15 Parenting Tips From History’s Greatest Fathers
From William Shakespeare to Benjamin Franklin, these famous fathers may span generations and nationalities, but they seem to agree on a few basic parenting principles: educate your children, love them, be a role model, and continue to expand your thinking as your children do the same. In honor of Father’s Day, here are 15 parenting tips from the ages.
1. Lock Up Your Liquor Cabinet // Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)
In Montaigne’s 1575 Essays, the French Renaissance philosopher expresses his opinions regarding child rearing (and a multitude of other subjects). Among them was that parents should live modestly so they can give their children the majority of their resources, that a father should be honest with his children about his feelings, and that he shouldn’t try to be a frightening figure. Montaigne also wrote, “I think it more decent and wholesome for children to drink no wine till after 16 or 18 years of age.” Of course, modern parents will want to keep their children away from the liquor cabinet for even longer, since the legal drinking age today is 21.
2. It Gets Better // Miguel de Cervantes (c. 1547-1616)
When Cervantes wrote “time ripens all things; no man is born wise,” in part two of Don Quixote, he wasn’t talking specifically about fatherhood, but it certainly applies. You don’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you’re thrown into that situation, and from there, you spend the rest of your life learning.
3. Be Able to Pick Your Child Out of a Lineup // William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
During Act Two, Scene Two of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Launcelot says to his blind father, Gobbo, “It is a wise father that knows his own child,” before revealing himself as said son. Shakespeare himself had three children with his wife Anne Hathaway.
4. Encourage Intellectual and Physical Growth // Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Franklin was self-taught after the age of 10 and eventually earned honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and St. Andrews in Scotland. But Franklin wasn’t just book smart: Sometime during the course of his learning, he picked up a darn good parenting philosophy. Franklin, who had three children with his wife Deborah Read, once said, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”
5. Give Them Liberty // John Adams (1735-1826)
The second president of the United States and father of six children believed his brood should uphold the same patriotic values he fought for. “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom,” he once said.
6. Parent for the Kids You Want // Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
Goethe’s professional philosophizing wound its way into his personal life as well. The German playwright, poet, and father of seven children said on the topic, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
7. A Symbolic Father Can Be Just as Loving // Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)
Father of four and influential German playwright and philosopher Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller said, “It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.”
8. Instill a Love of Reading // Horace Mann (1796-1859)
Since he was an education reformer, proponent of public schools, and the “father of the common school,” it’s no surprise that Mann urged fathers to instill a love of knowledge in their children from an early age. He said, “A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books, if he has the means to buy them.”
9. Don’t Ignore Your Friends Just Because You Have Kids Now // Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
While Victor Hugo’s works (most notably Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) favor themes of despair and alienation, the author and father of five was generous and inclusive when it came to love. Hugo said, “Son, brother, father, lover, friend. There is room in the heart for all the affections, as there is room in heaven for all the stars.”
10. Be the Fun Dad and the Serious Dad // Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
As the leader of the Transcendentalist movement, Emerson advocated self-reliance, individuality, and the goodness of people and nature. When it came to parenting his four children, he advised, “Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.”
11. Set a Good Example // John S.C. Abbott (1805-1877)
American historian and minister John Stevens Cabot Abbott’s books (The Child at Home, Or, The Principles Of Filial Duty and The Mother at Home, Or the Principles of Maternal Duty) are full of moral and religious teachings. He wrote, “We must be what we wish our children to be. They will form their characters from ours.”
12. Provide for Your Kids // John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
John Stuart Mill was a British moral and political theorist, philosopher, economist, and politician. In On Liberty, he wrote ,“It still remains unrecognized, that to bring a child into existence without a fair prospect of being able, not only to provide food for its body, but instruction and training for its mind, is a moral crime, both against the unfortunate offspring and against society.” Mill also argued that if the government enables self-sustainability and personal freedom, individuals as well as the society as a whole will be better off.
13. Get it Right the First Time // Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
Douglass spent his early years as a slave in Maryland before escaping at the age of 20, going on to become an active abolitionist and human rights advocate. The cruelty of his childhood no doubt influenced his views toward parenting. (He had five children.) “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” he wrote.
14. Go Outside // John Muir (1838-1914)
Muir was a naturalist, conservationist, and a father of two. In Muir’s book A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, he wrote, “Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights.”
15. Keep Them Smiling // Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Wilde said, “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.” During the early years of his marriage to Constance Lloyd, the couple collaborated on publishing children’s books and had two sons of their own.