"I'm not here to be your friend."

Jun 17, 2011 at 9:34 a.m. ET

Growing up, I cannot tell you how many times I heard, "I'm not here to be your friend, I'm here to be your father!" Anytime I stepped over a boundary, made an inappropriate request, talked back or otherwise disobeyed, my dad was right there to smack me with a dose of parental reality.

mom and teen daughter

At the time, nothing frustrated me more than to hear these words pour out of his mouth. "What's the problem with being my friend?" I thought. "Life would be so much easier for both of us." To his credit, my dad stuck to that mantra throughout my childhood, even in the face of my pleas, rationalizations and well-planned arguments. A friend, he was not. I never doubted his love for me, but that love was always tempered with a healthy dose of respect and a dash of fear (of consequences).

Had I not been a bit fearful of being grounded or otherwise "facing the music," what would have prevented me from stepping out of line, testing my boundaries or defying authority? Probably nothing. I attribute the fact that I am a well-adjusted, stable adult without a criminal record to my parents' decision to be parents first and foremost.

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Not the coolest dad

As the years have passed, I've come to understand the wisdom in drawing a harsh line between friendship and parenting. I can only imagine the trouble I would have found had my dad been open to my suggestions on how to parent. He was never part of the gang, the coolest dad or a push-over in any respect. He presented the law and the subsequent consequences once those laws were broken -- as they often were.

Of course, at the time, I envied my friends who could do whatever they wanted or had fathers who would bail them out of tough situations, make excuses or cover for them when asked. On the contrary, my dad never missed an opportunity to teach me about taking responsibility for my actions.

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Today, I understand that the boundaries I rebelled against are the same boundaries that kept me safe, taught me about respect, expectations and responsibility. As I navigate life as a parent of three kids ages six and under, I'm tempted to throw out the "I'm not here to be your friend" statement, but I'm holding off until they're a little bit older. Still, I definitely operate from that perspective.

My dad's firm stance on the differences between friendship and parenting were difficult for me to understand when I was a child, but his wisdom definitely resonates with me now. And, I'm happy to say he actually is my friend today.

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