In a few weeks my oldest daughter, Avery, turns 18. 18!! She'll be off to college this fall and I'm blown away by the young woman she has become.
My youngest turns 13 in less than two weeks and will be finishing her last year of middle school. Sadie is full of spunk and fire and joy ... and hormones! She lights up my heart with laughter and joy.
Our adopted daughter, Summer, graduated college in December and is out on her own enjoying her season of life, somewhere between "having fun" and "adulting."
And Karrie and I just spent our fist week alone at our own house in more than 13 years. With both of our girls at camp this week, we realized that the last night we spent in our home together without either of our girls was before Sadie was born!
This year I've been spending a lot of time in reflection about a good many things: I turn 45 in September and I'm at the "halftime" of ministry, Karrie and I have been married for 22 years (together for 26), Summer has moved out and is thriving on her own after living with us for three years, Avery heading college, Sadie in high school (soon), my parents in retirement and the physical distance between us ... there is a lot going on in this bald head of mine!
As Father's Day approaches, I've been thinking a lot about how Karrie and I turned out the way we did, and how our girls are turning out. Over the years when I've asked my parents, "What did you guys do to turn out my brother and me?" their general answer is, "we don't know!" As Karrie and I have been asked about our girls, we tend to have the same response.
Parenting is many things - rewarding, challenging, difficult, joy-filled, infuriating, extraordinary, educational, reflective, revealing. There is no way I could describe it in a word, a sentence, or even a paragraph. To parent is to play the long game for decades, and the weight and privilege of it never ends. It is a treasure that grows in value every year, and a responsibility that changes by the minute.
So Dads, today I thought I'd give you a few pieces of advice as I reflect on being a dad. Believe me, I don't have all the answers, and I've screwed many of these up more than I get them right (ask my girls), but I hope that this Father's Day these thoughts/suggestions will encourage you. Here is a list of 10 Thoughts on Being a Good Dad:
Yeah, right out of the gate I'm going to hit you where it hurts. We aren't great listeners. Most dads (men) are fixers. We want to solve stuff and fix stuff and provide stuff. There will be opportunities and time for that, but most of the time our kids just want us to listen to them. JUST LISTEN. Don't interrupt, don't make suggestions, and don't try to fix the situation ... OR your kids. Just. Listen.
This is the one I think my daughters would say I struggle with the most. As a pastor/teacher/leader, I see everything as a "teachable moment." After a movie - "what did you learn?" After a failure - "what did you learn?" After a success - "what did you learn!" Sometimes I'm a bit obsessed with it, to be honest. Often the best way to prepare a child IS to teach them and train them. In fact there will be thousands of opportunities to teach/train your kids. But often it is more about preparing their hearts instead of teaching their minds. Don't miss out on the chances to "walk them through life" instead of "lecturing them through class."
Have you ever had someone come into your office/room/space and in an attempt to encourage you, try to change you? You know, "Man, that was a great presentation, right on the money ... next time you should try ..." Or how about this one: "You are so good at (blank) ... know what would make you even better?" What is it about us that makes us always have to add our opinions or expertise? Let me encourage you with your kids ... sometimes they just need an "atta boy" or "atta girl" ... and that's it. They don't want or need your expertise, they just need your encouragement.
Seriously ... if I see one more dad (or parent) at a dinner table or sitting in the stands at a game ON THEIR FREAKING PHONE ... for the love of all that is good ... Dads, more than anything - MORE - THAN - ANYTHING - your kids wants YOU. Your attention. Your focus. Your presence. They don't want you to show up, they want you to BE THERE.
This one is HUGE. Be a parent, not a friend. I know what most of you are going to say - I can be both. Let me be honest with you - no you can't.
When your kids are little be an authority. Set boundaries. Establish consequences. Discipline them. They need you to teach them. And don't explain it to them or reason with them. Your three year old doesn't need to know why you don't want them to do something. Now, that changes by eight or nine, and certainly by 13 or 15. You will parent differently then. You will do a lot of explaining and walking through life with them ... but not as equals. They still need you to be a parent. Love is always there, ALWAYS, but friendship comes on the backside of parenting. It is a natural progression of parenting.
I know you want your kid to accept you and appreciate you and call you a "friend," but don't lose sight of the long game. Every athlete wants to be a Hall of Famer, but they have to start out as a rookie. Be a parent first ... friendship will come.
LOVE THEIR MOTHER
From personal experience, the best way I know how to be a good father to my girls is by loving their mother the best I can. If you are the father of boys, be the model for your sons to learn from; if you're the father of girls, be the example for them to look for. And yes, this is true even if you aren't married to her any more. As the son of divorced parents I can attest to how important it was (and is) that my parents still love and respect each other even though they are no longer married. I can also tell you how vitally important that integrity has been for my daughters ... their granddaughters.
ASK FOR HELP
Seriously ... you won't ever figure this out on your own. Ever. You need help, and you should take all the help you can get! Don't be a stubborn ... guy. Bury your pride, find someone who has been through this before, and ask them for help.
Yeah, I'm going to bring faith into this ... Along the same lines of "ask for help," you're likely going to need a lot of divine intervention! I cry out to God all the time about almost everything. The craziest thing to me about being a Dad is that it has made me closer to my Heavenly Father. I better understand how He loves me because of the way I love my girls ... and I'm forever grateful that Karrie and I don't have to do this alone.
Yeah, you're going to screw up ... a lot. And not little screw ups either. You're going to make some HUGE, COLOSSAL, mistakes. Suck it up Big Guy, stay humble, and ...
Even when you want to. Even when you feel like your kids have quit on you. Even when you don't know what else to do. DO. NOT. QUIT. There will always be hard days - impossible days - but somehow, tomorrow will come. There will always be difficult seasons - unbearable stretches that seem to never end - but as Karrie and I were told many times as early on in parenting, "this too shall pass." You are playing the long game; see it through.
And one bonus thought ...
ENJOY THE RIDE
It may sound cheesy, but I mean it with everything in me - there is nothing more heartwarming, more challenging, or more wonderful than being called "Daddy." My girls still call me that at almost 18 and almost 13.
Someday it may change to "Grandpa" or "Pop," but I will always cherish being called "Daddy" the most.