I had a conversation with two good friends a month ago about being fathers. Each of us is married and we each have at least one young son. Actually, I mostly listened, which I often do either when I disagree or am distracted. The former excuse is shyness or cowardice; the latter is boredom or unintentional, yet still rude, inattention. Both embarrass me and I’m trying to work on them. In fact, they add to my not-infrequent feelings of inadequacy (more on that another time, though thankfully God’s gracious hand is over it all!) — but only my closest friends ever seem to notice or comment.
Other times, I stay quiet in obedience to the biblical principles of building unity — not provoking division — or evading idle and foolish talk. The Bible is strong and frequent in its condemnation of our fiery tongues. For a taste, see Proverbs 16, Matthew 12, and James 3.
In this case of my two friends’ discussion, I think my reaction was primarily of the shy, cowardly nature. This is not to say I think either of them poor fathers. To the contrary, they are both godly men who love their kids and wife very much. I’ve known them since 2010; I respect them; I’ve studied the scriptures with them; I’ve prayed with them; I’ve learned from them; I’ve laughed with them; and I’ve eaten lots of chocolate with them!
“Don’t you need a break from your kids now and then?” The mutual, overall response: “Yes,” in one form or another. This exchange may summarize my friends’ dialogue poorly or even unfairly, especially since I do not recall those exact words. But for the sake of brevity and my two-week-old memory, I’ll start here — for had I spoken, my answer would have been “No.”
Helping with homework, answering questions, running errands, going to the doctor, changing poopy diapers, feeding, bathing, clothing, putting toys away…and of course you have to PAY for all this! And then there are spankings, instructing, reading, nursery, church, repairing computers, replacing glasses, babysitters, attitudes, crying, waking up at 3 a.m…and of course you must negotiate all these responsibilities with MOM! To top it all, there are the dreaded teenage years, fights between siblings, paying for cars and college (admittedly, I am still years away from these), and your children are a bunch of selfish, rebellious sinners…and of course so are YOU!
Fatherhood…now do I need a break? Nope.
My two friends and I each have an Achilles heel. One works a lot, the other socializes a lot, I play a lot (see my blogger profile). There is nothing wrong with any of these activities. In fact, as Christians, we’re called to healthy levels of work, fellowship, and recreation. Such commitments enable us to provide for others’ needs, encourage people to get closer to God, and delight in His majestic creation and blessings. We also serve our church in various ways. In short, we three amigos in question get to glorify God through our time and talents.
Do kids get in the way of these goals? Yes…
Did you notice whose perspective, needs, and inconvenience filled the last two paragraphs? Mine; ours. Do our kids have any less perspective, needs, and inconvenience when it comes to relating to their parents? Are their goals of chasing Daddy and Daddy chasing them, of getting and giving hugs (or handshakes, with all due respect to my British friend!), of asking and being asked questions, of getting good grades, winning sports or music competitions, making new friends, or getting to know Almighty God any less important than our goals?
In one sense, the answer is “yes.” Parents, not kids, are supposed to be the authority. Parents, not kids, are supposed to run the family. Parents, not kids, are supposed to initiate, lead, teach, train, say “no,” exemplify, provide, and discipline. Children are supposed to obey, respect, honor, listen, follow, say “yes,” submit, and trust their parents. Moreover, the Bible places more responsibility on fathers than on mothers regarding each of these issues. See Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, and 1 Timothy 3.
In another sense, the answer is “no.” Here a possible chain of command: (1) parents’ primary goals, (2) kids’ primary goals, (3) parents’ secondary goals, (4) kids’ secondary goals. Especially as fathers, I don’t think we should switch 2 and 3. Granting all assumptions for loving interaction and mutual flexibility…If Dad has work to do on the computer (1) and Johnny needs the computer for homework (2), Dad goes first. If Dad plans a hike with friends (1) and Johnny schedules a date with his girlfriend (2), Dad gets the car. If Dad is watching a World Series game and (3) and Johnny wants to start learning his trombone (4), Dad wins. If Dad takes a nap on the couch (3) and Johnny wants to talk on the phone (4), Dad stays put.
BUT…If Dad sits down with a book and Beethoven (3) and Johnny wants to play catch (2), Dad smiles and asks where his glove went. If Dad is trying to catch up on e-mail or the news (3) and Johnny asks about the pastor’s sermon last Sunday (2), Dad gives a sincere response. If Dad is stargazing on his telescope (3) and Johnny starts telling him about a troublesome classmate or teacher (2), Dad takes a break. If Dad is thinking about a weekend ski trip (3) and Johnny says that’s when his first basketball game is (2), Dad changes plans.
So in a nutshell, why do I love being a dad?
For starters, it’s magical! Now I am not into magic and I don’t care for magic shows. I certainly am wary of magic gone awry (as through demonic influences or witchcraft for evil purposes). Perhaps I watched Disney too much growing up, but sometimes “magical” is just the word I need to describe a supremely marvelous or inspirational experience. Two of my favorite places on Earth are the Crazy Mountains in Montana and Siwa Oasis in Egypt. (I highly recommend a visit or three! Oh, and note the bottom of my profile page.) I simply consider them magical.
When I witness or receive my son’s hugs, smiles, smirks, laughs, giggles, games, tricks, petitions, discussions, accomplishments, skills, inspirations, aspirations, development, excitement, eagerness, contentment, patience, obedience, curiosity, delight, respect, kindness, generosity, honor, joy, faith, and love: I simply consider them magical.
But there’s more…
Several years ago, John Piper explained in a Father’s Day sermon that when families follow a biblical model, kids get a picture of who Jesus is like, since He always points to God the Father. Then they get to see what the Father’s love for Jesus is like, and thus what His love for us is like. Showing God to our wife and kids in truth and love may be the best thing we can ever do, and it may be what they need the most from us. Check out Proverbs 4, John 17, and Ephesians 4.
The father’s heart is key to all of this. If I do all the right things while grumbling inside, the kids will notice. If I do the right thing once a week and my own thing six days a week, the kids will notice. I cannot be perfect. Rather, I should forgive my own iniquity as quickly and completely as I forgive my kids’ (just as God forgives me). Meanwhile, I can work on being a good dad. I truly love it. It’s one of the best jobs in the world!
I wanted to finish this post yesterday when I got home from work. I thought my son might still be sleeping — before I started my daily three-hour shift with him. He was not. I was thrilled to see him!