Being a dad is awesome. Being a dad is frustrating. Being a dad is hard. There are moments of intense frustration as your offspring disrespectfully defies your authority because at 2 years old they already have the world figured out. There are moments of heartwarming joy as your child smiles and says, “daddy, I love.” There moments of hilarity as your child says the “darndest things,” does the most out of left field things, and exhibits all the weird quirks of his or her mom and dad combined.
As a follower of Christ, I would also add that being a dad is both a responsibility and a privilege. I believe I have the responsibility of reflecting what God is like to my kids. I have the privilege of being entrusted with their lives and stewarding them well. They aren’t mine. I can’t control them or their destinies. However, I can influence, shape, and impact them and their destinies. I want to be as intentional and faithful with the responsibility of this privilege as possible.
There are three commitments I have made that shape what being a dad means to me. My commitment to these things does not mean I flawlessly carry them out 100% of the time. I fail. I am selfish sometimes. Sometimes, I just want to drop the kids off with one of the grandparents for a week. I’ve snapped at my son, I’ve lost focus on my priorities at times, and I’ve deferred responsibility to my wife when I should have stepped up. However, the following commitments are the target. They’re what I aim at when I bring fatherhood into focus.
I Am Committed to Being Present
As a youth pastor, I have encountered way too many kids who had absent fathers. I have sat face to face with kids whose dads were either physically absent or might as well have been. I’ve seen the stereotypes on movies of the dad who is too engrossed in his work to have time for his kids (most recently the Christopher Robin movie). I’ve seen the stereotype on TV shows of the dad who comes home from a “hard” day’s work only to check out in the Lazy Boy in front of ESPN. I resolved long before I had kids that I was not going to be that husband or that father.
I am committed to being present. This means I am committed to being home by a certain time at least two if not three nights of my work week. Even if I have something I could continue working on, I try to practice the discipline of knowing when something can wait until the next day (this discipline also helps me be efficient and organized too). This means I am also committed to being present when I do get home. Not just physically. I am committed to being emotionally engaged and attentive. I committed to participating in family activities—even if sometimes I’d rather do something else.
I Am Committed to Modeling Life
I have heard some people talk about how their parents didn’t really tell them about their shortcomings. It’s like parents bought into the lie that being honest about their mistakes would give their kids a license to do the same. Or, some parents believed modeling a Christian life meant hiding the ugly parts. I have decided that I will model all aspects of life for my kids.
I want to model what it looks like when I have to repent. I want to model what it looks like when I have to humbly apologize and admit I was wrong. I want my kids to know how I journeyed through my victories and valleys in my faith walk. I want my kids to see how I honor my wife, but also how we work through conflict. I want to model generosity, compassion, grace, and forgiveness.
Our kids are already watching how we live, I simply want to be intentional about what I’m modeling. I also want to practice vulnerably (but appropriately) sharing my life with my kids. I do and will continue to take my son with me to run errands. I’ll let my kids help with something even though I could do it 10x faster by myself. I will take them to get ice cream or pancakes and talk about life. It’s too soon to know if this philosophy will work, but I have the belief that if I begin engaging my kids in conversation about life, God, and failures early then it will simply be normal to talk about life, God and failures when they’re teenagers.
I Am Committed to Affirming their Value
One of the things I have come to believe is true is that we all struggle with our value. We want to know we are loveable and valuable. Many of us try to assert our value by being successful, rich, or networked with the right people. Some of us feel valuable if we achieve a certain economic status. In student ministry I have seen teens look for value by trying to belong. Sadly, sometimes they find belonging with the wrong crowd. I know this will not be absolutely true, but I hope to affirm my kid’s value so they don’t have to look for it elsewhere. If they do look for it among their peers, I hope they can recognize the counterfeits when they come across them.
I want to make the most of every opportunity to affirm the value of my kids. This doesn’t mean I will affirm the wrong things. This doesn’t mean I won’t discipline. This doesn’t mean I will tell them they are great at something they are not great at. What it does mean is that I will tell them often that I love them. It means I will take the time to listen to their hopes, hurts, and dreams. I will always try to patiently respond to my kids—even if they are annoyingly persistent. I will make sure they know they don’t have to be something or achieve anything for me to love them. I will learn to be interested in the things they are interested in even if their interests diverge significantly from my own. I will remind them that the bullies at school don’t know them like I do, and they don’t have the authority to name them.
With God’s help, I will be a dad who is present, who models life, and who affirms the value of my kids.