More likely, we are juggling 87 balls and only 23 are in the air. (or are you saying back at me, “more like 12?”)
Allow me to let you in on a little secret… your family has already figured out that you aren’t on top of everything! So the sooner you admit it to them, the better off you will be.
We don’t like feeling like a failure. Here’s the good news, you’re aren’t! Ideal Life isn’t possible! There is too much to do, and not enough hours or days or years to ever do it all, and on top of that, you (and me) are broken imperfect people.
The key to successful dadhood is not so much lowering our standard, but accepting who we are and getting a realistic view of ourselves.
The Bible says,
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
- Romans 12:3
In other words, don’t be so hard on yourself – you are only human. Do what you can each day, be willing to say “I’m Sorry,” when you blow it or fall short of yours or others expectation, for tomorrow is another day.
The Bible also offers this encouragement:
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 1:6
There used to be a popular bumper sticker that said, “Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” I’ve often thought I should just wear a t-shirt every day that says, “UNDER CONSTRUCTION.” Because I know despite my best efforts, I still fall short of my own best intentions, let alone anyone else’s!
As a dad, at the end of the day, it’s more important to your kids to be REAL, than to be perfect. That’s a characteristic they will admire in the long run. They’ve already figured out you aren’t perfect. What they want to know is, are you honest about yourself?
What is one of the things that dads are usually worried about? Finances – right? Paying the bills, planning for the future, preparing for the unexpected and providing financial security for the family. That’s why dad is the one always complaining about the lights being left on around the house! No one seems to understand how hard dad works to chase that last dollar! When kids want something, dad looks at it in financial terms. He sees it in comparison to what else those funds could purchase. If a child wants a toy that costs $20, Dad knows what percentage of a family meal a toy that is!
But let’s look at generosity from the perspective of a child.
Dad, your love for you kid(s) is not in question here. That’s assumed, so let’s remove that from the conversation. Let’s assume no other dad loves their kid(s) more than you do! But how is that love communicated to them?
Sure, you SAY you love them when you see them off to school, give them a hug, or tuck them in at night – but the reality is, children need tangible expressions of love. A kid thinks, “I hear you say you love me, but I need to see it.”
Bottom line, gifts show kids you love them. Period.
Some parents want to limit gift giving to birthdays, holidays and special events so they “stash” gifts for those special times – and rightly so, those times should be special! But at the same time, gifts are expected at those times, so the impact is actually lessened. It’s like giving your wife flowers on Valentine’s Day. She expects it, so the romantic point value is about 1. Flowers on an average day is about 47 and might lead somewhere! It’s the same with children. Almost dying of a heart attack and having a stent put in made me realize I don’t want to die with a bunch of toys in the closet that I was going to give my son – I want to see the look on his face when I give them to him. Today is the day I want to bless him. I also realized, I am blessing myself all year around. New clothes, new tech gadgets, new magazines and books – things that I enjoy, why should he have to always wait until some special date on the calendar?
The Bible says:
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Luke 6:31
While my son can’t “do to me” when it comes to gift giving (he has no money) – the principle is that I can to do to him “as I do unto myself!” I buy myself whatever I want (assuming I can afford it.) He lacks that ability. So my child is at my mercy when it comes to his desires. He can only come and ask me. I must do unto him, as I would like him to do, if I was at HIS mercy for the things that I want! What a thought!
Generosity always pays back richly! When we are generous, we show love. It is a tangible expression of love to our children. When we withhold, we often miss an opportunity to show love.
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
- Proverbs 11:24
The Bible often speaks of the benefits of generosity. The joy we see on our child’s face when we give a gift is delightful to behold. Obviously, the gift needs to be a “gift” and not an expectation. That means sometimes saying “no” if the child asks with a bad attitude or with a presumption of receiving. But a good father can train his child to ask respectfully and to accept a “no” respectfully, and can also learn to sneak those purchases to give later as a reward for good behavior as a teaching point. However, a skilled father can also learn to give before the child even asks – that is what our Heavenly Father does for us!
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
- Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13
See, God expects us to give good gifts to our children! He used this twice in the Gospels as an illustration of how He too loves to give us gifts when we ask him. Gift giving is one of the strongest love languages of children – and children are not concerned with the price tag (or the brand name) but only that it came from you, and that you cared enough to give it. My son will surprise me by telling me for every toy who gave it to him and when, even years after the gift was given, and even for the most apparently insignificant toy! He knows who loves him by the gifts they have given him. Words mean a lot to us, but children need those words backed up with something in their hands. In child development lingo, we call that being “concrete relational.” Children are not capable of abstract conceptional thinking. If they can’t touch it – it isn’t real. “Love” is an abstract concept. You need to bring love into the real world so they can touch it. Gifts can be touched!
Perhaps that is why God described every gift we get as coming from our Heavenly Father:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
- James 1:17
When our children look back our their childhood – we want them to remember a father who paid the bills and provided a home and financial security, yes. But we also want them to remember a dad that never was so preoccupied with the burdens of money that there wasn’t enough for the simple joys of childhood. You always have enough money to get your kid a candy bar or a milk shake or that plastic Godzilla at Costco that he has his eye on. And no, he doesn’t have to wait till Christmas. It’s too far away.
Today is the day to show your kid you love them with a gift.
Be known to your children as a generous dad. That is the legacy you want to have. And the harder it is, the more it will mean to them in the years ahead.
Unlike adults, kids don’t wake up in the morning wondering what work they will get done today, but what Adventure awaits them! If adults don’t help create constructive adventure for them, they will create their own! (And it may not be healthy, safe or constructive!) Why do you think kids make tents out of blankets or forts out of empty boxes? Why do boys turn sticks into swords and girls turn dolls into princes destined to come and rescue them?
Why do kids always ask,
- “Where are we going today?”
- “When is our next trip?”
- “What are we going to do today?”
They want Adventure! Dads who CREATE a SENSE of ADVENTURE for their kids are dads who make every day count – and the best news is that you don’t have to go camping or to a baseball game or an amusement park to go on an Adventure with your kids! While these “Big Adventures” may end up being the highlight of the year, it is the “little adventures” that will set you apart from other dads and be the highlights of your relationship with your kid(s).
HEAR ME: ANY DAD can drop some money and take his kid(s) on a Big Adventure, but only the Best Dads make time for the little daily adventures, and those dads have the closest relationships with their kids. Why?
Here is a SECRET not enough dads learn: Strong relationships are built by lots of short fun times, not rare big times.
It’s not hard to be adventurous with your kids! It’s more of an attitude than what you actually do… kids aren’t looking at the size of the event or the cost, they are only focused on the fact that it is with you, your excitement level, and your enthusiasm! Your tone of voice and leadership is more important than any price tag!
You can have:
- Adventures around the house, hiding, hunting for things, playing and pretending!
- Adventures around the neighborhood – walking, riding, playing, serving!
- Adventures around the community – shopping, errands, exploring, serving, playing!
- Adventures around the state – before they are grown and gone, find cool places to go and explore!
And what is your purpose? To show them God in as many ways as possible.
You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.
- Deuteronomy 4:35
God is a God of Adventure! He made a world filled with Adventure! He made life exciting! He created places to explore, He created opportunities to serve people, He created beauty and hints of Himself everywhere. All of this He did to give us just a teaser of what is to come. After all, He told us no matter how much of His Creative Majesty we experience here on earth, it is NOTHING compared to what is to come!
However, as it is written: ““No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:9 TLT
We create Adventure for our kids because we want them to fall in love with life! We want them to know that LIFE is an Adventure and that God has an Adventure of a Lifetime awaiting them if they will follow Him and trust Him. If we bore them, they will seek fulfillment outside of us and our values… and it will lead to a life of pain and emptiness and a life outside of God’s Plan for them. Dads – this is your calling – to lead your kids on the right Path in life. It will be the ultimate evaluation of your life.
Do you see? The calling of a father to lead His children toward Godly Adventure is more than just about being a “fun Dad” – it is about drawing them toward God and the Adventure that awaits a life lived well. It is about the Adventure of being a dad who is the Dad Today, and not just on those “Big Adventures” a few times a year – but everyday asking, “How can I make TODAY an Adventure for my son or daughter?”
Are you up for the Adventure, Dad?
It’s impossible to watch your children at ALL times. Nor is it even healthy. At some point you have to start to trust them… and teach them responsibility. And yet, we have our healthy fears for their safety. We live in a dangerous world!
I grew up in a family with multiple kids, so we had a fun numbering system. If all the kids were not in sight, but were in ear-shot, one parent could just call out, “One!” and one by one, in birth order we’d chime out, “Two!” – “Three!” – “Four” – until we were all accounted for and then the other parent would end the count concluding the operation. If a number wasn’t called, we all could begin to search for the missing child! Since I only have one child, I simple call out, “Luke, say hi” and listen for a “Hi, Dad” from around a corner or over a display, and know my little boy is still nearby if he has left my immediate line of sight for a moment.
But keeping focused on our kids involves a lot more than knowing where they are physically. It has to do with knowing where they are in others areas of their development as well. Keeping them safe from physical harm is certainly important – but they can be safe in your home, and their heart can be miles away if you’ve not worked to keep in touch with where they are in their relationships with their friends, peers, siblings, teachers, classmates… and yes, YOU.
When is the last time you asked, “How’s it going?” and actually took the time to listen to the long answer? Don’t settle for the pat, “fine” or “O.K.” Focused conversations take time and need to be earned through repeated attempts and by listening without correcting, judging or launching into unwanted advice.
The Bible offers some pretty good advice:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
- Colossians 4:2
Start out by praying for your kid. Ask God to give you the wisdom to be watchful – to SEE things that might concern you. Ask Him to help you to be watchful for things things that you might want to ask about. Notice I said, “ask about,” not lecture about! But God also is quick to point out that you also need to be thankful! Your kid is still growing up, so don’t expect perfection – give them time to figure things out. Remember the old bumper sticker? “Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” Be sure to notice all the GOOD things, and mention them to your kids – compliment them! Too often, they think all you notice is the bad stuff. It is said that negative comments are heard seven times louder, so you have to say seven times more positive things for every negative thing you say just to make it even! Even more, if you want to be considered more positive than negative! You might have some work to do, huh?
The Focused Dad is not just concerned with surviving each day and making sure his kid(s) get their responsibilities done – he is carefully watching to see where and how he can be used as a refining tool in his kid’s life. Gently, but intentionally. He wants to be a guide for his children. He wants to be coach and a mentor in his children’s lives rather than just a corrector or bringer of discipline when they mess up. This requires focus. At the end of a work day, this can be hard. But years from now – a Focused Dad is a dad kids are going to honor and thank. For they are going to be better off because you made the effort.
Study your kids character and ask yourself – how can I help mold them, not just scold them? That is what a focused dad does.
When is the last time your KIDS laughed so hard they cried?
When is the last time you got so silly your WIFE yelled at you?
That is when you score truly big points with the kids! Silliness is next to godliness when it comes to your children! A silly dad is better than a cool dad any day! Making faces, dressing up, doing things incorrectly, falling down or out of your chair says you are able to laugh at yourself.
As dads we want to look like we are in charge. Relax. They KNOW you are in charge. What they want to know is if you can chill and have a little fun. Well, can you?
Act like a kid for a change!
The Apostle Paul said in the Bible:
To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
- I Corinthians 9:22
In other words – he was willing to change, to become like those he wanted to reach – in order to connect with them. He never betrayed who he was, but he was willing to adapt and adjust to make a connection with those he wanted to relate to.
Do you want to connect with your kids?
Do you want to relate to your kids?
Then lighten up! Get silly! Have fun and goof off! Don’t be so stinkin’ serious all the time.
“Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.”
“God give me patience, but give it to me NOW!”
“I’m so efficient, I can watch 60-Minutes in a half hour!”
As men, we are in such a hurry. In fact, we’ve gotten so good at it – sometimes we have forgotten why we were in a hurry in the first place! Believe it or not, there are some days – whole weeks even – where there isn’t truly anything urgent, but we just feel urgency because we’ve conditioned ourselves that way! It’s become our default mode.
Don’t get me wrong – there are times we need to get it in gear! There are deadlines. Stress will never be eliminated. But it doesn’t have to be a permanent state of mind, and it CAN be set aside.
AND IT MUST BE when we are with our kids.
- Your child can sense when you are rushed.
- Your child can tell if you’d rather be elsewhere.
- Your child knows if something is more important than him.
- Your child senses if you are wanting to get away from her.
Our impatience is a sign that we have lost sight of what truly matters – of what will last – of what we will miss someday. And of unrealistic expectations on our children. The Bible says:
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
- Proverbs 14:29
We are foolish when we are impatient with our kids, because we display a lack of understanding for what they are capable of – but worse, we drive a wedge in our relationship with them. When we are patient we create the opportunity to invest in the relationship by to deepening their love for us. Why? When we are relaxed and more concerned about them than the clock, we show that they are important to us and have value.
As men we want to be STRONG! But too often, we think that strength is best shown in taking charge and getting our kids to hurry up. The truth is, that strength may be better shown in sitting down and being patient. Consider the words of a great King who once penned these words:
Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.
- Proverbs 16:32
So the next time your kids are driving you nuts and you think you are about to lose it, sit down and be patient. Be that calm, quiet, patient warrior and realize – all too soon the house will be quiet, and the patience you will be working on, is waiting for them to come visit you and bring the grandchildren.
So sit down and watch them and enjoy. A patient dad will enjoy the sights and sounds of childhood, before they are gone.
Be a Man! How many times have we heard that demand? Well, sometimes being a dad demands that we keep our manliness in check for the sake our kids tender hearts. Yes, even our boys need us to be gentle towards them, at every age. Gentleness is being loving and kind, even when we are being firm. It is making sure that there is a stream of affection and affirmation flowing, even when we are angry or upset. It’s that controlled spirit that says I love you even while I am correcting you.
When we speak to our kids, our tone, attitudes, volume and emotions are amplified in their hearts and minds for two simple reasons. First of all, simply because of our sheer size as we tower over them! But more importantly, because of our importance and value to them.
When you express disappointment to your child, you may be just a little disappointed in them, and five minutes later the world returns to normal for you. It’s done. Just like at work when a co-worker irritates you and you are fuming mad, but five minutes later you are back to chumming it up with them – complaining about the boss or sharing an inside an office joke. But at home, five minutes later – hours later, your kid is still crushed inside, even if they don’t show it. They disappointed their hero! Their Dad.
What you intend as a tap with a picture hanging hammer can come off like a sledge hammer! You may not need to be as forceful as you think. Often, as dads, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I being too harsh?” – “Do I need to be more gentle here?”
Here’s an easy way to remember how to keep your words S.O.F.T. even when you do need to correct your child:
S = Speak Slowly and Softly
O = On their level
F = Face to face
T = Touch them affectionately
When we are gentle, we build trust into our relationship with our kids. That trust makes deposits that grow into an account will pay dividends for life. When we make mistakes as dads, we make debits. We all make debits. The goal is to make more deposits than debits! Gentleness is an easy way to make deposits and it assures our children of our love, and when they make mistakes, or especially when they have outright done wrong, that is when they really need to be assured of your unconditionally love and acceptance. Those deposits are extra large!
The Bible assures us that when we are gentle, our children draw closer to us. But when we aren’t, they pull away from us:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Be a man – and be gentle toward your child.
And Be The Dad, Today!
You can say you love a kid a thousand times, but they’ll never believe it until you play with them! I’ve often said, “Play is the work of children.” What does this mean? For grown-ups, play is what we do when we take a break from work. Work, sadly, is our default mode. We get up and go to work. But once in a while, we take a break from work to play. Whether it is a short break at work, from work, or to get away from work on vacation. Play is an escape for us from a normal life of working. For our children, life is quite the opposite! Their default mode is play! They work too, but only when they have to, and it then requires that they take a break from play in order work! And can’t wait to get back to playing again! (Too bad we can’t be more like them!)
The dad who connects best with his kids is the one who learns how to connect with his children by making playing with his kids more his default mode, not a mode he has to switch to. When he is playful all the time – his kids feel loved, because they feel he is connecting with them on their level. This doesn’t mean he has to play all the time – he is their provider, he must work. But he can be playful whenever they are around and not be irritated by their playful spirit understanding that it is their natural way, and even join into it in little ways that show he understands and can enter their world easily and naturally while still being comfortable in his own. He can find little playful ways to join them, even if only for moments at a time.
The dad who is not too proud to get on the ground, laugh loudly or look rather silly, is a dad whose kids are going to feel loved and special. You never know what your kids have gone through during the day, and the dad who can make them laugh can turn everything around.
The Bible says,
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
What kind of dad do you want to be? One who dries up the spirit of your kids? Or one who is the medicine that cheers them up after perhaps a rough day? A playful dad is a dad who will brighten up their every day! Here is something to keep in mind when you play with your kids:
What makes for Positive P.L.A.Y.?
P = Purposeful Play – your goal is to connect with your kids and deepen your relationship with them while you play. Make sure you accomplish this while you play. Words of affirmation and affection during your play will make your play time purposeful.
L = Laughter -Laugh a lot. Roll around. Be silly. It doesn’t have to make sense. If you kid enjoys be tickled, work it in! Make your play time fun and memorable. Have code words for communicating when your tickling or wrestling is too much, but horse play and goofing off is one of kids’ greatest love languages. Love is also spelled “TIME” – and laughter filled time is the best time spent.
A = Active playing not passive playing. Sitting with your child while they play doesn’t count! You need to be engaged. Grab the toys and play along. They can tell if you are engaged or faking it. Role play, do voices, act things out, tell stories and get in to it. Embarrass them if you must, but you are your child’s favorite playmate. And you are earning the right to be the one they go to later when they need help and counsel. Invest in that relationship now by being engaged in what is important to them now, as simply or silly as it may appear to you now.
Y = Yield your agenda. You may have had plans or ideas for this time together, but let your child be in charge. If they keep changing their mind, it’s O.K. Usually you are in charge and giving the instructions. This is their time. They may even test you when you say that you want to play with them and let them take the lead. Show some humility and willingness to follow. They will love it.
If you will Be Playful – you will make everyday count with your children!
I know a man personally who once heard outside his office door a strange low voice calling his full name and title and requesting an audience. Upon opening the door, he was surprised to see his son standing there. When he asked his son why he had lowered his voice and called him by his full name and title his son replied, “I thought maybe I’d have a better chance at getting to see you that way.”
Obviously, somehow, over time, this Dad had given his son the impression that his staff had easier access to him than his children! This Dad told me he canceled all his appointments and spent the rest of the day with his son. He asked him, “Son, what do you want to do today?” His son said, “I’d like to fly a kite.” And fly a kite they did! The next day this father received a drawing from his son of the two of them flying a kite. Oddly enough, the son drew the kite in the shape of a heart – though it had not been, and he wrote the following note to his father below the drawing. “Dad, I love you so much, I’d die for you.” You can imagine the impact of this experience on this busy father.
This is a true story. I have a scanned copy of the picture and you can see it yourself in the online video First Things First on Kidology.org. But the point is: Are you available to your kids? Can they reach you when they need you? Do they KNOW they are more important to you than anyone else in your life? It’s O.K. to be busy. Your children can understand that you are providing for the family, but they need to know that they can break through that busyness without annoying you when its important and they need you. This father radically changed his life after this experience with his son, even changing jobs to be more available to his son. Are your kids more important than your job? Of course. BUT DO THEY KNOW THAT?
Being a Dad is your highest calling, and there are just a few short years while they are in your home – and then YOU will be the one wanting them to be available to you.
“Show me, LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days;
Let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere hand-breadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.”
God’s Word reminds us of how short our life truly is. And how fast it will go by, and how fast our kids are going to grow up, and how quickly we may be dealing with regret, if we don’t make time now to be available for our children. Don’t miss the opportunities you have NOW to be available for them.
Being available means that your kids know that they have direct access to you and that they can bypass anyone to get to you. Of course, there can be rules as to when they do this – but when it is important – they need to know, nothing is more important to you than them. They can contact you or interrupt anything when they need you. You are their Dad, and they are your Child. And you are Available to them 24/7. And that is something that will last a lifetime!
As dads we live pretty busy lives, don’t we? Between work, and home and work (it seems to overflow, doesn’t it?) there are more demands on us than it is humanly possible to manage. How can we possibly be a good dad?
Something has to give, right?
The answer is yes! The key is accepting that reality and choosing not to let it be your kid(s). In just a few short years, they won’t be around to demand your time. All too soon, you will be able to work those extra hours in a quiet empty house where noisy toys once irritated you. In fact, before you know it, you’ll be complaining that they are too busy for you!
That is why the Bible warns,
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…”
God knows that all too often we end up with regrets. The passage where this verse is found isn’t talking about parenting, but the principle applies – while we are running around trying to keep up with everything, our kids are steadily getting older. Ask yourself, Seriously, how important are the things you are working on? What would really happen if you didn’t get all them done? How bad would the consequences truly be if you blew something off at work to spend more time with your kids?
When it comes to being an intentional dad, it’s all about saying “no” to the right things and being willing to say “yes” to your kid(s) instead. You have to say “no” to something, probably several things every day. Say no to the boss or some co-workers for a change. (!) You might just enjoy it! Then spend some extra time on the floor playing or laughing or playing some silly board game. Make a memory! Lose the clock and find the fun!