Being a father is tough because we learn how to parent while on the job.
Ken Druck and James Simmons in The Secrets Men Keep discuss six major secrets men have. At the top of the list is that “men secretly yearn for their fathers love and approval.” This is often without their conscious knowledge that this yearning manifests itself in the drive that many males have to prove themselves. The authors say:
It may surprise us to know that the most powerful common denominator influencing men’s lives today is the relationship we had with our fathers …. Of the hundreds of men I have surveyed over the years, perhaps 90 percent admitted they still had strings leading back to their fathers. In other words, they are still looking to their fathers, even though their fathers may have been dead for years, for approval, acceptance, affection, and understanding.
These article is not about being a perfect dad. If it were, I would be completely unqualified to write it. I am simply seeking some ways to have a better chance to leave a positive legacy as an earthly father.
The first way to leave a good legacy is found in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.(NIV, Ephesians 5:25)
The translation in The Message says this.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church–a love marked by giving, not getting.
The number one way to leave a great legacy for your children is very simple:
Love your wife.
Theodore M. Hesburgh wrote that the “most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”.
Your children watch how you treat their mother. They watch … and they are learning and forming their concept of marriage from you. You are creating a pattern, a blueprint for marriage with your children.
The second part of leaving a legacy that endures is to be an encouragement to your children. Paul wrote this simple instruction to the church at Colossae.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)
The Message translates this verse like this….
Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.
I cannot remember hearing a lot of teaching on that verse over the years. It is really easy in this success mad culture to discourage your children. Nearly every dad wants his child to be successful. What is wrong with that desire? There is nothing wrong with that goal if we balance it with love, encouragement, and awareness of your child’s unique design. Sometimes we forget the journey we have traveled in our own lives. Frank Clark said that “a father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.” Ouch.
I am not talking about being a perfect father. These kids (and many of us) are simply looking for the affirmation and blessing of our earthly fathers.
When Scripture says that God is our Father, it is telling us that these needs can be met by Him. This is where our role as Christian dads becomes so important. There are no perfect earthly dads. But it is critical that we understand the impact that we have on our child’s relationship with God. Some may find it hard to get excited about the scriptural descriptions of God as a father because of the imperfect models of fatherhood they have experienced here on earth.
Some remember a father who was too wrapped up in his job, his buddies, and his hobbies to provide much support or affirmation. He might have been one of those men who believed that their only job was to bring home a paycheck, while Mom was responsible for everything else. Others might recall a dad that was demanding, cold, and unapproachable. Children can tend to transpose their father experience when they think of God as Father.
I have talked to many adult men who are still desperate for the approval of their fathers. And I know that is true for women as well. Jim Valvano, the now deceased coach, said “My father gave me the greatest gift that anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”
The third way to leave a positive legacy as a dad is to simply be present and enjoy every mile of the journey as you model being a man to your children.
In his book, Being a Good Dad When You Didn’t Have One, Tim Wesemann gives his readers a two-word piece of advice: “Lighten up!” He says that adults laugh an average of 15 times a day while children laugh 400 times. “Sometime between childhood and adulthood, we lose 385 laughs a day! That’s a great loss!” Wesemann says. “Maybe we need not only the faith of a child but the funny bone of one as well.”
I agree. One of my favorite moments happened on a family trip. Brett is several years younger than his siblings. I was addressing his older brothers’ behavior when I snapped at the boys and said in my best dad voice, “You are acting like children.” Brett was only five, and he thought I was including him in the accusation. He pondered the comment and then said, “But I am a children.” The laughter from the backseat derailed my dad authority and it definitely lightened the moment. The family that can laugh together has a huge advantage in the journey.
The Psalmist wrote these words: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Sometimes it is hard to remember what a blessing those little ones are when they are throwing down a tantrum at Target. I encourage parents to enjoy every phase of their children’s journey. And I learned that what your children take away as favorite memories may be surprising. One of the questions I asked my sons was their favorite memories of time with me. I expected that they would remember the big trips we took together or some expensive outing. I was humbled by their responses.
Firstborn son Matt: “My favorite memories are throwing the baseball/football in the front yard of our Pecan Valley house, going to baseball games and growing up around sports.”
Second born son Scott: “Playing catch in the backyard for hours on end, even when your knees hurt. Going to cut down Christmas Trees every November and stopping at the Dairy Queen on the way home.”
Youngest son Brett: “You coaching my sports teams and going to cut down the Christmas tree.”
It was the little things that counted for them. The memories that really mattered to them were things that cost me only time. Each one of the boys felt valued when they felt I had sacrificed or made a special effort to spend time with them. I thought the big things mattered the most but I was wrong.
Model what you are teaching. Here is a powerful quote from Clarence Budington Kelland: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and he let me watch him do it.” Wow. I have seen that prove out in my own life. I can tell you exactly what my father modeled for me, but I would have a hard time remembering any of his lectures. I believe that is an overlooked component of the wisdom expressed in Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That training should include being a role model and then the verbal training will sink in. Being an authentic role model makes the message effective.
You are a role model for your children, like it or not. Your children will, to one degree or another, model their lives after you. You most likely have inherited some of your father’s characteristics and your children are inheriting some of yours. These are three principles that will give you a much better chance to leave a positive legacy as a dad.
- Love Your Wife
- Affirm You Children
- Be present and enjoy each moment