Every company on the planet tries to develop a “brand.” This brand speaks volumes about the company. We all know what Microsoft or Google do just by the mention of their name. Sometimes it doesn’t even take a spoken word, merely a logo—Apple’s apple and the McDonald’s arches are some of the more famous.
Other companies make their reputation, longevity, or integrity part of their brand (Nordstrom’s customer service policy comes to mind). Companies spend billions (maybe trillions) of dollars every year trying to distinguish themselves from their competitors and establish a brand name recognition.
Each of us as individuals (and as fathers) has our own personal brand as well. Your brand is what you are known for. It is the qualities that come to mind when people think of you.
Your brand precedes you into any situation, meeting, or circumstance. It is how you deal with life’s struggles. Even people who do not know you personally know a little about you merely by your brand and reputation. If we are intentional about our brand, we can create one that speaks volumes to our children and to future generations. If we are not intentional, we can send all sorts of negative or even destructive messages to those who look up to us.
People want to be something, and your children are no different. They want to be associated with something honorable and bigger than themselves—something others admire. The best way to make your family an admirable entity is to develop a brand that they can be proud to be affiliated with. Too often most of us go through life reacting to whatever gets thrown at us. This is an area that as fathers we should be proactive in developing a strategy for.
A code to live by
Part of developing our brand is determining who we are, what things we stand for, and then some rituals and traditions we can use to reinforce and instill that brand in our children (much like companies use advertising). Nearly all great men and fathers throughout history have had a code they lived by. This code was generally focused on honor, but included other ways of living that dictated how that man responded to life and the challenges it threw at him.
In my books I have written about honor codes of men and cultures throughout history. For instance, Theodore Roosevelt had a very rigid code he lived by that was passed down from his father. He was known for his Olympian work ethic and strong self-discipline. Abraham Lincoln was known for the perseverance that helped him overcome so many obstacles in his life. And Robert E. Lee was known by all as having such a powerful code of honor, nobility, and integrity that even his enemies admired and respected him.
Developing rituals and traditions is extremely important for the health and well-being of your family, as well as the development of your brand. Create a family culture that incorporates all members as being important and significant. Research shows that kids who feel like important, contributing members of a family are much more resistant to peer pressure, cults, and outside influences than kids who don’t. Kids who lack that family connection are more apt to engage in sex, drugs, and gang activities at younger ages.
If you want to have a close-knit, fun-loving family, you need to be intentional about creating a positive family culture. A culture in this sense is a group of people (a family) who have common goals and who think, feel, and act in ways that work together to achieve those goals.
Your family will have a culture of its own—either by design or default. It will show up in the way your family solves problems, works together, and relates to one another.
For a family whose culture is allowed to develop by default, the results are usually mediocre. Parents who do not think through which values they want to transmit to their children and how to pass them along often end up disappointed in the results.
Developing a positive family culture takes effort and time; it doesn’t just happen overnight. A family culture is predicated upon three items: values, norms, and rituals/traditions.
Values are the cornerstone of your family. They are positive character traits that you and your family believe are foundational in how you live life. My family’s guiding values include things like honesty, hard work, perseverance, and trust. These values were shaped by our family histories, our faith, and our education.
Your values, like all families, will be different. Consider which values you believe to be most important and start working with your wife to instill them in your family.
Norms are rules (spoken or unspoken) about how a family behaves. They are standards that a family uses to relate to each other and to the world. The family I grew up in believed that pettiness, arguing, and distrust were acceptable norms. My parents operated under a “do what I say, not what I do” mentality, and we didn’t tell outsiders about what happened in our home.In case you are wondering—no, it’s not a healthy way to raise and nurture a family.
Rituals and traditions are behaviors and routines that provide a family with a sense of purpose. They can be very simple but need to be intentional. Our rituals included dinner together as a family every night. We had minor traditions on holidays, such as watching certain movies together every year. Today our grown children still insist on watching those movies at holiday time. We also had a tradition every year on New Year’s Eve of sharing our goals for the coming year. We would discuss our goals from the past year and how we rated ourselves in accomplishing them or why we didn’t.
If you grew up in a home that did not have traditions or had unhealthy ones, take some time with your wife and think about what traditions you’d like to start as a family. It’s never too late to start. Make sure those traditions correlate with the values you hold to be core to your family. Those rituals will be passed down for generations of your lineage, and they are a great source of joy with your children and grandchildren. They will become the trademark for which your family is known.
Adapted by permission from 10 Things Great Dads Do, copyright © 2015 by Rick Johnson. Published by Revell.
Listen to Rick Johnson recall the alcoholic home he was raised in, the mistakes he made early on in his marriage, and how his parenting changed for the better once he understood the meaning of grace and forgiveness on FamilyLife Today®. And order Rick’s book, 10 Things Great Dads Do.