By: Tim Hansel
During the summers, our family lives in a little trailer at our base camp in the Sierra Nevada mountain range where we conduct our ministry called Summit Expedition. It was mid-morning. I was sitting at the table sipping my second cup of coffee when I overheard Joshua, who was then five, talking with his eight-year-old brother, Zachary. Seeing a picture of Jesus that we had on the trailer wall, he asked a simple and profound question: “Zac, is that what Jesus looks like?”
After a slight hesitation, Zac responded abruptly: “No. He’s dead silly.”
But then he got a rather sheepish look on his face, especially as he looked over at us.
“Well, no Josh. He’s not exactly dead.”
By now, Joshua was justifiably confused, so he asked for a clarification. “Well, is He or isn’t He?”
At this, Zac paused reflectively and then continued as only an eight-year-old could: “Well, you see, Josh, He died about two thousand years ago . . . I think it was in 1941. They crucified Him, you see–so that we could be free. He died for our sins. Do you understand?”
Pam and I were amazed at his midget theology, although we’re still not sure where he got the date of 1941 . Then after another pause, Zac continued: “But then, you see, He rose again, Josh. So, He’s not really dead. That’s what Easter means. He’s alive and He’s here.”
Joshua, by now, wasn’t really sure if he understood but he nodded anyway and then returned to his original question. “Well, then, Zac, how do we know what He looks like?”
At this point, Zac wasn’t sure what to do. There was a long pause as he looked at Pam and me. I could see the wheels were turning; he was trying to think of a way to get off the hook. Finally, he said quickly, “Let’s pray.”
I bowed my head along with Pam and had mixed feelings of amusement and amazement. Zac had found the perfect escape hatch: a prayer. But it turned out I was wrong. His prayer was genuine.
We all found ourselves talking to our heavenly Father. I was deeply touched. But the most memorable line was yet to come. After Zac said, “Amen,” he lifted his head quietly. He looked around at all of us and then looked squarely at Joshua.
“Josh, we can know what Jesus looks like.”
“How, Zac?” his little brother asked with great excitement.
“That’s why God made families, Josh,” answered Zac simply.
Never have I heard a more profound reason for the value of the family. In his innocence, Zachary had touched upon one of the most important reasons God made families: so that we can continue to discover at the deepest possible level “what He looks like” and who He really is.
FATHERING: A SACRED AND DIFFICULT PRIVILEGE
The Apostle Paul has nicely described the task of long obedience: “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction” (Ephesians 6:4 TEV). I look into that verse of Scripture and see a tremendous challenge. A father is a man who struggles with what often seems an impossible task. He does not want to exasperate, frustrate, or discourage his kids. At the same time, he wants to train and instruct them. Sometimes, at least for me, it doesn’t all go according to the latest handbook on “successful Christian parenting.”
It has been said that even God, who is the perfect Father, has children who go astray. A father is a man who agonizes over what he could have done differently and weeps when his children go astray, but who still trusts and hopes that maybe, like the prodigal son, they will return home.
Then, too a father is a man who is always learning how to love. He knows that his love must grow and must change because his children change. A father knows that everything is important. He knows that nothing is permanent. Each moment counts but no moment counts too much. A father knows how precious time is–not “quality time” but just time–in its fullness and essence. A father is one who realizes the importance of being there to watch his son do his first dive off the high board. A father knows the tenderness of having his daughter sit on his lap with her arms around his neck. Then it seems only a few moments later when her arms are around someone else at an altar and she is pledging herself to a new life in which he must play a different–and separate–part.
FATHERING TAKES HONESTY
Above all else, a father is a man who is honest enough to realize that he has to
be more than “just a good man.”
The Psalmist David, for example, was a very good man–in fact, “a man after God’s heart” (see Acts 13:22)–but he struggled deeply in his role as a father. Likewise, Eli the priest was a godly man, but the Scriptures remind us that “the sons of Eli were worthless . . .” ( 1 Samuel 2:12 NAS). We dare not underestimate the complexity of the task before us. A father is a man who believes that there is a God who gave him his children as a gift and who loves them even more than he does. A Christian father does his best, all the while trusting the Father of all fathers to work His perfect plan in all their lives.
We can seriously underestimate the significance of the home. As Swindoll says, the home is the bottom line. Just this morning I was stunned again at the overwhelming importance of the home and the overwhelming importance of my role as a parent. In response I wrote the following “fact sheet” primarily to myself–facts that must be faced honestly, whether I like them or not. They may be appropriate for you as well.
FACT SHEET FOR EVERY DAD
Fact 1: I’m a dad. Even on the mornings when I don’t feel like it, even when I know I blew it, even when I think I’d rather be doing something else the central fact of my existence is that I am a husband and a father. There are responsibilities, joys and sorrows that come with the territory.
Fact 2: The home is the single most important influence of my family. I can delegate a lot of my responsibilities at work, but I cannot delegate my hopes for my family. The primary values, attitudes, skills and competencies that my children will grow up with will be learned (or not learned) in my home.
Fact 3: Because of its inherent difficulty and importance, fathering is the most dignified role I will ever play. Over the years, the dignity of fathering has been eroded. Television has portrayed fathers as buffoons, absentee workaholics, or permissive nice guys who don’t have a significant value or ethic in their heads. It is no wonder that many men have ceased to devote the kind of time and energy the task of real fathering demands.
Fact 4: Being a parent is one of the greatest sources of joy we can ever know. I really believe that–Murphy’s Law not withstanding. There are the impossible moments, but there are also those moments when fathering is just plain fun.
Fact 5: We all can improve. There are some basic and vital ingredients to good parenting which are essential. We can learn what these are and use them. Parenting is not some esoteric art form that can be understood by only a few. With effort, we can all become much better.
Fact 6: Everyone is unique. Our children are unique and so are we. As we continue to learn from each other, we must accept our uniqueness and discover creative ways to understand and respect one another.
Fact 7: It is difficult to be a good parent. There are no magic potions or formulas. One of the great myths in our society is that we can be parents without real investment of time and energy. The great truth is that there is no substitute for investment of time and effort. If we accept this truth, we are free to transcend the problem. Once we have genuinely realized that being a quality father or mother is difficult, then the problem no longer matters. We can get on with what we have to do.
ONE THING GOD DIDN’T CREATE
One of the finest bits of encouragement I ever received came while preparing for a Summit course. I stopped in a rustic cafe in California’s Death Valley. As I sat drinking coffee, Gino, the cook, then in his mid eighties, entertained me with story after story of his adventures as an RAF pilot in the Battle for Britain during World War II, as well as many tales of travel around the world.
As he finished each yarn, Gino would say, “these are true American stories, sonny.”
Actually, most of the stories hadn’t happened in America, but I didn’t quibble. I would gaze into Gino’s eighty-year-old eyes, which had the sparkle and enthusiasm of a six-year-old, and laugh with delighted fascination.
As I prepared to leave, I said, “Wish I could stay and hear more, Gino, but I have to go. We’ve got over fifty students with us and we’re about to start this course on desert survival. I appreciate talking with you.”
As Gino rang up my bill, he said, “One last thing, sonny. Did you know God created everything except one thing? You know what that one thing is?”
I paused and tried to be tactful. “Gino, I’m no theologian, but there’s a rumor out that God created everything.”
With calm assurance Gino replied, “Nope.” And then those bright eyes twinkled as he said, “God never got around to creating a substitute for experience. Go give `em experience, sonny. Give those kids as much as they can handle. That’s what life is all about.”
I’ve often thought about that conversation with Gino in the little cafe in Death Valley. He was right about experience. Oh, I know we can debate with him as to what life is all about, but there is little doubt that experience is crucial. My encounter with Gino is a continual reminder of life’s way of providing paradox. I spend a great deal of my time trying to give young people–particularly those sixteen to twenty-five-the kind of experience that will equip them for life’s challenges. But as a father, with two boys of my own, I keep seeing my own need for more experience in an art that few ever master.
AND HOW DOES ONE GET EXPERIENCE?
It takes time to be a good father. It takes effort–trying, failing, and trying again. Any parent can appreciate the old story about the young vice-president who came in to see the crusty old top man, who was retiring. The young man–who was being groomed to take over–asked the wily veteran his secret of success.
The president replied, “Young man, two words: good decisions!”
“Thank you very much, sir. But how does one make good decision?” the young vice-president wanted to know.
“One word, young man: experience!”
“Yes sir, but how does one get experience?” “Two words, young man: bad decisions!”
That well-known old story catches the dilemma we parents face. The trouble with being a father (or a mother) is that we have no experience and there is no time to get any. All of a sudden our children are there and we are parents. The race is on and every lap brings a new challenge with a different crisis. And it’s a long race. It goes on and on, day after day, year after year. We get tired, discouraged, short of temper. There are few parents who would not confess to having those days when they’d like to at least send the kids somewhere with a one-way ticket. Parenting is like trying to solve a puzzle when you’re not sure you have all the pieces. Parents have to keep remembering that any puzzle worth working takes time and massive doses of patience.
THE MYTH OF THE SUPER DAD
It was just a little after 5:00 p.m. I was trying to make my weary way home after a very long day. Interstate 10 is the wrong place to be at 5:00 p.m. on most days. They say this freeway extends all the way to Florida, and on this particular occasion I think it was backed up clear from Miami.
L.A.-Lung abuse, I thought.
For a change of pace I decided to start reading bumper stickers and license plate holders. Some were cute, others were clever, and a few were obscene. One I really liked said: HAVE YOU HUGGED YOUR KID TODAY? No, I hadn’t but I intended to. I couldn’t wait to get home. I knew that the boys would attack me as soon as I stepped in the door, and that we would have our usual “world championship wrestling match.” I was looking forward to it.
I changed lanes, more for variety in bumper sticker reading than any hope for advancement. I pulled up a little closer to the car in front of me and noticed that it’s license plate holder said: SUPER DAD.
But the longer I drove behind this SUPER DAD license plate, the more unsure I became of what it really meant. Super Dad. Would I want to be one? What an image to live up to. It sounded like another one of those myths of parenting. Super Dad never gets ruffled. Super Dad always has the answers. Super Dad is in control. He directs and orchestrates–and sometimes, I suppose, he dictates with polish and aplomb.
“Super Dad?” I mused as I turned onto the off ramp. “No thanks. I’m just glad to be a dad. What a privilege, what a responsibility. Maybe I could try to be a superb dad–but that’s something different.”
HOME–WHERE SERVANT LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED
For a long time now, I’ve been comparing the myth of the Super Dad with the concept of servant leadership. One of the reasons this book was written is my belief that the principles of servant leadership should be transferred into the home. Where else is leadership more important? Where else is servanthood more needed?
And so, I’ve been trying to learn to be a servant father. Frankly, sometimes it’s tougher than trying to be a Super Dad. It often reminds me of the inspiration for Charles Sheldon’s Christian classic In His Steps. You have probably read the story. One hundred people in a typical church in a little town, that could be yours or mine, decided that for one year they would live by one simple rule. They would preface every attitude and every action with the question: “What would Jesus do in this situation?”
I began asking that simple question of myself”. What would Jesus do in my home, in the situations I face? I’m sure He wants me to be a servant leader, not a Super Dad. And more than anything else, I think He wants me to let Him be who He is in my life and in my household.
If we let Him, Jesus will turn us into servant leaders–servant fathers, if you please–who “rule” with a different kind of love and authority. A servant father realizes that being a dad is a journey and not a race. In a society that is almost suffocated by its fast pace and prepackaged images, sometimes it becomes increasingly difficult to hear God’s voice and respond to His rhythm in our lives-but it is not impossible. More than anything else, a servant father wants to be like Jesus.
And a servant father wants to lead like Jesus. Simply defined, a leader is a man who has followers. We are called to be strong leaders in our homes, where our children are watching us even more carefully than we realize. While the Scripture reference may not be running through their minds, our families are watching us to see if we have come, not to be served, but to serve and give our lives for their benefit (Mark 10:45).
JUST WHAT DOES A SERVANT FATHER DO?
At this point, you might be thinking (and rightly so), All this servant leadership sounds very good and biblical, but just what does a servant father actually do? That’s a fair question and I’m still struggling with it myself. Here are some preliminary conclusions that I’ve come to:
1. A servant father is more concerned with how he “see” than with how he “looks.” In other words, my primary role is not to be the boss and just look good but to be a servant leader who enables and enhances my family to be their best. A servant leader sees things through the eyes of his followers. He is an enabler who helps them make their dreams come true rather than just live out his own dreams and ambitions through his children.
2. A servant father does not say, “Get going,” but instead he says, “Let’s go.” He leads the way by walking, not behind his children with the whip, nor out in front with the banner, but beside them with support.
3. A servant father listens as much as he speaks. He realizes that God gave him two ears and only one mouth, and that’s indicative of something. He doesn’t give orders; he creates plans. He doesn’t hold his children down; he lifts them up. I believe that one of the greatest things I can do for my children is to lift their spirits by simply listening to their feelings and letting them know I understand.
4. A servant father is not a “Mr. Fix It.” Instead of solving all his kids’ problems for them, he works with them to help them learn how to solve their own problems. He realized that it” his children are to learn to be good decision makers, they need to start early by making their own choices. So, he’s willing to take the time necessary to help them learn those skills and attitudes.
5. A servant fathers recognizes that his children are a gift from God. “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord” (see Psalms 127:3). He recognizes them as a treasure and not an obligation, a privilege and not just a duty. How often we hear dads complaining about what a hassle having kids is. These fathers seem to see only the difficulties and problems in parenting. But the servant father works with bold gladness as he realizes that in God’s hidden logic, he is called to lead by serving and serve while leading.
6. The servant father realizes that weakness is the prerequisite of power. Moses knew something about realizing power through admitting weakness. When God gave him the overwhelming assignment to lead His people out of Egypt, he resisted because he thought he wasn’t adequate for the task. “0 Lord, I never have been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10 NIV). But even as Moses declared his weakness, it became the very vehicle of God’s supply of strength and sufficiency.
Throughout Scripture, God is seen using the weak and the foolish to accomplish His purposes. Our very power as servant fathers comes not from our own abilities but from God. It is only when we realize our own weakness that we can truly draw on our resources in the Holy Spirit. And it is then that we discover what it means to be a servant father.
7. A servant father has a sense of humor. He can laugh at himself because he has a humble spirit. He laughs because he has a sane estimate of who he is. He knows he doesn’t have to be Super Dad. He can be himself instead of brittle and rigid. He takes fathering very seriously but he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
8. A servant father can also be led. He is not interested in having his own way but in finding the best way. He’s a man with an open mind who keeps his eyes on his high goals and strives to meet them with every ounce of energy that God has given him. He is not afraid of failure or change.
9. A servant father is a man who prays. Dr. Janles Dobson tells the story of his grandfather who, over a stretch of eleven years, prayed for one hour each day for the salvation of his children and grandchildren. Since then, not only have all his children and grandchildren become Christians but many are also in full-time ministry.
I must confess, I’m not up to one hour a day, but I do wear a little green sticker on my watch to remind me to pray for my family. Dozens of times each day I’m reminded to pray not only for their wholeness in Christ but also for their health, their safety, their dreams, their education, and their joy in living. Above all, that little sticker reminds me to be thankful for the gift of my family.
LOVE NEVER HAS TO SAY “IF” OR “WHEN”
How do we love our kids in real and tangible ways that say, “I really do accept you. I love you, period!” Following are a few ideas you may want to consider, but don’t be limited to my thoughts. Love takes all kinds of shapes and forms. What is important is that you give it shape and form in your family.
1. Use your eyes. Take some time today to stop and see your kids for who they really are. Do you ever realize they are God’s miracles, which He has given to you? People often say to me, “I might believe in miracles if” you could show me one.” And I always reply, “Just come over to my house. I’ve got two of them: Zac and Josh. They eat potato chips and it turns into muscle!”
Another way to use your eyes to love your kids is to take time to look them right in the eye. Look in and see the person deep down inside struggling to get out.
2. Use your heart. Love them for who they really are. Do you enjoy being their dad? Are you really, really glad that they’re your kids? Have you taken time lately to thank God for these wonderful gifts you call your children? Or has life been so busy that you see them only as challenges, as mischiefs, as time eaters, as heavy responsibilities, or as headaches and problems?
If being a dad has become a bit of a drag, take some time to let God rearrange your priorities and touch your heart with gratitude and surprise.
3. Use your ears. It is worth repeating that God gave us two ears and one mouth and that should be indicative of the amount of time we spend listening versus the amount of time we spend speaking to our children. One of the greatest ways that we demonstrate our acceptance of our kids is by listening to them. Nothing lets them know how much we value them as much as remembering what they have said.
4. Use your mouth to speak your acceptance and unconditional love. Despite all the emphasis of late on nonverbal communication, words are still one of the best ways to send a message. If we love our kids, we must tell them so. When was the last time you told your children that you accept them unconditionally, no matter how they do in class, on the athletic field, or in the school orchestra? Try sitting down with your children and asking them if they really understand what you mean when you say you accept them unconditionally, and that means you love them the same whether they do well or poorly. See if they can phrase the idea in their own words. Remember, it is not just the content of a message delivered but the content received that really counts. Encourage your children to give you feedback so that you know you’re getting through.
5. Use your hands to touch your kids with love. Studies have indicated that children can actually grow up thwarted and stunted from the lack of touch. In our home, probably one of the most profound things that I do with my boys is wrestle with them. I heard somewhere that each child needs a bare minimum of eight hugs a day just to stay healthy. A child needs twelve to fifteen hugs, or more, a day if you really want him to blossom. I’m not sure how such statistics were measured, but it does give us a hint as to how much acceptance we can convey through the awesome power of human touch. Our bodies may be one of the finest tools that God has given us for developing genuine intimacy with those around us.
6. Use your feet to convey your acceptance. Do you attend your kids’ ball games? Do you run and Play with them in the backyard? When was the last time you just went for a walk with one of your kids? Do you spend some individual time with each of your kids, each week? Do you pull them aside and give them some focused attention to help them realize that they’re different from their brothers and sisters and that you think that’s okay?
Charlie Shedd, who has probably written as many books on marriage and the family as anyone I know, says that he has done three things for his family that have held it together.
First, he makes sure that he takes his wife out to dinner alone once a week.
Second, he spends fifteen minutes a day talking with his wife. He’s one of those people who really does believe that the best thing he can do for his kids is to love his wife. This is a time to talk about feelings, not about business.
The third thing he does, he says, is to spend some special time each month with each of his kids. He does it by taking each of his kids out to dinner alone once a month, and he indicates that even during those most difficult adolescent years when most kids want to cut off communication, his kids still not only accepted his invitation for dinner but relished it as well.
USE ALL YOUR TOOLS–OFTEN
God has given us some wonderful tools for accepting our kids. He’s given us eyes to see them differently. He’s given us hearts to love them deeply. He’s given us ears to listen carefully to their needs. He’s given us mouths to share our love and acceptance in words. He’s given us hands to hug and touch our kids and let them know in those countless nonverbal ways how much we love them. And finally, He’s given us feet to walk alongside our children on their long journey of growing up.
In a book called the Self in Pilgrimage, Earl Loomis, Jr., tells an amazing story about Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. The emperor, it seems, wanted to conduct a controlled experiment with the young children of slaves in order to figure out what language Adam and Eve spoke in the Garden of Eden. According to his logic, if the children never heard a human voice, then the language they would eventually speak would be the same as that of Adam and Eve. (This is admittedly fairly primitive logic, but then you must remember it was the thirteenth century.)
In order in insure that none of the children would ever hear the sound of a human voice, the wet nurses in charge of the children were given strict orders to maintain complete silence while caring for them. The children were given the best of food, warmth, and the like. But they never heard any spoken words and the implication is that they were also given a minimum of touch or any other kind of communication, for that matter.
In concluding the story, Loomis writes:
It is tremendously difficult for a woman to be silent with a child. Nonetheless, the nurses succeeded. According to the account, not one of them uttered a single word to any of the children. In other words, the experimental conditions were a success. But the children all died.
What a tragic and powerful story. Dad, don’t forget those wonderful tools God gave you. Use all of them often with your kids.
TIPS FOR THE PRACTICAL FATHER
I was teaching a high school psychology course some years ago when one of my students came in amid great frustration and with a pained expression on her face said, “Life is so . . . so . . . daily!”
I have often thought how right she was and still is. Life is very daily for all of us and especially for fathers. To be a dad means to have problems. We are to expect them, to lean into them. To be a dad means to have surprises. To be a dad means to be on a risky, zestful adventure, living tiptoe at the edge of expectation for the next round of God’s serendipities in your home.
Being a father also means being creative, not letting the daily, ordinary schedule get too routine. I want to throw out a great many ideas, suggestions, plans, and thoughts. The suggestions here are not meant to limit you but to provoke some new thinking on your own that will keep your privilege of fathering from becoming boring–or in some cases overwhelming.
For simplicity sake, I’ve decided to give the suggestions alphabetically. We might even call this the “ABCs of Fathering,” except that would somehow indicate that fathering is easy and we know that isn’t the case.
A is for Attention
A very wise man was asked, “What’s the most important quality in life? He said simply, “Attention.” The questioner didn’t understand and so he asked him again, “Well, sir, perhaps I can agree with that, but could you expand it for me?” And the wise man said, “Yes. Attention–attention.”
After a long pause, the inquirer finally asked again, “Sir, could you explain it just a little bit more for me?” To which the wise man said, “0f course: attention–attention–attention.”
It’s a simple story but ever since I heard it my attention level has gone up. Do you pay attention to your kids? When you’re with them are you all there?
B is for Brainstorm
One of the most important steps in problem solving is to brainstorm. When was the last time you sat around with some other fathers you know and brainstormed on the best and worst things you know about fathering?
The rules of brainstorming are simple. Do not judge, and be as creative as possible. List as many ideas as you possibly can. Avoid “shoulds” and “oughts.”
You’d be amazed at how many new and fresh ideas you will come up with over dinner or lunch with friends. Make a phone call this week to one or more friends or dads, inviting them to a time of eating and brainstorming together for the purpose of being better fathers.
C is for Compromise
There are two short words to remember with regard to compromise. The first word is don’t–that is, don’t compromise when it comes to being a dad. Don’t compromise with the kind of commitments that you have to make to be with your children. And don’t compromise on rules and standards. Your children will test you and it’s sometimes tempting to let things go because you want to be “a good guy.”
The second word to remember with regard to compromise is do. As your children approach the teenage years, you have to learn to compromise with their needs, schedules, and opinions. You don’t have to give up on your own values, standards, or rules, but you do need to remember that they are growing, becoming individuals in their own right, and they need some flexibility and understanding.
For example, your budding (or full-bloomed) teenager may come up with a conflict in schedule because of something that is going on at school or with a friend. In other cases, your teenager may prefer to do something (a chore, for example) different from the way you would do it. Can you allow your teenager to do it his or her way?
If compromise seems like a paradox, it is, but it is a very real paradox that you must grapple with daily as a dad.
D is for Date Book
Include your family in your date book. Fill your calendar. I know of very few dads who have, in writing, the specific times that they’re going to be with their wives and their children. A strong evidence for a dad who is making the best use of his time with his family is that he’s got a lot of things written on his calendar that include his family.
Another advantage of having it written down in your date book is that it is easier to tell people no. I know so many dads who complain of their time being stolen away by the church and other community responsibilities. The fault is their own. Dot your date book with priorities–including your family members!
E is for Encouragement
Encourage your children at every legitimate opportunity. A friend of mine told me
that no permanent positive change can come from negative input. Although our kids
definitely need our constructive criticism in large doses, they need even more
ample doses of love, affirmation, and encouragement. Asking which is more
important, discipline or encouragement, is like asking which wing of an airplane
is most important.
F is for Fun
Having fun takes creativity. Try different approaches. I read somewhere that a study showed that people who took different routes to work each day stayed more creative than those who kept going the same way. Don’t ever forget the importance of surprise and creativity. Break the routine often. Be willing to be spontaneous and you will definitely have some fun.
G is for Gratitude
If I were limited to only one letter in this Alphabet of Fathering I would take the G for gratitude. I know of no other single practice that can bring more joy and peace than gratitude. Gratitude is a discipline; it’s an art. Like anything else good in life, it takes work, effort, and practice. I know of no other way to bring joy to my family than through the development of a deep sense of appreciation and thankfulness for each member of the family.
H is for Helpers
If there is anything a Christian family should develop together it is the art of helping one another. Let your kids know that they are not only loved but they are needed as well. Without their efforts, the family strength will be impaired and hampered. Help them realize it’s their job as well as yours to make the family go.
Kids need responsibilities to help that are matched to their ages. Even a preschooler can learn how to help pick up toys and empty the garbage. As children get older, their helping responsibilities can grow. Whenever possible, make chores fun. Affirm your children often and hold them to their responsibilities. Help them have a high view of helping. If possible, make a little chart and create a system for giving stars or some sort of recognition for a job well done. (Avoid money and material reward.)
I is for Inventory
Taking inventory is something we do when we want to know where we stand, how far we’ve come, and what we have. Do you know where you stand with your children at this point in their lives? In yours? For example:
1. Measure your degree of closeness with each of your children on a scale of 1 to 10. What specific things could you do to increase this closeness?
2. What personal and professional interests do you have that might be integrated into your child’s growth and development? Have your children ever visited your place of work? Can they explain to their friends what you do for a living?
3. What is the favorite activity you do with each of your children? What do they like to do best with you?
4. What is your favorite time of day with your children and why?
5. How much time did you spend with each of your children last week?
It doesn’t hurt to take inventory like this every two or three months. It may help you change your routine or add something that is needed.
J is for Journal
Keep a journal or notebook on your family. It’s a great place to keep track of some of the wonderful anecdotes that happen in every family. But perhaps the best use of a journal is to help your child develop self-esteem. Record some purposes and goals that you have for your children. Break down those larger purposes into specific goals and activities that you can accomplish within certain time frames.
Map out your hopes for your children and develop a flexible and non-judgmental approach. Be willing to change your plans as you go along, according to your children’s abilities, limitations, and so on. And keep it all recorded in our journal. It will make practical as well as memorable reading further down the line.
K is for Kid Acceptance
What do kids need most from a dad? At the bottom line, more than anything else, they want and need acceptance. Genuine kid acceptance requires your unconditional love. You can find the term unconditional love in a lot of books these days. You don’t find as much of it as you should in family circles. Let’s be honest; it is hard to love anyone “unconditionally.” We have expectations. We have standards. We are human. We do set conditions.
Even though unconditional love may be an ideal that is far above my reach, I reach anyway. I reach because kids of all ages will go wherever they can find acceptance. You see, acceptance is like a magnet. Why do teenagers end up with the wrong crowd? Because the crowd accepts them for who they are. Let your kids know they are unique and accept them as they are. Do everything you can to let your child know that his performance is one thing, but your love never changes.
L is for Long-Distance
Many dads–due to job pressures or family problems and breakups–have to learn how to love their kids long-distance. The finest thing I’ve ever found for practical help with this problem is a little book by George Newman called One Hundred and One Ways to Be a Long-Distance Super-Dad. Newman gives tips on maintaining a close relationship with your children even though you are separated by time and/or distance. If you’re one of those dads who has to be gone a lot, get a copy of this book and put some of the ideas into practice. Your phone and postage bills may go up, but it will be more than worth it.
M is for Mom
Mothers not only play the crucial part in the birth of our children but also in their development. I believe the key to the parenting process is to work closely with your wife to establish a complementary balance of responsibilities. If your kids are blessed to have two parents in the home–which many do not, these days–it is important that the two of you work together creatively to maximize the parenting effect.
N is for No
No is one of the greatest words in the English language, especially for dads. No is very simple and to the point. The problem is that it needs to be applied in the right time and the right place. In the past few decades, no hasn’t been applied enough, and we’re paying the price. When I was growing up no was a word that my brother and I knew was final. I can’t remember a single instance when my parents changed their minds, once they had said no.
O is for Olympics
If you need a family fun night idea, how about developing a backyard or living room Olympics? All it takes is a little bit of creativity, a roll of masking tape, a wristwatch that measures seconds, a yardstick or tape measure, and a few extra things like paper plates, sheets of paper, and felt-tip markers. If you want, prepare make-believe gold, silver and bronze medals to hang around the necks of the winners. It all depends on how fancy you want to be. Your home-style Olympics can include such events as a standing one-foot broad jump, a standing two-foot broad jump, or a discus throw with a paper plate. If you’re in the backyard, use a large rock for a shot put. If you’re in your living room, use a wad of paper. Set up obstacle courses and see who can cover them in the best time.
P is for Plan
I have a little acronym that I often use when I think about my family. It utilizes the letters P-L-A-N.
P means prepare with a passion. I often think about this as I drive home from work. I can’t wait to be with my kids. I want to be mentally prepared and have plenty of enthusiasm when I see them.
L means to live each moment to the fullest (for I know that that moment will never be ours again).
A means to act as if each moment will influence the rest of your child’s life-because it will.
N means that now is the time to begin. Now is the only time have–so I went to jump in and use it to the fullest.
Often I’ll think of these four simple letters while in the car on the way home. As I do this, it helps me slow down, unwind, and refocus. It usually helps me come up with one or two simple things I can do with my family that evening–and that is usually enough.
Q is for Questions
An art that has become almost extinct in our educational system, whether in school or in the family, is that of asking good questions. We have become an answer-oriented society, passively sitting in front of the television set or in front of experts waiting for someone to give us “the answer.” Many times, however, we have forgotten the question!
The art of asking good questions is something I highly recommend to dads who would like to be more creative and effective. I think questions are one of the best ways to get involved with your children, understand who they are, and help them discover some goals and directions for life.
R is for Reminiscing
Instead of TV tonight, invest in an hour after dinner reminiscing about when each family member: 1) had the most fun; 2) felt the most embarrassed; 3) cried the hardest 4) was so tired that _______________; 5) never worked harder; and 6) felt the closest to God.
Close by thanking God for the love, privileges, and protection He has given each family member.
S is for Spelling Out Your Admiration
Spell out your admiration for each person in your family by writing his or her name in an acrostic fashion on a piece of paper and forming words from each letter that describe character qualities of that person. For example, the name Peter might work out this way:
Tape or pin each person’s acrostic to his bedroom door. It’s a nice way of affirming one another in a tangible way.
T is for Tolerant
Be firm and tenacious, but always be tolerant. Yes, Dad, I know it’s true that anything worth doing is worth doing well. But I also want to remember that my kids aren’t robots. They are real, live human beings, and therefore prone to error.
I want my kids to grow up with high standards and good character qualities, but I don’t want them to live in constant fear of failure. Home is the most important place for helping them discover that failure is not the end but only a stepping-stone to success.
U is for Unfinished
I frequently pass a store that has a big sign in the window: UNFINISHED FURNITURE. Each time I see a sign like that I’m reminded of the fact that that is exactly what we are in God’s eyes. And, in some ways, we will always remain so. You may be familiar with the button or sign with the letters PBPGINFWMY. This stands for, “Please Be Patient, God is Not Finished With Me Yet.” Its a great thought to keep in mind, not only for our children but also for ourselves. Have patience. There is no such thing as a finished product when it comes to being a dad–or a child. All of us are always learning. All of us are always growing.
V is for Values
What are the six most important values that you want your children to have for life? Have you ever identified them specifically? If you have never identified those values, how can you know if you are teaching them?
Values just don’t happen. They must be learned and lived. How would you set up a situation to help your children understand honesty? How do you model it in your own home? If your children cannot learn to be honest in little things, they will struggle in learning to be honest in the big things.
W is for Wild Idea
Surprise your youngster just before bedtime tonight with an invitation to sleep out in the backyard with you. Haul out the pads, sleeping bags, pillows, and snacks you’ve prepared, and head on out there. This kind of wild idea will put a little sparkle in your relationship. What you chat about while dozing off may be the freshest and most meaningful conversation you have had in quite a while.
X is for X Factor
The definition I like to use for X Factor is that “unknown quality or power that helps someone succeed or be effective.” What is your X Factor with your children? Maybe you can say you are a good listener. Maybe it is your ability to talk, be amusing, or to be a confident leader. If you can’t think of an X Factor, may I suggest one that applies to everybody? The X Factor that all of us need is prayer. Every father can be a man of prayer. We say it so often that it’d become a cliche’, but there is no truer statement: “As a dad I need to pray for my kids–without ceasing.”
Y is for Yes
A little earlier I talked about why no is one of the best words ever invented for dads. Yes is also a good word, but for different reasons. I may need to learn how to say no to my kids at times, but I need to learn how to say yes to my family. I need to learn how to say, “Yes, I have time for you.” “Yes, I care.” “Yes, I’ll listen long and hard, even though sometimes I don’t understand.” I need to say, “Yes, I’ll pray about that,” and keep my word. I want to be a dad who says yes when my kids say, “Can we talk, Dad?” Or, “Dad, do you still love me even when I don’t do so well?”
Z is for Zachary
By the time you get to the end of the alphabet, you might expect it would be difficult to come up with things beginning with Z. In this case, however, I’ve saved one of the best for the last letter of the alphabet. Z is for Zachary, the number-one reason I’m a father. Zac, you see, is my first son. He is nine years old right now–sensitive, curious, gentle. He is a young, fresh, wonderful human being who never ceases to surprise or amaze me. He is one of the two very particular reasons that I’m a dad and the reason being a father is more than just a good idea to me.
It’s fun being Zac’s dad. My prayer is that I can grow up along with him and not get in the way of, or hamper, his natural intelligence. I’m sure you can see why I close this Alphabet of Fathering with Z–for Zac. Thanks for the privilege of being your dad, son.
(The above material is one of series of pamphlets on different things dealing with the family, that is published by Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO.)
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