Being a father
When you have a speaker at one of the Fathers Forum events, you assume that person is an expert. You expect that the person has gone through training to become knowledgeable. But I have fallen many times as a father. I have gotten back up by the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to be a father worthy of the calling we have.
I became a dad in August of 1983. I had no idea, as a 26-year-old, what was going to happen to me over the next 36 years. Right before this event my phone rang and it was my 36-year-old son with his 5-year-old son FaceTiming me.
My son and I had a difficult time when he was in high school. We had some friction, but he named his son after me, which was an indicator that our relationship was solid. There was no lingering woundedness from our past.
I am no expert, but I am going to share my own experiences and life lessons that I have learned about being a dad.
First, as Christian men, we need to live a life of abiding in Christ. We all need prayer, confession, Bible study, and accountable relationships. Men tend to be secret keepers. We tend to not be honest about the pain in our lives. Men need to be willing to provide safe places for other men to share their feelings.
Part of being a good dad is dealing with the broken relationships in our family of origin. We may have had tough relationships with our family, and these relationships inform the way we parent. They create examples – positive or negative – for the kind of family we want to have. If you have broken relationships, you need to resolve those so you can improve as a parent.
Number two is to love our wives deeply and sacrificially. You may think life is going to be this routine of “I will go to work and she will take care of the kids”, but you need to stand united with your wife to parent and mentor your kids. Most importantly, we need to love our wife in a way that she feels loved. I’ve mentored young husbands before who can’t understand the way they’re loving their wife might not make her feel loved. I encourage all husbands to ask their wives what they can do to make her feel and experience love. The trick here is to make sure you follow through with what she requests. If you ask the question, be prepared for a hard answer, but make sure you are prepared to deliver.
Third is to choose not to pursue esteem for yourself and for your children. When you have stress in your life, you have an idol that is being challenged. That idol is usually what gives you self-esteem. We want to have the perfect life, perfect kids, a great job, the best car. As we try to practice the Christian life, we must understand that God’s best is not always what society perceives as the most successful. If we spend all our time trying to secure esteem for ourselves, we can’t commit time to understanding the unique needs of our children.
Fourth, express unconditional approval for each child. You never quit being a parent, no matter the age of your children. Your role may change, your advice may change, but their need for you will never change. Above everything, my biggest job is to express that my children are loved and approved by me and by our Heavenly Father. I want my children to know that they do not have to perform. Pursuit of esteem leads to perfectionism and performance, which leads to fear, which leads to poor behavior. I want my kids to know that they are perfectly approved of, just how they are born.
A need for approval
I have seen this need for approval play out in the adult lives of men I know. I often meet with pastors who have failed and ask to hear their stories. The typical response from a church when a pastor fails is to immediately remove the pastor in order to preserve the church. The church may not realize there could be a man in the pews who is suffering silently, just as the pastor is. When I meet with a failed pastor, I ask him what the failure was; then I ask him if he was loved well as a child. Their reaction is almost always tears or anger because they weren’t loved well as a child. Many of these men went into ministry not because of a profound calling but to right a wrong. They believe their ministry may prevent other people from going through what they have. This is not sustainable because it is performance-based. It almost always ends up in a spectacular failure. We ask these churches to allow this pastor to step away from the pulpit but remain in relationship with the church. This shows the struggling man in the pew that there is safety in confession. We ask these churches to express unconditional approval of their members.
I have shared this lesson with other fathers. They come back and tell me this notion of approval has made all the difference in their relationship with their children. Everyone’s kids are different. They already face so much pressure from society. As fathers, we need to create relationships with our kids so they understand their worth comes from within and from the Lord.
Tips for Coaching Children:
1. Make coaching consistent with how you live your life. We must set an example of integrity for our children.
2. Reprove in a way that breaks the child’s behavior but not his spirit. Firmly discipline within reason and allow your children to know your motivations.
3. Affirm times of good character more than performance. As parents, we tend to affirm what we value, which is performance. We tend to focus on what our children produce, which leads to perfectionism. Encourage children to be good rather than to do well.
Be The Dad Contributor