I'll have to start with a confession - when my daughter was born, I felt clueless and totally overwhelmed. I will never forget holding her for the first time and looking into her little face, and realising that I had no idea what a good dad was like... So I figured her mom would know how to raise her - I would let her take the lead. I threw myself into my work. I worked 10-12 hours a day, often getting home after she had gone to bed. I often even worked weekends. I spent very little time with my daughter for the first three years of her life.
Than we lost her mom. I was left with this little three year old girl who depended on me 100%... I was terrified. But after the first few weeks, when I came up for air, I decided that I was going to be a great dad, even if it was the last thing I did. So I started reading, I started learning. I started making lists of things to do, things not to do. I changed my job for one with less pressure, and less pay. I cut back where I could to still make ends meet. Three years and 5 months later, I think I'm doing pretty well.
Like you, I'm using my own father for an anti-role model.
He used to make rules up on the fly, and they changed almost every day. It was impossible to know what to do (or not do) to stay out of trouble. I make a point of making sure my daughter knows exactly what is expected of her. I NEVER punish her unless I'm sure she knew what she was doing was wrong. In fact, I hardly ever punish her. I prefer using other techniques that doesn't involve punishment and reward.
I never felt loved as a child. I never felt like I had someone I could depend on. I never miss a chance to make sure my daughter knows I love her. She does know. We have this little game we play where we try to out-do each other with how much we love each other - I love you a truck full! I love you a train full! I love you and entire city full!
I hope she knows she can never win that game. No one can ever love another human being more than I love her...
I never had nice clothes or toys. It was more important to buy booze than toys. My daughter has more toys than she can play with!
My parents never played with us of gave us any real attention. I try my best to spend at least 30min every single day giving my daughter my undivided attention. And that is excluding "story time".
The hardest part for me is to not overdo things. I was left to my own devices far too young. My brothers and I basically raised ourselves. So I'm paranoid about not neglecting to anything for her that a parent should do. Simple things like letter her make herself a sandwich is sometimes hard for me. It reminds me of when I had to learn to fetch myself some bread when my mother forgot to give us food. But I'm learning. I'm working on finding that balance between neglect and allowing her to become independent. It's not easy, but I'm working at it.
I even allowed her to go to a sleep over a while ago. It was the scariest thing I'd ever done. I didn't sleep at all that night, and for weeks after, I watched her like a hawk for the smallest sign that something had happened - but nothing. But I'm glad I did it. She shouldn't miss out on normal-childhood things because of my paranoia.
I know I'm over-protective in many ways, and extremely paranoid. I've even caught myself checking her underwear for blood
But the most important thing is that she knows I love her. She is a confident, outgoing little girl and she knows there is nothing I wouldn't do for her...
I'm a better dad than I ever thought I could be. And like you, that is my proudest achievement