Yesterday, before I left Connecticut, I had to turn in the shiny red Mustang convertible I’d been driving. I think this past week may have been the first time I’d truly felt what people mean when they say a car “hugs” the road. I wanted to hug the car, but the shuttle driver loaded my bags and was ready to go before I could even pat the rump of my valiant steed. I get my love of cars from my dad and my grandpa, who worked every evening in Grandpa’s detached garage as I was growing up. Dad liked anything with an engine, if he could make it go fast, and when I felt those tires gripping the Connecticut curves, I thought, “Hey Dad, look at me go!” Grandpa had a special appreciation for Mustangs. When I passed the garage with the people painted on it, I turned around to get a picture, happy as I thought of Grandpa. He sat outside, double garage doors wide open, every day for nearly 60 years. There was always a bicycle, car or lawnmower for sale—almost as much for attracting conversation as cash.
Back on Father’s Day, I asked you to complete a survey about being a dad. I appreciate those of you who took the time. I know guys aren’t always big on surveys and quizzes, but you gave something of yourself and that means something to me. The survey included a list of 10 possible priorities for a father, and a few consistently came out at the top of your lists. You believe it’s your job to protect your family, be a spiritual leader and demonstrate a healthy romantic relationship with the other parent in the house. Helping your kids make good decisions and build skills came next.
Protecting family was most important for those with little ones in the house. When asked how you make your children feel loved and respected, you answered, “Being there,” and “Listening.” One father of teenagers said, “I teach them what being respected and loved is.” This is important. Gangs and pop artists are perfectly willing to teach your precious ones that respect must be demanded or earned with violence. Neither method earns anything worthwhile. Dating relationships and magazines will teach them that to be loved, they must lose their self-respect. As a father, you have an inexplicable power to instill lessons about love and respect simply by existing. It’s up to you to be intentional with that power and choose what lessons you’re teaching. It’s worth it to listen to fathers who’ve gone before you, because we don’t always know what adjustments we need to make until it’s too late.
On the survey, dads with grown children looked back and noted the importance of being there for important moments. Yesterday, I flew with an interesting gentleman, who has opportunities to travel all over the world for his job. I’d take those London and Mexico City trips in a heartbeat, but he has decided to sign up as a soccer coach for his little girls’ team. He knows these years fly by, and he’s not going to miss them. That’s impressive. While it’s important for Dad not to give us unrealistic expectations of how a man should treat us, we women make crummy relationship decisions when our fathers are absent or cold. It can be a challenge to be there, if your kids do things that simply don’t interest you. As a father, you’re working on your own career and interests, and by the time your children are teenagers, they’re finding their own wings and they’re interested in music and activities that may feel like a waste of time to you. When asked what throws you off your game as a dad, one of you said only one word: “Teenagers.” I laughed out loud. My dad didn’t know what hit him when suddenly his teenage daughter moved in, and he was not even remotely interested in spending work nights at school plays. It’s easy to drift away—or be shoved away—from your teens. But show up; be there for those important moments. Down the road, they won’t remember the friends who were there, even though they act embarrassed of you and want some cash to go off with the posse afterwards. They will always remember that you were there. They will know you care about what’s important to them.
When your kids are in their 20s and 30s, and you’re somewhere in your fifties or so, things slow down and regret catches up. I’ve known a few good men who weren’t perfect dads. They made mistakes, because they were growing up themselves. Around this period, their kids let them know about everything they did wrong. They started looking back and got mired in regret. God made this crazy choice to give us a frame and let us help build our own lives. Sometimes when we’re young and think we know it all, we grab the tools and close him out of the garage completely. Without a clue, we saw and weld and screw on parts. At some point, if we choose to let Him in, He fixes the things we’ve really botched, but other things He leaves alone. Eventually, we drive out of the garage in Johnny Cash’s ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58’ 59′ automobile. This is not the slick Cadillac we set out to build. We can’t start over. It’s disheartening.
Why does God let us raise others while we’re still learning? Shouldn’t there be a certification exam and a license? Both younger and older parents have things they wish they’d done differently or things their kids hold against them. Parents can do everything right and raise spoiled kids or do everything wrong and raise world-changers, and there are a million variations of these scenarios.
If you’re living in regret, you’re giving the keys to the only one who wants to keep you from going anywhere. The devil is known as the Accuser—don’t let him steal your ride. God doesn’t care what your car looks like. He knew it would be wonky when He gave you your first toolkit. Your children are actually God’s children, and their Father knows that like you, they have lessons to learn. He’s right there, ready to teach them. He’s not done with you, either. When asked, “If the next generation heard only one thing you said, what would you like to say?” The father with the most years of experience gave the best advice: “Make closeness to God a top priority all day, every day.”
The best parents encourage and empower their kids. They raise adults who know when to ask questions, what kinds of questions to ask and where to get answers. My seatmate on yesterday’s flight said that is exactly how his own father made the biggest impact in his life. His dad didn’t force rigid religious habits on him, but every day, he observed his dad reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. The humble honesty of this example taught him to go to God for answers and strength. If your Bible is a dust magnet, start by joining me Monday through Friday for 1MinuteWiser on Facebook or YouTube. I post at 6pm CST, but you can watch the 1-2 minute videos any time.
Maybe you’re not a dad. I bet you had one though, and present or absent, he made an impact. Parents are people, too. I pray today that you’ll make better choices than those who’ve gone before you, and that you will choose to forgive your parents for any way that you feel hurt by them. Let God help.
I know I’ve mentioned this blog before, but I really appreciate the perspective on The Fatherhood Connection. Check it out.