06/14/2013 02:27 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

8 Ways to Be a Better Dad

My dad taught me more than any other person in my life, even though we lived in separate families, spent more time apart than together, had plenty of arguments and didn't really find peace until I was an adult.

I realize I was one of the lucky ones. Some say the only lesson they learned from their fathers was "not to be a deadbeat."

So, how can you be a dad better than your own? I pondered the question, thinking of my own dad and all the dads I know, and here's what I came up with:

1. Learn from the mistakes you didn't have to make

I've learned from friends, relatives, colleagues and strangers -- and even my own dad -- that not all teachers lead by example. You can save a lot of heartache by learning from another person's mistakes, because, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "you can't live long enough to make them all yourself."

2. Never forget what it feels like to have a "deadbeat dad"

If you were a kid with a "deadbeat dad," you know the heartache of seeing those incomprehensibly happy families picnicking in the park -- the children taking turns to get a piggy back from dad or succumb to a tickling fight. As a teenager, you yearned for an "uncool" father who enforced curfew, gave you driving lessons in a parking lot and told "dad jokes" to your friends.

The pain doesn't fade with adulthood either. You wish you had a father to "make proud" -- one of the "good guys" who'd earned your respect and defined what it meant to be successful. You want a dad to watch the game with, to share jokes with, to give you advice on your 401K, to help you move house or pick a new career, to tell you that you're doing okay.

And then you're a parent yourself, with a legacy of broken promises behind you. But you've also got all the hopes and dreams of a disappointed son or daughter -- and empathy is a powerful guide. Be the kind of dad you wished your own would be.

3. Remember that not all "dads" are blood relatives or men

All those single mothers out there? They can be good "dads" too, and so can friends and mentors. If you pin all your hopes to one person -- like your dad -- you'll be disappointed and bitter. Look for all the "dads" who have guided your life and you'll find more support.

4. Collect role models

Learning is a lifelong process and cannot be done alone.

5. Don't try too hard

Just be yourself, and be humble about it -- even if your kids claim to think you're "weird" or "different from other dads." They'll love you for it, be inspired, and will remember those habits, pet peeves and characteristics for the rest of their lives.

6. Teach your kids how to love -- by loving their mother

Even if you're not in love with the mother of your children, you don't get along or you intensely "dislike" each other, be loving, and don't host shouting matches in the kitchen. The kids are watching and learning.

7. Make quality time with your children a top priority

"Quality time" does not mean watching television or bringing your work into the living room. It does not mean gifts or taking the kids along with you and your friends. Look your children in the eye. Be quiet with them. Give them space and time to show you who they are, and learn who you are too.

8. Don't expect or force your kids to be like you

Your child is not your clone and there's no such thing as the "perfect dad." One day they'll have to think about how to be a better dad than you. Just try to make sure it's a really hard task.

How are you trying to be a better dad than your own? Share your experience and advice in the comments.

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