DADDY ‘S HOME
By: Mike Yorkey and Greg Johnson
Not long after I (Mike) married Nicole, we moved to her native Switzerland so I could learn a little French and a lot about her Swiss culture. We were footloose
– as much as you can be in the Old Country — and fancy free without children. Nicole worked as a trilingual secretary while I taught tennis lessons and strung rackets.
After a year in Switzerland, we decided, well, if Nicole becomes pregnant, so be it. Not that we were ready for children, but we were open to the idea of having kids. We felt it was time.
Nothing happened on the fertility front for six months or so. In the meantime, we decided to move back to California so I could begin my career in journalism. Before we left Switzerland, however, my parents flew over to Zurich and joined us on a month-long jaunt through France and Italy.
On the Trans-European Express train from Rome to Florence, Nicole said she felt different. “I feel like a mother,” she said. “I think I’m pregnant.”
“Oh, really?” I said, popping my head out of a Robert Ludlum novel. The Italian countryside was passing by in a blur — and my mind was traveling a hundred miles an hour, too.
In Florence, Nicole went to pharmacist and bought one of those pregnancy test kits.
Back in our hotel room, she shook the test tube and peered at the contents. There was no ring in her urine.
“But I know I’ m pregnant,” she shrieked.
“That’s not what the test says,” I replied.
“Well, I’m buying a Swiss test next time.”
A week later, at the Hotel de Lutece in Paris, Nicole took a Swiss-made pregnancy test out of the box. Within minutes, the results confirmed what Nicole already knew: we were to become parents in about eight months.
Time out, I thought. I’m going to become a father? But I don’t know what to do!
I felt uneasy the rest of our trip, and I think it was because I was entering fatherhood without the foggiest idea of what I was supposed to do. Those little bundles of joy don’t arrive with an owner’s manual.
The fathers we interviewed agreed. “Of all the things you do that are important, fathering is something you don’t have any training at all in,” one dad told me during an interview. “I took a lot of courses in college to learn my profession, but I didn’t learn a thing on becoming a good father.”
SO, WHAT MAKES A GOOD DAD?
The importance of spending time with your children is an altruism that needs to be repeated as much as possible. Time is a non-renewable resource — once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“I’m a big believer in time with the kids,” says Charles, an investment counselor.
“I think the time commitment you make when they are younger reaps dividends later
FOUR WORDS YOU’LL NEVER WANT TO SAY
I was talking with a professional man about his job — one with a lot of out-of-state travel. “The first ten to twelve years after the kids were born, my work took me away quite a bit,” Roy began. “My wife was really good about it, and she did a great job of raising our three kids. When they hit early adolescence, however, it suddenly dawned on me that I had missed out on a great deal. After much reflection, I did something I never thought I could do: I quit that high-paying job. Then I went out and found a new job that would keep me close to home. But despite all I did, it was too late,” says Roy.
“No matter how hard I tried to put myself back into my kids’ lives, it didn’t work. They had adjusted to the point where having Dad around wasn’t necessary. Now, seven years later, we’re a little happier, but it’s not anything like I wish it could be. I missed my chance, and now it’s too late.”
More evidence is popping up these days that fasttrack fathers are rethinking the cost of climbing the corporate ladder.
That’s right, Dad. If you’re not around, your wife and children will learn to live life without you. It’s as if you’re the manager of the New York Yankees, but you don’t arrive at the ballpark until the seventh inning. You’ll find the players and coaches playing the game without you. Life goes on.
FATHER KNOWS STRESS
For most of us, much of our self-esteem and self-worth is tied up in our work. If we’re a success in the workplace, we welcome the chance to let the world know. On the flip side, nothing is more debilitating than being fired or laid off. Our sense of purpose — and our ego — is deflated.
That’s because work is very important to us, as it is to God. Let’s not forget that He established people on earth to work: “The Lord God took the man andput him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2: 15). Notice that Adam wasn’t given a chaise lounge and directions to the nearest pool.
While some fathers choose to work too much, others are being asked — even ordered — to work overtime. In the June 1991 issue of Focus on the Family magazine, we printed a timely article, “Jobs vs. Family: Striking a Balance.” Author Brian Knowles described the problem for many white-collar workers: “Because of the erosion in our manufacturing base, firms are being forced to offer intangibles– such as a higher quality of service — in order to compete in the world market.
This means more and more companies are demanding twelve-hour days and six-day weeks from their employees.”
With the economy floundering in the ’90s, companies are being driven to the wall. Corporations are “downsizing” their operations — a euphemism for layoffs — and requiring the remaining employees to manage the same workload.
Sound familiar? If you’re in that bind, then you have our sympathy. You’re working for a company that believes employees must sacrifice their family on the altar of work. Sooner or later, you’ll have to decide whether to continue in that anti-family environment. Yes, your career is important, but no job is worth offering up your wife and children.
Don’t expect corporate America to recognize how much fathers are needed at home. The employee’s family life isn’t part of the annual report, nor can it be measured on the bottom line. But it should be. The Wall Street Journal reported in July 1991 that more than sixty percent of respondents from Fortune 500 corporations said their jobs robbed them of adequate energy and time to do things with theirfamily. What many CEO’s don’t understand is that work and family is intertwined; if Dad isn’t over-worked, and his family life is in balance, he will be a happier, more productive employee.
Those who had their work life in balance were quick to share some tips on how they did it. If you’re chalking up a lot of OT, then here are ways you can jog loose a few more hours at home:
* Understand what the most important hours of the day are. Okay, what are the most important hours? Answer: when you’re home, Dad. Or more specifically, the time period between five and ten p.m., that stretch when the family can regroup, eat dinner, share their day and talk about the future.
If you’re closing that window of opportunity because you’re booking extra hours or crawling along some expressway, then it’s hard to perform your fatherly duties.
*. Work smarter. What’s your body clock? Are you a morning person? Or do you do your best work at night? If you get more done in the morning, perhaps you should begin working earlier in the day (if your company has flex time). That way you can get off earlier – and beat the traffic home – thus saving you even more time.
I (Mike) do most of my creative work – writing and editing – in the morning because that’s when I feel most productive. (In fact, most of my colleagues feel the same way. Memos have been circulated around the department asking that 9-11 a.m. be distraction-free.) When the post-lunch doldrums arrive (“siesta time!”), I turn my attention to less-taxing tasks, such as answering my mail and returning phone calls.
* skip going out to lunch. I’ve seen more time wasted by employees who eat out during lunchtime. Yes, it’s nice to be served a prepared meal, but by the time you’re seated, given a menu, order an entree, wait for the food to arrive, eat, ask for the check, make the payment – well, say sayanora to a huge chunk of time. And that doesn’t include the minutes lost driving or walking to the restaurant. (It’s a different matter if your job description includes business lunches. Hopefully, your boss considers those events part of your eight- or nine-hour day.)
But if you’re working past six or seven o’clock because you and some friends lingered over lunch, then that’s not good stewardship of your time. (It’s also not the greatest stewardship of your finances. The tab for eating out can easily cost $25 to $40 a week.)
Brown-bagging it is cheaper, faster — and healthier. If you need a change of scenery during the noon hour, take your lunch to a nearby park or company picnic area.
You also should consider taking a thirty-minute lunch. My father, who worked in the construction trade, always had a half-hour for lunch. That meant his work day ended at 4:30, which gave him time to coach my Little League team.
* Think through any promotion. Does it mean more hours? Will it lead to more travel? Is the money worth it?
What would you do if your boss offered you a raise — albeit modest — but said you might have to put in eight hours of overtime? Would you take it? You should role-play this scenario with your wife. Have her take the role of the boss (she’ll love that!) offering you a promotion. Perhaps the promotion means ten days of out-of-town travel each month. What would you say?
* Live closer to work, or consider relocating to a smaller city. That suggestion is easier said than done, isn’t it? For openers, it’s hard to sell a house in today’s tough economic climate, and some of us don’t want to live in neighborhoods close to work. Or, we like where we live. The kids are established in school and we’re active members of the local church.
But living closer to work can be a huge benefit, especially if you’re burning up the miles in ninety-minute commutes. By cutting your drive time to a manageable ten or fifteen minutes, you can gain another hour or two a day. That’s often enough time to see your daughter’s soccer game or coach your son’s baseball team. You can retrieve up to ten hours a week. Think about how many family or ministry activities you can do with that extra day!
* If you’ve got to work overtime, take a break during dinner time. If you have to work on that sales presentation, can you do it at home after dinner? Can you catch up on your business reading after the kids are in bed?
* When you are home, switch off the business mode. I (Mike) am sometimes in a fog when I arrive home. I’m still thinking about the story I was editing or an upcoming deadline. But I’m learning to snap out of it. I remind myself that I have to actively listen to my wife as she tells me about her day.
If your wife’s been home with small kids all day (or at work herself), you’ll probably be “on duty” no matter what type of day you had. You can either resent it, or deal with it by calling on God’s power to help you handle whatever happens.
* Make the most of the hours you are home. Quality family time doesn’t bite you on the leg when you walk through the front door. You’ve got to be creative and look for things to do together. Play catch, hit tennis balls, shoot baskets. One of the best investments you can make is to mount a basketball rim in the driveway.
And one last tip: take advantage of daylight savings time. When the days are long and the evenings are warm, you can do many outdoor activities. Don’t let the sun go down without doing something together.
* Ask yourself whether your wife should be employed outside the home. A working mom (all moms are working moms, but we’re referring to moms employed outside the home) has it really tough. After putting in an eight- or nine-hour day, she returns home for the “second shift.” It’s a recipe for marital stress, we believe, and if it’s at all possible, the mom should stay home. The kids need her, plain and simple.
The popular culture would have you believe that both parents are working these days. But that’s not necessarily true. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, 41.3 percent of all married mothers with preschool children are full-time homemakers. Another 20 percent work part-time, some only a few hours a week. You add these two figures up, and that means 61 percent of all mothers with preschool children are spending most of their time raising their kids.
In our survey, only one-third of our fathers said their wives work outside the home, but many of those mothers work part time. “The numbers are still small, but we are seeing more and more women saying it’s not worth trying to be a mother and hold down a full-time job,” said Ellen Galinsky, co-president of the research-oriented Families and Work Institute and a widely regarded expert on women and work.
Of course, we recognize that exceptions exist, and there are families in which the mother must work. Some areas of the country — especially the major cities on each coast — have stratospheric housing costs, and it’s all a family can do to make the monthly house payment.
A mortgage lender recently explained this phenomenon to me (Mike): “As housing costs went through the roof in the 1970s and ’80s, fathers responded by working longer hours and taking second jobs. When inflation and housing prices continued to soar, families sent the mother back into the work force.
Should your wife work outside the home? That’s a tough call. The question should always be prayerfully considered. If the kids are old enough, their input could be valuable, too. Explain to them that a stay-at-home mom means no trips to Disney World, but Mom can take the kids to local museums and city pools.
* Reserve the weekends for the family. If you let work — the Monday-through-Friday variety — encroach on your weekends you’re headed for nursery. Christopher, a salesman for a marketing firm, still puts in fifty- and sixty-hour weeks, but he’s stopped working on weekends.
“Saturday and Sunday are for the kids,” says Christopher. “They should know that from Friday night to Sunday is family time, and that we’re going to so something together whether it’s playing baseball, going to Sea World or whatever.”
If your are out of balance, take stock and make changes. “I have been out of balance for periods of time,” says Antonio, a manufacture’s representative in Southern California. “It took a lot of energy to start our new business, and occasionally, the stress of things good or bad could throw it out of balance.”
One day, Antonio sat down and made a list. On one sheet, he wrote down what was important in life. On another sheet, he wrote what wasn’t important. During a time of reflection, Antonio realized he had to restrict his after-hour business. “Time management is an important thing with families. I’ve had to learn to say no. Now I’ve made a commitment to make sure my time matches up with my priorities, and it’s really helped keep me in balance.”
* Believe God’s promises. Gregory used to work eleven and twelve hours a day, but after five years of burning the family candle at both ends, his marriage fell apart. When he became a Christian a while later, Gregory remarried. Inside, he felt different about his reasons for working so much.
“I first read God’s promises, then I really started to believe them. Especially the one where it says that God will provide for all your needs. I thought, Okay, Lord, I’ll slow down and trust You to bring in enough work so the business can survive. These days, I won’t work more than ten hours a day. I’m not always able to get what I want, but we always have what we need.”
* Make a family mission statement. Many companies operate from a brief mission statement — a quick-hitting document that outlines the company’s goals and vision for the future. It’s an effective way to keep a company on course.
Write a family mission statement with your wife. It should be concise and to the point. Then post it in a conspicuous place where all the family members can see it.
* Plan your week. From the beginning of their marriage, Don and his wife, Rhonda, have gone out for a piece of pie and a cup of coffee every Sunday night. Shortly after the waitress clears the apple pie a la mode plates from the table, Don and his wife reach for their personal calendars. For the next hour, they go over their schedules — work, church activities and kid’s programs — for the coming week.
* Know that you’re not married to your desk. Although it’s been said a million times, it bears repeating one more time. No one, when they reach the end life, has ever looked back and said, “Gee, I wish I spent more time at the office instead of with my kids.” We only go through this season of fathering one time, so let’s make the most of it.
Our guess is that if you’ve read this far with us, then you really have a desire to be a good husband and father.
SOME HARD FACTS
The Family Research Council, a division of Focus on the Family based in Washington, D.C., analyzes research regarding the family. A recent FRC finding revealed that parents are spending 40 percent less time with their children than they did twenty-five years ago. In the mid-’60s, an average parent spent thirty hours a week with a child. Today, the average parent spends only seventeen hours.
Studies from two University of Michigan economists (who reviewed time diaries over two decades) buttresses this “time famine.” Out of a 168- hour week, American men on the average devoted fifty-six hours to work, seventy hours to sleeping, eating and personal care, and forty-two hours to leisure activities.
Another time-use study from the University of Maryland broke down the figures even further. Every twenty-four hours (figuring in weekdays and weekends), men spend:
* 7:50 sleeping
* 1:15 eating
* :30 grooming
* 1:45 on household chores
* 7:10 working
* 5:30 on leisure activities.
Notice the last entry: five-and-a-half hours for leisure activities. That roughly matches up with what we said earlier about what the most important hours of the day are — that time between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Let’s do a little exercise: Grab a pencil and determine how you “spent” your last
twenty-four hours (make it a weekday):
* Sleeping ___________________________
* Grooming ___________________________
* Working (main job) ___________________________
* Commuting ___________________________
* Overtime or moonlighting ___________________________
* Household chores ___________________________
* Eating with the family ___________________________
* Leisure pursuits (exercise, reading, hobbies) ___________________________
After you’ve added up the hours, ask yourself these questions:
* Was this a routine day?
* How much time did I spend with my children?
* What did I do with them?
* Was I home for dinner?
* Did I do paperwork while Mom bathed the kids and put them down?
* Did I talk with my wife?
* How much time was frittered away watching TV?
These questions are not meant to heap guilt on you, but to help you take stock. Not surprisingly, Americans believe “parents having less time to spend with their families” is the single most important reason for the family’s decline in our society, according to a 1989 survey commissioned by the Massachusetts Mutual Insurance Company.
The average five-year-old, we are told, spends twenty-five minutes a week in close interaction with his father, and twenty-five hours a week in close interaction with the TV. No wonder that in a recent survey of kindergartners and their priorities, Dad finished second to the boob tube.
The moral of the story? If we’re not committed to our children, don’t expect them to be committed to us.
One thing to keep in mind when pollsters and research centers conduct these type of surveys is that they don’t monitor the really important stuff: how many times a parent hugs a child, or how often a father volunteers to coach a team. Nor is there anyone keeping track of how effectively values are passed on at the dinner table and at bedtime, or how long a family is on their knees each night praying to the God they love.
When’s the last time you cheered on your daughter’s soccer team? Have you taken the family on a recent after-dinner stroll through the neighborhood? When’s the last time you did something unexpected, such as taking your children to a parade, the zoo or even Chuck E Cheese’s?
* If possible, rearrange your work schedule. Herb is an orthopedic surgeon in Akron, Ohio. At 43, Herb is getting his practice established, but he knows themedical profession can gobble up hours in huge chunks.
“How do I spend time with my kids?” asked Herb. “I’m not a morning person, so I’ve changed my hours around. That way, I don’t have to go into the office right away. I can eat breakfast with my kids and take them to school. I’ll start my surgeries at one o’clock in the afternoon and go until 7 p.m. or so.”
Herb isn’t home often for dinner — but he’s there for breakfast. And how many fathers can say they drive their children to school?
* Understand the breadth of life. “After we lost our oldest son in a drowning accident,” said one father from Alabama, “I really started living one day at a time. I lived as though it was the last time I’d see each child. When I’m with them now, I try to make every time meaningful.”
* Make dinnertime a priority. Dinner is a time to reconnect. There’s something about the entire family sitting around and enjoying a meal together. And in this day and age of working moms, long commutes, and kids in sports, it’s no easy chore for everyone to sit down together.
Eating together promotes communication, which promotes discussion, which promotes sharing, which promotes love. Did you ever notice that when you eat alone that you flip on the TV? You want some sort of communication, even if it’s one-way.
* Ban the TV. What book worth its salt wouldn’t suggest this? But letting the hours vaporize into thin air because the “boob tube” drones on and on is a waste of time. Apparently, the fathers we interviewed agreed. Nearly one-third (29 percent) said they don’t watch any TV during the week, and 61 percent said they watch one to two hours a night — a manageable figure. So, nine out of ten dads have the TV under control.
“We don’t watch TV on weeknights,” says one father. “We made a commitment not to. Instead, we read or play games in the basement, such as ‘hand baseball’ with a Nerf ball.”
* Schedule a regular “family time.” “Family Nights” — or “Family Days” — are not a new invention; we’ve heard of many families incorporating this idea. Often, it serves as a buffer for busy parents whose lives are caught up in soccer leagues, music lessons and carpools. Putting aside one evening or day each week can provide an important haven for the entire family. It also promotes togetherness.
* Do “Daddy Dates.” Westy, a Wisconsin father, says he can think of nothing better than taking his nine-year-old daughter out for breakfast or dinner. “She knows the only reason we’re going out is so we can talk,” says Westy. “We probably get as much conversation in during that one meal as we do all week. We sit across the table from each other and converse; there’s a lot of questions and answers going on. These ‘Daddy Dates’ tell my daughter that she is very, very important to me.”
A good time to start “dating” your child is around eight or nine years old. “Don’t wait until he or she is fifteen years old. That’s too late,” says Westy. By spending individual time with your child, you build a friendship, so when the really big discussions pop up later (love, dating and sex), a foundation has already been laid.
* Include your children in your vacations. You’d be surprised at the number of families who vacation without their kids. Mac is a 67-year-old grandfather from Southern California who has never regretted including his four sons in all the family vacations.
“When the boys were between the ages of five and fifteen, we did a lot of camping,
boating, fishing and water-skiing,” says Mac. One evening, when his oldest son,
Todd, was 18, he had a suggestion for the family: “Why don’t we go around the
The year was 1972, and Mac’s construction business was going great guns. Why not take an extended trip? Todd was about to graduate, his brother Tommy could continue his high school education by correspondence, and the two younger boys, Keith and Denny, well, they would just have to miss a year of school.
“We really saw how other cultures lived,” says Mac, “and it sure made the kids appreciative of what they had. It’s too bad all families can’t afford it, because it was the most rewarding thing we did as a family. Now my sons all want to do it with their children.”
We called Todd, now 37, and asked if that was true.
“Sure, I would love to do that with my kids, but I’m not sure if it will ever work out,” he replied. “But I’m open to the Lord’s leading. Because of that around-the-world trip, my brother Denny decided to go into full-time medical missions service. It was a real eye-opening experience,” says Todd.
* Volunteer to coach your child’s sports team. When you make that commitment to coach, it forces you to spend time with your children. “In order to spend time with my kids,” says Cedric, a Kansas accountant, “I coach various sports teams, like baseball and basketball. I go to school functions. I help them with their homework. I help them study for their tests.”
Cedric keeps a little sign on his desk. It reads: “The best thing you can spend on your children is time.”
“That’s a nice reminder for me,” he says.
* If you can’t be a coach, then cheer from the grandstands. One father in the Chicago area told us his neighbors ask him why he has extraordinary kids. “What’s your secret?” they say.
He replies that he and his wife had made an early commitment to go to everything at school — recitals, sports, band concerts, you name it. “Even if the kids tell you they don’t want you to show up, they really do,” says the Windy City dad.
* Make the best use of your recreational time. It’s important to exercise our bodies (we feel better when we’re in good shape). Many of us enjoy the spirit of competition. Some recreational pursuits, however, take up a lot of time.
Take golf, for instance. As Baby Boomers age, golf is the sport of the ’90s. Yet when I (Mike) play, it burns up most of a Saturday. Even if I’m a member of the “dawn patrol,” I’m still not home till noon. I’ve decided golf is going to have to wait; I’m lucky if I play three rounds a year.
That’s why I play a lot of tennis, but I’ve had to cut back there, too. Usually, I’ll play one or two mornings a week before work, starting at 6:30 a.m. I figureit’s better to play while the kids are still sleeping than to practice my forehand after work when they’re home. I know Greg plays basketball before work for the same reasons, too.
* Do household chores together. There’s something about pulling weeds, trimming
lawns and tidying up that brings a family together, you know: The family that
works together, stays together. . .
“Working in the yard was something we did as a family,” says Mac, the father who took his four sons on the around-the-world trip. “Now our boys have a great love for gardening.” A well-kept garden also makes the house look great, and can give the entire family a sense of pride.
* Finally, remember that your kids are keeping tabs on you. When 1,500 schoolchildren were asked by social scientists John DeFrain and Nick Stinnett, “What do you think makes a happy family?”, the children didn’t list money, fine homes or big-screen TVs. No, the answer most frequently offered was “doing things together.”
TOP 7 WORST WAYS TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR KIDS
7. Serve as their human quarter machine at the video arcade.
6. Have the NBA Game of the Week on while you’re playing Monopoly with them.
5. Read the paper while helping them with their algebra assignments.
4. Go to the local high school football field to practice your short-irons, and
have them collect the golf balls after you’re done.
3. Suggest they take a nap with you on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
2. Drive them to Cub Scouts and read a magazine in the car while the den mother
instructs them on how to tie knots.
1. Take them to your office on Saturday and have them color while you work.
BEING A GOOD DAD WHEN YOU’RE ON THE ROAD
“God’s role for the father as head of the home should be the norm for families, yet in millions of households, Dad won’t be home tonight.” If you have to be out of town, here are some things you can do:
* The night before you leave on a business trip, organize a treasure hunt for the kids. The “treasure” doesn’t have to be something material, but it could be a personalized letter that shares your love for them.
* Call home every day. One man says, “The phone calls don’t have to be long, especially if you really can’t afford them, but hearing your voice every day is essential for the family to stay connected to each other.”
* Do something special with each child before you leave for the trip. Some fathers promise a special outing upon their return, but . . . it never works out. If you have individual time with your child before you depart, and you do something when you get home, you’ll be on your way to making up lost time.
Another good idea is to make a tape of you reading a bedtime story, which your wife can play as the children fall asleep.
* If your trip is a long one, send postcards or letters each day. Some dads even mail their kids a card before they leave so they’ll have something in the mailbox the first day Dad’s gone. (The first day is always the roughest.)
* While presents from each trip is occasionally a must, don’t believe gifts can soften the blow of your not being around. You can’t buy your child’s love.
* Cancel — or shorten — a few business trips (if possible) and tell your kids you did it because you couldn’t stand leaving them again. In their little minds, children sometimes reason that Dad’s leaving because he doesn’t like me or I’ve done something wrong. Telling them that you’re staying just for them will build their confidence in you.
Some fathers cut their trips short by returning home late that night instead of staying one more night and catching a flight home the next day. Even though they may arrive home just before midnight — bushed — they’re home. Then they can eat breakfast with the family (and most likely, they don’t have to hurry into the office).
PASSING THE BATON
No one says it better than Dr. Dobson when it comes to the importance of fathers and mothers “passing the baton” of faith to their children. Teaching our children a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is the most important task we fathers have set before us.
The dads we interviewed agreed. “If, at the end of my life, I haven’t transmitted my belief in Christ to my children, then I haven’t been faithful to the calling God has given to me,” said Ronnie, the California CPA. “The bottom line isn’t this world, but will my son be on the other side?”
Some children have their own spiritual awakening timetable, and all a father can do is be there and listen.
MAKING YOUR FAITH REAL
David remembers the time when his eight-year-old daughter, Teri, was cleaning the garage. She wasn’t getting any cooperation, however, from Jeff, her five-year-old brother. So Teri decided to get her brother in trouble. She told her little brother that Dad wanted to see him.
“In other words, she lied,” said David.
When he asked her about it, she didn’t want to admit that she made up the story. So David showed her 1 John 1:8-9: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. David lovingly pointed out the need to ask God for forgiveness.
“Teri began crying, but she knew what the right thing was,” said David. “It was a hard lesson for her to learn.”
“Other ways to make your faith real,” said Fred, “is to crack open your Bible when the kids are around. If they don’t see you reading God’s Word, then you’re not growing. You have to live what you say.”
Church attendance can’t be helter-skelter, either. “We didn’t send our boys to church on Sunday morning, we took them,” says Warren. “That’s extremely important. It’s also not a good witness to drop the kids off at church and drive off, which I’ve seen happen.”
Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for. “Your kids watch you like hawks, and they start watching you awfully early,” we heard one father say.
That’s right, Dad. When you’re home during those most important hours of the day, you’re on stage one — front and center. You’re the star of the show, and your audience is soaking in everything you say and do.
It’s often said that values are caught by children, rather than taught. That’s why you can’t sit down a thirteen-year-old and say, “Jimmy, we’re going to learn a little something about lying today.” No, Jimmy learned that lesson a long time ago when he overheard you tell the pastor you were going to be out of town during the church workday (but you never left the city limits that weekend).
It also helps to admit mistakes to your children. If you do mess up, ask your child to forgive you — they do it so easily.
I (Mike) learned that lesson during the summer of 1991, when Focus on the Family moved its Pomona headquarters in Southern California to Colorado Springs. A moving van packed our belongings, and we jumped into the family car for the trip east.
The first night at 10 p.m., we pulled into Las Vegas and checked into the Excalibur Hotel, the world’s largest with 4,200 rooms. The place is so huge that finding our room was a chore; we entered a wrong door from the parking lot and had to drag our heavy luggage past thousands of slot machines and gaming tables. Tired, cranky and out of sorts, we never thought we’d find the elevator to our room on the 24th floor.
The next day at check-out time, I told Nicole I was making a “first trip” to the car with a couple of bags. I took my seven-year-old son, Patrick, with me. Leaving the hotel, the mid-August heat — it was 110 degrees that day — hit us like a sledge hammer. We trudged our way to the far reaches of the parking lot. Wouldn’t you know it? When we arrived at the car, I forgot the blasted keys.
The last thing I wanted to do was lug that luggage all the way back to the hotel room. So I asked Patrick if he could “guard” the bags while I ran back to the hotel room for the keys.
I felt a little funny leaving Patrick in the middle of a Las Vegas parking lot, but it was midday. I would only be gone five minutes.
When I got back to the room, Nicole asked me where Patrick was. I pointed to the window.
“He’s down with the car and luggage,” I said.
I repeated what I said.
“You stupid jerk!” Nicole screamed.
I bolted back to the elevator, fearing the worst. My only son. Kidnapped. Never to be seen again. When I got to the car, Patrick was standing there, hands in his pockets.
I hugged him, put the bags in the car and walked him back to the hotel room. Then I sat him down on the queen bed.
“Patrick, Daddy just did a really stupid thing. I left you out with the car all alone, and I shouldn’t have done that. I made a big mistake. I’m sorry, and I won’t let it happen again. Can you forgive me?”
Patrick cast his eyes downward and whispered, “Sure, Dad. It’s okay.” I couldn’t believe he wasn’t mad at me.
I never felt so thankful in my life. Patrick was safe, and I had just experienced the unconditional love of a child. I felt humbled inside.
We also have to think through our actions and guard our thoughts. Along these lines, have any of these scenarios crossed your mind before?
* My kids are still asleep when I get up. They’ll never see me reading my Bible or praying.
* My son won’t comprehend a real relationship with God until he’s in his teens. He wouldn’t understand what I was trying to say anyway.
* All girls like to read, so my daughter will probably open the Bible without ever having to see me do it.
* Right now, all the kids want to do is play Super Nintendo. We’ll start talking about spiritual things when they hit high school.
* Mealtime prayer is all they can sit still for. Wouldn’t they be bored if I started talking about Christ?
No, they wouldn’t. Not if you talked in your own words and at their level. Realize, too, that Dad sets — or should set — the spiritual temperature around the house. One East Coast father organizes a time of family prayer each month. “We keep a list of prayers in a loose-leaf notebook,” says Jon, “and every now and then we’ll look back and see how God has answered our prayers. By writing them down, they can go back and read them anytime and be encouraged.”
The earlier you start these little rituals — such as genuine communication, a prayer notebook or devotional time — the easier they’ll be accepted by your children. Any counselor will tell you that values taught early in life have a better chance of sticking. If we put our relationship with God above sports, TV, work, and hobbies, then our children’s attitude about loving God will be enhanced. Guaranteed.
DOING THE SMALL STUFF
Daily or weekly “family devotions” are one of those ideas that sounds great on paper, but putting it into practice is easier said than done. Of the fifty men we interviewed, only a handful said they were able to consistently lead their families in prayer and Bible study.
So, what can you do?
Start small. Even sharing a couple of Bible verses at the breakfast table can be a good beginning. Reading a Bible story to the kids as they go down at night will work, too, especially if they get to “stay up” to hear you read. “I’ve found that the best time to have devotions is when I tuck the kids in bed,” said Nick. “Lots of questions pop into their minds, and that’s what makes it a magical time. They also talk about things that are bugging them, and when that happens, we’ll talk about what the Word says about it.” It’s these type of discussions that can lead your children into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
“We also pray together every night,” added Louis. “My children are still small, so I pray out loud, and then they pray. I’m even asking the Lord to help us when they grow up to be teenagers and that He will keep us close during that difficult period.”
While prayer for the child’s needs is the glue that will bond his heart to God, unselfish prayer is the Super Glue. One father makes it a point to pray with his children for unsaved relatives, friends, neighbors — and his child’s friends, too. “You can’t start too early building God’s heart for the lost in your child. It has to be more than prayer — they have to see you in action, too. You begin by talking to God about people: then you can talk to people about God. My job isn’t complete until my kids love God so much that they can’t help but share Him with their friends.”
FORGET THE GUILT
As with most of the topics we’ve tossed your way, we’ve left significant room for you to get depressed about how you’re doing. If you’ve overlooked spiritual modeling in the past, it’s not too late to make this a priority. You can start, of course, with you. While radical changes may be in order, our counsel is to have a one-step-at-a-time strategy. Don’t try to become “Joe Onfire” overnight. Here’s a sample strategy to move forward:
* Get rid of the past. The Scripture we quoted in 1 John wasn’t just a trite verse that applies to kids. It’s the answer to starting fresh with God. No matter how far away we’ve walked from Him, all it takes is a quick turn-around, and He’s right there with us.
* Examine the present. In a journal, or perhaps just on a piece of paper, take inventory of your walk with God. If you haven’t spent any meaningful time with Him for several months, write it down. If you haven’t prayed for — or with — your kids in weeks, make a note of it, too. Then resolve to improve.
* Set a goal for tomorrow. The fastest way to get discouraged is to make lofty goals for sweeping changes. Take a realistic look at your time and ask yourself where you could find five to fifteen minutes to get one-on-one with God. (The best time is before breakfast — before you’ve settled into the day. Don’t think you can pick it up at night. We’re too tired.)
Start each quiet time with a prayer like this: “Lord, I don’t want to spend time with you because I have to; I want to do this because no one loves me, accepts me or understands me as You do. I need You. Guide me and speak loudly to my heart, and make me long for You.”
Don’t start a detailed prayer list if you’ve never had one before, and don’t give
yourself chapter and verse reading requirements. The key is getting thirsty
for God again. Drowning yourself with major changes will not last.
* Choose a few close friends for your team. Tell your wife, a friend at church, even your pastor that trying to make some big changes through some mall steps. Tell them you would covet their prayers. No real friend would turn down that invitation for help.
Finally . . .
* Realize that your schedule will probably not be “God friendly.” Satan works against us by keeping us away from things that will benefit us the most. His patient strategy is to keep us off balance and too busy muster much spiritual hunger for God. He’s successfully torpedoed generations, convincing them to reject
– or neglect — Christ as their leader and athority. Most of the time we don’t even realize tan’s been at work until it’s too late.
If we can leave you one thought, it’s this: There is always hope! No rut is too deep, no trench is too wide, schedule is too hectic, and no heart is too cold for God. He will graciously allow you to start all over.
God is a miracle-worker who delights in shedding light into the darkness of “hopeless” situations — us. If your heart truly desires change, pray diligently. Don’t give up until you’re where you want to men, by the Lord’s mercy, you’ll take one step toward Him . . . and another.
(The above material is one of a series of pamphlets that deal with different areas of the family, published by Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO.)
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