Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22 v 5-7
We are so busy giving our children what we didn't have, that we don't have time to give them what we did have.
Dr James Dobson
Today was fathers day. For many it was a heart breaking day as they yearned for a father they never had or perhaps for a father who didn't live up to what they wanted. Others reflected on a father who has passed away and who they continue to miss dearly. I'm so thankful for my own dad and all he taught me about fatherhood. He wasn't perfect but he was always there for me growing up. Juggling a busy ministry with a family couldn't have been easy. Coping with the death of my sister over 30 years ago must have been an incredible blow - and yet he persevered. His patience with my teenage tantrums are something I can only appreciate now as a father! I love how he always wore a tie - even on holiday. I can still remember his reaction when I announced one Saturday afternoon that I was off to meet a girl. It wasn't so much shock as incredulity. I still chuckle thinking about it.
Sometimes people think that because I have 4 boys that I must know something about being a dad. Fortunately that illusion disappeared some time ago. As a sinner I realise how imperfect I am as a father. When you are a parent there is nowhere to hide. Your frustrations are on display and even when you say sorry you can never take back an angry outburst or a sarcastic put down. The only way to be a great dad is to be honest with my kids that I am a flawed, broken sinner who needs grace daily to live for God's glory. I need to point them to a perfect heavenly father who can be their guide in a confusing and often hostile world.
Having said all that, there a few things I have learned along the way that may help future dads on the rollercoaster that is fatherhood.
1. Don't be frightened to be a man
Children, particularly boys, need a man to look up to. I meet a lot of guys nowadays who seem to be embarrassed by manliness. Don't get me started on male grooming (that can perhaps take up a whole other blog) but some men seem to struggle with the fact that God has made us different. We were meant to be providers and protectors in God's original design. He wants us to lovingly and sacrificially lead our families in a clear direction. Of course we need to discuss and lovingly listen to our wives and children but God wants us to men - to lead, provide and protect. Like most men I have often put my work before my family. I feel sad and guilty about that. But I'm also proud that my kids see a dad who works hard and puts food on the table. My 7 year old doesn't want a dad who crochets with him - he wants me to play football with him 24 hours a day. My 13 year old wants a dad who will take him camping and do outdoor stuff with him. By any assessment I'm not really Bear Grylls but this summer, God willing, we will go camping (very close to toilets and a shower block). My point is that sons want a father who is a man. God put men and women together in marriage because they give very different things to their kids. Don't be frightened of these differences celebrate them.
2. Get the order right
This is critical if you want to be a good dad. A godly Christian minister once said to me when I was a young, struggling father; 'children need three things: love, security and discipline - in that order'. I've never forgotten that advice and every time I've gone wrong as a dad it is when I get the order wrong. My early years as a father were just embarrassing. I was a disciplinarian always laying down the law. As with the gospel, love needs to come first. When my sons understand how much I love them, discipline becomes so much easier. They also need security. I'm away with work fairly regularly but generally if the boys know when you are leaving and coming back they can cope. Love needs to be communicated in the ordinary of everyday life; the chat on the way to school, the arm around my boys while watching Match of the Day, taking them to shinty training or taking them to get a new pair of trainers. It all communicates love and concern and boys need tons of it. Let's remember to have lots of fun with our kids. Life is tough so lets give our kids plenty of happy memories. Rob Parsons in his book The Sixty Minute Father quotes a father; When I'm gone and my children talk about me, I would love them to say that I taught them great things, to look at the world with large eyes, to reach their potential and to care for those who are weak. But I would wonder if I had missed it if they didn't add, 'But what we remember too is that he was fun to be with.'
3. Put God first
I genuinely weep over some of my parenting in the last 13 years. Sleep deprivation can do some awful things to the best of us. But something I was brought up with and have always done is family worship. Every night my wife and I gather the kids at around 8:30 to sing a psalm, read about 10 verses from the bible and say a short prayer. It is one of the best times of the day. Currently we are reading Proverbs and talking about the need for wisdom. I am much more challenged than the kids because I have been reading this book for 40 years and I seem to be more foolish than ever. My challenge to other parents is simply this 'where are your kids getting their values from?' As well as topping up their emotional tanks with love and cuddles every day we need to teach them about a great God and a loving saviour. We need to teach them about the values of the bible and how they can make sense of a confusing and sinful world. Kids need to see the reality of our faith as well as the theory. Of course they need to sit under good preaching but they are only in church 1-2 hours a week. What they see and hear in the home is much more critical to their faith. I'm not saying this happens often but recently we had an amazing answer to prayer. Our car broke down and we had just spend a fortune on it. To my shame I felt a little angry with God that he could have allowed this to happen. As a family we prayed. Amazingly, and out of the blue somebody sent us some money which covered a large part of the cost of the new car. If our kids see God working through the practical issues of life, if they see God as a reality in our lives they will be more attracted to the gospel.
4. Remember grace
In all my many, many failures as a dad, I need to remember God's grace. When I fail, I need to confess and repent but then I need to dust myself down and get on with it. If our children leave home when they are 18 we have 6570 days with them. We think we have our kids for ever but we don't. Let's not miss these precious days that God has given to love our kids. Don't be crippled by past failures. Yes we've made mistakes but kids are resilient and understanding. They also have short memories. We need to say we are sorry and do everything we can to be a loving parent. Our kids don't understand the pressures of our work - all they want is some quality time with their dad doing the things they want to do. God is gracious and patient with us and we need to be the same with ourselves and our kids. I have always loved Psalm 103 v 13 'Such pity as a father hath unto his children dear, like pity shows the Lord to such as worship him in fear'. I hope and pray that I can be a better dad as I try to learn from my many mistakes but I am so thankful that I am upheld by a perfect father in heaven. My prayer is that my sons will see something in me that will draw them to that loving heavenly father and that they will grow up to be great fathers to their children.