As of this moment, we have four kids ages 28, 23, 15 and 12. I honestly regret the way I handled most of my years as a father. My career ambitions and decisions left them behind too many times. Even when I had time available for them, I often found some pointless distraction to fill it. My kids were left out of too many things. Too many other people and plans were given priority over them.
Professional production work is one of the worst fields for dads. It keeps us away from home and out late. It’s not impossible to be a good dad, but it ain’t easy.
A friend of mine just sent me a video where a man filmed fourteen years of his daughter growing up. It’s a few seconds from every week of her life. Maybe five minutes long. That five long minutes for me. It actually had me crying. Still getting to me.
It might not hit so hard, if not for the fact that there’s a 15 year old in the house. I feel like she went from diapers to driving lessons in about five minutes. That’s stuff new parents don’t understand. The old farts were always telling me how fast those kids grow up. I would nod politely. I would smile back. I would wish those people would mind their own business. Duh. I know exactly how fast they are growing up. No. I didn’t.
Now I am not about to start giving out lots of parenting advice. I learned stuff, but mostly at their expense. There are plenty of lessons I can and will teach, but there’s more I still don’t get. I have been wanting to write about the parenting for a while. Stuff I did wrong, lessons learned the hard way. I think I will start here. Just a few simple lessons.
Always let them cry first.
When they are little, they fall down a lot. If they are boys, they may even do it on purpose. Something about destroying the knees on your jeans makes you feel tough. We learned very early, let them cry first. If you jump up and freak out, every time they fall, they think they are supposed to freak out. Stay calm as long as possible. No matter what happened. If it’s a big deal to you, it’s a big deal to the little ones.
“No” can never be the first answer.
Even if your kid comes in, asking for a Mohawk and tattoo, ask them why. Talk about it first. If they want a pet water buffalo, walk across country or burn down the house… Talk to them. Especially teens. Going straight to “no” is a great way to trigger rebellion. You don’t have to say “yes” to everything, just don’t say “no” without having a conversation. This goes for your wife, too. Never tell her “no” unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. There are plenty of times when your initial reaction is completely wrong. But, you will never know if you don’t talk to them.
Don’t talk your kids out of their dreams.
One of my kids wanted to play the flute in her school band. I didn’t think she would stick with it. I thought she would be more likely to stick with something else. Something more common, more practical. I talked her into trying the saxophone. She took it and ran with it. Did very well, advanced quickly. Then she got tired of it and quit playing. It wasn’t what she wanted. She dropped out of music classes. It still bothers me. I failed her. I gave her what I wanted her to have. Not what she wanted. Don’t do that.
You do owe them a living.
They didn’t ask to be born. They didn’t choose you as a parent. They had no control over this relationship. You did. You picked out the momma. You got momma pregnant. You are the dad. Be the man. All your big dreams and plans better revolve around that family. Don’t rush out to be successful and leave them behind. Your family is your purpose. Making their dreams come true, making their life good is your mission. Your life matters, only when it matters to the ones who love you the most.
Be a great dad by being a great example.
The bible talks about generational curses and the sins of the fathers being handed down to their children and grandchildren. I have been in churches where they prayed against these things. Sure. Pray about everything. But don’t expect God to change things that you aren’t willing to change. If your dad and grandfather were both abusive, there’s a good chance you will have the same tendencies. If they were good men, who loved their families, maybe that passed down to you.
We learn from examples. We develop our idea of “normal” from the things that were normal as kids. If you were raised Amish, there’s a good chance your kids will be raised Amish. Right? Not all, but most. You pass your idea of normal on to your kids.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you shouldn’t keep praying and believing for a better life for your family. What I am saying is that there better be some action involved. Don’t keep doing the same selfish junk and expect God to fix it. Teach your kids by example.
If your kids see you change, your grand kids have a better chance. If they see you loving your wife, with true Christlike love, they can learn it. If they see you actively involved in your family, it will become their idea of normal. If you are generous and compassionate, it will probably rub off on them. If you are an immature toddler with his head shoved up his… Well. You get the idea.
All of these things are connected. Each lesson is connected to the others. It comes down to you. If you honestly want to be a good man, and are willing to make the effort, it will change your family. Not immediately. But it will. Don’t give up on yourself or your family. Like the rules of an airplane losing oxygen, put on your mask before helping others. Fix dad first. If dad is good, he can help the family. If dad is gasping and choking, he is no good to anyone. Fix yourself first.
Become a better man. Do it for them. Do it now.