we’re all on this journey together. I’m striving to be an All Pro Dad just like you. Quantity time is a tough one. Time is one of our greatest assets. But investing that time with our kids with produce a tremendous ROI…return on investment. 

  • Jeremiah Zeiset

    To be a good dad requires so much wisdom. Wisdom to know when to spend extra time with my wife and baby, wisdom to know when I need to work late, and wisdom to know when to sit down and have a serious talk about stuff. 

    Isn’t this about learning to be a good dad? It seems I need to learn so much, and it all comes with experience – and lots of prayer. I have not yet been able to apply a certain principle that fixes it all…

    • Jim Martin

      Jeremiah, you are so right.  Children are blessed when their fathers desire and pursue godly wisdom.  For me, this has meant intentionally surrounding myself with those whose lives and decisions reflect wisdom.

      • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

        And Jim, I like that word “intentionally.”

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Jeremiah, you are so right that wisdom is key. There is no way I can be a better dad without always consulting with the Author of Wisdom.

  • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

    Love enough to discipline and follow-through. Good fathers only step in when their children  go astray. Great fathers set the standard (rules of engagement), engage their children on the consequences of breaking the standards, and enforce disciplinary measures when the standards are breached. I refer to this as “tough love”. However, your children will only embrace discipline effectively if you have a strong and meaningful relationship with them. And this can only be built upon the 3 essentials you outline here: Love your wife; Spend quality time; and, Be a good role model.

    These are some of the essentials I explore in my new book “Home Bound: 5 steps to inspire leadership at home” soon to be published by WestBow Press.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Kimunya, congrats on your new book. Establishing boundaries when disciplining our kids is very important. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

        My pleasure!

      • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

        My pleasure!

      • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

        My pleasure!

    • http://www.leadingyourlife.net/ Jason Pulley

      Kimunya, I like your comparison of good dad and great dad. One thing I have learned is being their for them through the positive times as well. That is a challenge for most fathers because expectations are “expected”. I once believed this myself, but when I practiced otherwise my relationship with my son changed. They must know we recognize the good things they do. This means being more involved.

      • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

         Presence, I love presence! And especially when you compliment them, even for the littlest of things. It fuels them up emotionally and prepares them for the cruel world out there…

      • http://twitter.com/KimunyaMugo Kimunya Mugo

         Presence, I love presence! And especially when you compliment them, even for the littlest of things. It fuels them up emotionally and prepares them for the cruel world out there…

  • Brian Kult

    #1 is Jesus Christ. Know Him, love Him, follow Him, Continually teach your children of Him.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Brian, you are right on target. Above all else, we must look to our perfect Father to learn how to be good dads.

  • http://www.jackiebledsoe.com/ jbledsoejr

    Great post! I will add prepare them to leave us. To prepare them.to face the competition outside of our home and covering.

    The best football coaches do not have to say a whole lot. As an Indy resident, I had the pleasure of watching Tony Dungy closely during his years as Colts head coach.

    His teams were always prepared to compete and it was not necessary for him to be out there barking instructions constantly. He prepared them to compete without his constant presence.

    So much so that the year after he left the Bucs & the Colts, they went to the Super Bowl. That had a lot to do w/Coach Dungy.

    • Jim Martin

      Excellent point!  If we are serious about preparing them to leave, it really does impact what we do as parents.  I will want to instill them with the confidence and the tools that they can make it in life without me (as their dad) doing everything for them.

      • http://www.jackiebledsoe.com/ jbledsoejr

        Excellent strategy Jim!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Jbledsojr, Coach Dungy said he never needed to talk much during the game because he had said what he needed to in practice and training his players. The same could apply to fatherhood. Thanks for your comments.

      • http://www.jackiebledsoe.com/ jbledsoejr

        Yes,that is true. The same does apply to fatherhood. Thanks for this post Mark!

        • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

          My pleasure, J…

  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    From a Christian perspective, I think it’s essential that an all-pro dad have a living, active faith.  I’m so thankful that my Dad let in this way for me.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Jon, so true….and, as I said in the All Pro Dad book. If we don’t know and have a personal relationship with the Master, then we miss everything.

  • Jackie Hobbins

    I reckon these apply just as well to being a Pro Mom!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      You got that right, Jackie!

  • Joseph Michael

    This is great Mark! Such important stuff here. Thanks for being transparent and talking about making mistakes too. This is equally important to let our kids see how we handle a situation when we blow it. One day they will be in our shoes and mess up from time to time as we all do. It will be helpful for them to remember how their own parents modeled honesty and asking for forgiveness. 

    On a side note, we must be on the same page because I just published a post this morning about ways to make our children feel special and some of these points were included. 

    Off to the little one’s soccer game now :-) 

    Have a great day!

    • Jim Martin

      Joseph, you are right regarding letting our children see how we handle our own mistakes and failures.  Instead of ignoring them, minimizing them, or blowing them out of proportion, they can see (hopefully) that admit our blunders and handle them in ways that reflect maturity instead of immaturity.

      • Joseph Michael


    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Joseph, what is the address for your post? Thanks for chiming in.

  • Royce Phillips

    What an important and timely post.  Here in Murfreesboro, TN last night (9/14/12), Angust Buchan (Faith Like Potatoes) spoke at our church to over 4,000 men.  His words were very clear – Revival begins at home!  We, as men and fathers, need to own our responsibilities as Husbands and Dad.  Our faith, trust, and belief in God’s Word is our foundation.  Thanks for a wonderful post.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      You are so welcome, Royce. Intentional leadership at home is so important. I work hard everyday to be the best leader I can be at home…but it’s tough work.

  • http://twitter.com/beachbumchix beach bum chix

    what a great post … shared it all around … thanks for writing it!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      I’m honored, Beach Bum.

  • Neil

    Hi Mark – Great post! I believe you are on the mark. I think that the best combination of quality and quantity time is the key. Have a great weekend with your family.

  • Billy Taylor

    These are great suggestions. I might add that to be an “all-pro” dad, you have to customize your relationship for each child. What works for one, will not work for the other. Be a part of their world, don’t force them into your world. I have raised 3 kids. One a dancer, one a musician , and one an athlete. Help them find who they are, their passion, their love, and then join them. Every child is different, in especially in their love language. Find it, then relate to them through it.

    • Jim Martin

      Billy, this is a great point you make regarding customizing one’s relationship with each child.  This is true of small children, as well as adult children.  We set one another up for frustration when we forget this.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Billy, I really like your thought about “customizing” your relationship with each child. In the second chapter of All Pro Dad I talk about how to do that and how to validate their identity and gifts.

  • Mike

    Know the names of your kids’ friends.

  • Dave Colburn

    I like the last one in the list, though I admit it’s the hardest. Showing humility to your family when you screw up makes a big impact. It’s probably the toughest thing for me to do, but when I can admit I made a mistake to my wife and kids, and then ask forgiveness, it points to my own human frailty and God’s awesomeness. I will continue to make mistakes, but hopefully God will continue to grant me the grace to fess up when I do, and turn to Him to set me straight. 

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Dave, that is awesome that you have the humility and courage to do that. Way to go!

  • Christophermwalden

    For me I must first remind myself that being a daddy is a gift and that my model is not do much my earthly father but rather my father in heaven.

    • Jim Martin

      Christopher, this is very good.  You are right.  The model is the Father himself, the one an only perfect father. 

      • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

        You got that right!

  • Cliff

    It’s okay to fail.  How we learn and grow from the failure is part of the key to being an Allpro dad.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Cliff, so true. I share that in the All Pro Dad  book. I’ve made mistakes and failed in different ways as a father, but I’m giving it all I’ve got and am persevering.

  • Ken

    Michael, You exemplify all of these essentials. Thank you for reminding us of them.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks so much, Ken. You do too.

      • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

        Michael, it’s been an honor to be able to share my thoughts about the essentials to be an All Pro Dad. I’m so grateful. 

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Ken, I’ve got to tell you that I have used your book, Secrets of Dynamic Communication for many years and it helped me tremendously. It is absolutely the best book about how to give a speech that I’ve ever read and I’m glad I finally am taking the time to tell you that!

      • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

        Have you been to the SCORRE Conference, Mark? It used to be called The Dynamic Communicator’s Workshop. Ken and I are partners and have been having a blast teaching people this stuff. Thanks.

        • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

          Hey Michael, I haven’t been to the SCORRE Conference yet but can tell you that I’ve used the SCORRE concept from Ken’s book for years and it works! Sounds like the conference is a winner too!

          • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

            It really is. I use it in my speaking, of course, but also in writing everything, from books to blog posts to emails.

          • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

            Good idea…I didn’t think about applying it in writing too! Appreciate you, Michael. 

  • Bill Prettyman

    Mark, great post! I loved your advice about loving your wife as the #1 source of security for your kids. We all must remember that they are watching us…always and learning through our actions.

    • http://www.FamilyMinute.com/ Mark Merrill

      Thanks for your kind words, Bill. Loving our wives is a top priority and I’m still learning how!

  • http://juliesunne.com/ Julie Sunne

    Super advice!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Kind of you, Julie.

  • http://www.adsmith.org/ A. D. Smith

    Love It!  As the father of a nine month-old, this really hits home. Especially number one! Now as an adult, I truly admire my father’s discipline. Balancing a wife, children, job, and pastoring is not easy but my father made it look effortless.  And now I’m beginning to understand that because my father honored his covenant with his wife and children, God honored his covenant with my father and his ministry.  Still a newlywed, I’m praying everyday for God to show me how to be a better husband and father.  Thanks Mark and Michael!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Wow! A.D. thanks for your powerful yet humble testimony.  Your father sounds like an incredible man of God. May God bless you as a father as you’ve been blessed by yours and by your heavenly Father. 

  • http://www.dongallagherllc.com/ Don Gallagher

    Thanks for this insightful post. I would add that something I’ve learned is that quality time requires us to engage our kids in quality conversations. Quality conversations are the building blocks for meaningful relationships.

    A huge help to me in this regard has been a wonderful book titled, Ten Powerful Things To Say To Your Kids, by Paul Axtell.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Don, appreciate you sharing your insight and this resource. Having meaningful conversations with our kids is sometimes a challenge, but very important. 

  • http://www.leadingyourlife.net/ Jason Pulley

    Fantastic post. Thanks for the reminder! We all too often find it easy to forget those things most important. And yes, it takes a lot of dedication and hardwork because it is “hard”. We are only human and naturally tend to allow other influences take us away from that. A bit of self actualization is vital to ensure we understand ourselves and know where we want to go.

    Family is quite important, the backbone to who you are because those are the people you chose to share your life with. Show it!

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Hey Jason…those are very kind words. Appreciate your thoughts and insight. And thanks for reading and commenting.

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  • Talia

    Time is such an important factor in a father-child relationship. Despite being all grown-up, my dad still makes time for me when I want to talk, he reads my work, prayers for me and I know he is part of my team in life. I also have fond memories of doing the regular bread and market shopping with him and my younger brother, when we were younger. Although these were a regular occurrence, it is a childhood memory I recall with fondness. That and gardening with him and my younger brother, and getting paid to collect leaves from our yard! :)

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Talia, what a wonderful relationship with your dad…even now that you are all grown-up. You are blessed beyond measure.

  • http://www.dwaynes--world.blogspot.com Dwayne Morris

    GREAT post! I always need to be challenged as a dad. Your opening about football reminded me of Bobby Bentley. He turned over a high school football program in SC and was asked to take a head coaching job in college (also in SC.) Again, he created a successful program. But he walked away from it all because of the things you mention here. If you’ll allow me, I have a video of his story here: http://dwaynes–world.blogspot.com/2009/08/its-football-season.html (feel free to remove the link…just a better to hear it from him.)

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Hey Dwayne, I’m always challenged and always need to be challenged as a dad too. Appreciate you sharing this video. 

  • ChadMillerBlog

    Mark, I’ve read “All Prod Dad” twice since it’s release. I’ve shared its importance with a countless number of fathers. Thank you for your insight and encouragement.
    Admitting your mistakes is huge. Most important is to ensure that you are genuine and authentic with your words.
    I’ve found that it’s been rewarding and healthy to admit my mistakes to my children and wife. It shows a certain level of vulnerability and transparency. I’ve learned my family doesn’t look at me as less of a hero when I confess my missteps, but more of a Super Hero as they know it’s okay to fail, so long as we fail forward and learn from our mistakes.
    Thanks again for all you do, Mark. 

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Chad, that’s awesome that you’ve read it twice! That’s such an encouragement to me. I hope the truths in the book will impact the lives of many dads. Being authentic…being the real deal, is so important. I like your words, “fail forward.”  Please keep in touch and do let me know how we can serve you on your journey.

  • Jonathan

    I like much of what you say here, but I would add that it is sometimes important for a husband to follow his wife. Marriage is about mutuality in submission. Yes, fathers must be willing to lead, but they do so in tandem with their wives. So, when someone asks me who the leader of the family is, I look at my wife and say, “We are.”  That, I believe, is the true biblical model.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Jonathan, as I say in the All Pro Dad book, a husband and wife are designed to complete each other, not compete with each other. They are on the same team. While a husband has an important leadership and authoritative role in the home, that certainly does not mean that a wife is not a leader in many ways as well.  That’s for sharing your thoughts, Jonathan.

      • Jonathan

         Thank you for your reply. We do complete each other, but not in a hierarchical way. Gender does not dictate strength and weakness as much as individual personality does. I know many egalitarian couples, and none of them compete with each other the way you describe. My wife and I are different with different strengths, so sometimes she takes the lead and sometimes I do. My role is no more authoritative than hers. That is the true biblical ideal.

        I know you disagree, but I feel very strongly that gender needs to occupy much less of these conversations. Your very good observations would hold true for mothers as well as fathers.

        Blessings to you, friend.

        • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

          I think you’re right on target that each of us takes the lead as husband and wife at different times and for different things. Thanks again for your thoughts, Jonathan.

  • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

    Appreciate it, Joseph.

  • Mike Manciel

    Great article. Thanks for sharing those inspiring thoughts.  Keep up the good work. Looking forward to following your work. 

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Kind of you to say, Mike. Please stay in touch.

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    Thanks Mark!  Great post and true to my heart, particularly about mastering the fundamentals.

    After what I would have to call an “amatuer effort” this past weekend at times, I will be very intentional this week about more All-Pro behavior.  I, too, have 5 kids…all 8 and under…and patience can be so hard to come by.  Love Mommy first and always and forever, check.  Spend quantity time…hmm, okay perhaps…though maybe a little too focused on stuff and schedules and housework.  Model behavior…fumble!  Praying for more patience.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Hey Travis, thanks for your transparency. I’ve fumbled the ball quite a few times  too!  Like you, I seem to always struggle with the patience thing. I’m still praying and persevering and pushing toward the goal to be the best dad I can be.  

  • Don Shifrin

    Thanks Mark. Parenting is indeed a time-based function. But do not forget that while modeling is essential, mentoring ( active teaching) should also happen, whether intentional or, just as often,  inadvertent.
    I have maintained that children are human videocorders: they note everything . It is up to parents ( make that Dads) to find and mentor patiently  the many teachable moments that occur daily.

    • http://www.MarkMerrill.com/ Mark Merrill

      Don, active teaching and those teachable moments are so important. I’m grateful for your thoughts!

  • http://www.facebook.com/budgetmindedorganics Laura Black Caprioni

    Wonderful advice for any parent.  Thanks for sharing.

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  • http://twitter.com/wcparenting workingclassparent

    I must say being a man of your word. There was a time a mans word was his bond. Not so much anymore. If your word is no good neither is your name. Although it may sound cold, schedule strategic and specific times/events with your kids and stay true to the schedule like you would a corporate meeting. It may be said kids are resilient, however that should not be an excuse to claim “they’ll understand”. Remember you are your son’s first hero and your daughters first love.

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  • Qing Yu

    Great article! I think as a good role model you also need to be a good role model for both your own kids and your stepkids as well. That would make a great role model dad!

  • Qing Yu

    Need your opinions, what is the difference between a good role model and self centered husband  in the house? what about a husband married his wife for many years  never spend one minute with her, but all his time with the woman he sleeps with and the others have very close relationships with?