A Father's Gifts

Your influence may determine your child's future
A Father's Gifts
Image: AGNIESZKA GULCZYNSKA / FLICKR

Becky seemed to work more diligently on her family picture than any of her other kindergarten classmates. She wanted it to be perfect. After all, this was going to be imprinted on a plate, taken home, and cherished forever. With the focus of a surgeon, Becky carefully drew a picture of herself beside her mom and the family dog. She included every detail, even drawing the little baby inside Mom's belly. In Becky's mind, the picture was complete.

The drawing was soon etched onto the plate, and Becky proudly took it home. There was only one problem: Becky's parents were not divorced. Becky's mother wasn't a single mom. "But that's how she saw our family," her father Ron says. "I was working so many hours that I wasn't even in the picture."

Twenty-five years later, Ron still has that plate. It reminds him that dads need to be intentional about being involved in the lives of their children.

Get in the Picture

Do you want to be in the picture with your kids? Don't fall for the lie that says they'll naturally grow up to love the Lord, with or without your involvement. A father's positive presence and parental participation are huge factors in raising children who love the Lord.

Huge.

If you're a dad reading this instead of watching ESPN or trading stocks on the Internet, good for you. If you're a mom whose husband is always glued to the TV, the computer, or the work he's brought home from the office, encourage him to read this article.

Most fathers want to be involved. We want to be good role models and positive influences in our children's lives. We want to affirm and support and love our kids. We just don't always know how.

All dads feel a great deal of pressure. You probably have moments when you feel you are totally in over your head, nights when you can't draw an easy breath. Here's something you might want to know: those feelings of inadequacy are a relief to the Lord. A know-it-all attitude gets in the way of God's work, but a recognition of your need for help opens the door for the Lord to step in.

There's no map or GPS for parenthood; you might as well admit that, sooner or later, you're going to have to ask for directions.

Six Gifts Your Kids Need from You

Dads, there are some things only you can give your kids. And I'm not talking about basketball shoes or cell phones or bigger allowances or expensive vacations. These are gifts much more important than that—and much more valuable. Give your children these gifts, and you will reap the benefits for years to come. Withhold them, and you take the chance of watching helplessly as they head down the wrong road.

Gift #1—Love Their Mom

Remember how it felt when you were dating, before you got married, before the kids came along? Remember how your heart raced when she came into the room? Remember how desperate you were to get her attention? You spent hours thinking about her, writing notes and letters and maybe even poems, trying to sweep her off her feet and show her how much you cared.

Do it again.

Communicate regularly and lovingly with your wife— especially in front of the children. Keep your disputes or arguments private. Take an interest in her interests, do unexpected things for her, treat her the way you did when you were pursuing her. You may think that romancing your wife has little to do with fatherhood, but it is key to helping your children feel safe and loved.

Block out a night once or twice a month for a date night with your wife—just the two of you. I know, I know. You think you're too busy or it's too expensive. But it's an investment you can't afford not to make. If you have small children and can't pay a baby-sitter, find another couple and trade off watching each other's children once a month. Trust me, it will breathe life into the two of you. Both you and your children will benefit.

When our kids were very young, Beth and I would be getting ready for a date night. I'd start speaking in glowing terms to the kids about my plans for the night. They would run back and forth reporting to Beth any secret nuggets about the activities of the evening. Eventually, one of them would look up at me and beg, "Can I go with you?"

My answer was always the same: "No way. I have a date with the most beautiful woman in the world and you are not invited."

Does that sound cold or unloving? It wasn't. It was a blessing, a benediction. It gave each of them just what they needed—a sense of security and assurance. Later that night when the babysitter would tuck them into bed, they would fall asleep knowing, "My mommy loves my daddy and my daddy loves my mommy."

When you are a child, that's a pretty healthy way to end your day. Love your wife and show it. The best way to be a good father is to be a good husband.

Gift #2—Teach Your Kids Respect

Part of the growing-up process is to test boundaries: to see how much you can get away with; to see where the lines are drawn. Your children will push back. You need to be clear about what's expected of them. Teaching them respect begins in the early years, and it must be reinforced by both parents.

Don't believe it? See how fast your preschooler will go ask Daddy when Mommy says no.

Teach them simple lessons to undergird the importance of respect:

  • Look people in the eyes when you speak to them
  • The universe doesn't revolve around you
  • Express thanks with a grateful heart
  • Dive in and serve
  • Respond with obedience the first time you're asked
  • Treat your mother with respect and honor

Parents can be great at making excuses for their children's lack of respect: "She's shy," "He didn't get much sleep last night," or "He's only thrown a temper tantrum twice this morning—so he's improving."

Well, maybe that's all true, but the bottom line is, you get what you expect. Set the bar high, and when they don't rise to it, administer appropriate consequences. Inherently your children want to please you, so start early teaching them respect for themselves, for others, for property, and for God.

Dad, show some backbone with your kids. You may be able to stand up to the board of directors of your $50-million company, but that won't count for much if you can't stand up to your seven-year-old when he back talks his mother, or to your teenage daughter when she starts to leave the house wearing something inappropriate. Pour into your son a respect for the opposite sex: show basic courtesy and honor to a female of any age. You are his model. Show him by example how women should be treated. Teach your daughter never to accept disrespectful or controlling attitudes. If she sees gentleness and respect in you, she won't tolerate being mistreated by boys.

Gift #3—Make Some Memories with Your Kids

I have a friend who starts every morning at her favorite coffee shop. "It's more than just a great cup of coffee," she says. "It's a place where people talk to one another and community forms, a setting where connections happen and relationships start. You see the same people every day; they become a part of your routine, part of your life."

We could learn a lot from that coffee shop. We need to make the home a gathering place, a place to connect with our kids.

For fathers, the relationship with a son may feel easier because we share common interests. But we need to cultivate a connection with our daughters as well in order to usher them into a well-adjusted adulthood. If the father-daughter relationship is forced or absent, the result may be inferiority, fear, and a lack of discipline.

Research has shown that a daughter who doesn't have a close relationship with her father has a far higher chance of sexual experimentation. She has an innate need for male attention, and God intended for her to get it first from you, Dad. If she doesn't feel loved and needed and secure with her father, she'll find it somewhere else.

When my girls were very young, God impressed on me that daughters needed to be cherished by their fathers. I'll admit that the voice sounded suspiciously like my wife, but it was God speaking nevertheless. And they were both right. I made an intentional investment in the lives of my daughters, and I've never regretted the cost or the effort.

Get in the picture. Create traditions together as a family. Don't allow time or money to become an excuse. Let's be honest, you will spend the money on something, so why not invest in activities that will deepen your family bond? Your effort to create memories will make a lasting impression. Years ago I decided that I wanted to take each of my children on a separate trip to New York City during their teen years. To pull it off meant saving money for a long time. Savannah and I had a special talk in Central Park. Sadie and I held hands and ice-skated together at Rockefeller Plaza. Sam and I went to the All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, and we each caught a ball in Home Run Derby. They'd all tell you, and so would I, that these are priceless memories and worth every penny.

But you don't have to go into debt to make memories. Maybe you can start a tradition, an annual activity around a holiday. It might be a spur-of-the-moment surprise, game night or movie night, a trip to see the Christmas lights, tubing on the river, or a Memorial Day cookout. Making memories doesn't have to cost a lot. It just has to be a priority.

Little things go a long way with any son or daughter. When the kids were young, about once every six weeks I would take each child, separately, to their "special place" for dinner. This restaurant became a sacred secret which they did not disclose to their siblings.

When my daughter Sadie, was nine, Applebee's® was her special place. She loved to eat the barbecue ribs Kid's Meal. Once after Sadie and I returned from eating together, six-year-old Sam got in a close conversation with his sister. He loudly declared, "Sadie, you ate at Applebee's."

Like Simon Peter, she denied it three times. Unconvinced, Sam came over to me and whispered, "Dad, her breath smells like Applebee's."

Busted.

Make memories with each of your children. In years to come, they won't remember what you spent. They'll remember what you did.

Gift #4—Give Spiritual Direction to Your Family

A father is without question the single most significant influence on the spiritual life of his children. The statistical data from three major studies in recent years is overwhelming. If the father is involved in a church and is growing spiritually, the likelihood of the child doing the same skyrockets. If Mom goes to church alone with the kids, the chances plummet.

Numbers don't lie:

If a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. But if the father is first, there is a 93 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow.

Is that astounding? Does it put a lump in your throat to realize how important you are in this process?

Men, your kids' pathway to God runs straight through you. If you roll your eyes when prayer is mentioned, so will your children. If you close your eyes and speak of how dependent you are on God for His power and grace, your kids will be more apt to include prayer in their lives.

Read God's Word regularly. Share with your kids what God is teaching you.

Be involved in a church. Be your wife's biggest encourager. Talk to God and ask for His wisdom in parenting.

Tammy's mother taught Sunday school, and the kids always went with her. Their dad would wait in the car and go in for the church service only. One day the kids were complaining and resisting. "Daddy doesn't have to go," they said. "Why do we?"

"My dad overheard our conversation," Tammy said, "and the very next week he started going to Sunday school. That was thirty-five years ago, and to the best of my knowledge he's never missed."

Little eyes are watching. Little ears are listening. As Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." If you want to produce the real thing, you must be the real thing.

Gift # 5—Encourage Your Kids

Your children need to know that you are in their corner. We are all busy and pulled a lot of directions, but when your son or daughter takes the stage, the court, or the field, that glance into the crowd is a subtle search for significance. Your absence deflates them. Your presence shouts that they have value. They can pick your voice out of a crowd with the precision of a piano tuner.

Christian author John Eldredge says, "Your son or daughter, no matter how old, will always want and need to hear those words from you. 'You have what it takes…You are worth fighting for.'"

Your positive comments and attitude help shape your children's self-esteem. Affirm them. Let them know you're proud. Let your daughter know that you think she's beautiful and smart, talented and capable. Catch your son doing something right and commend him in front of others.

Dads play a key role in determining whether children venture outside their comfort zone or fearfully settle for a status quo existence. Your genuine affirmation provides a safety net for taking risks and stretching their confidence.

Gift #6—Invest Quality Time

In this frantic world, time has become the most precious commodity. But it's not just time that's important—it's quality time, attentive time. Sometimes I am with my family, but my mind is elsewhere. Later my wife will say to me: "Well, Dave, you were there—but you weren't there." And although I am slow to admit it, I know she's right.

We need to stop seeing busyness as a badge of honor. We may be "important" people with "important" things to do, but the end result is always the same for our families. They get what we men tend to complain about: the leftovers.

At one time in my life, I was enjoying the climb rather than focusing my attention and priorities on my wife and small children. The ministry, like any other profession, can eat you alive if you let it. I gave at the office—sixty-hour weeks like an obsessed and driven workaholic. My self-imposed quest to provide for my family was actually causing me to neglect them.

Like my friend Ron, I was out of the family picture.

All that changed one Father's Day. Before my sermon a soloist sang a song with this refrain:

Slow down, Daddy, don't work so hard.
We're proud of our house, we've got a big enough yard.
Slow down, Daddy—we want you around—
Daddy, please slow down.

When she finished singing, I went to the pulpit to preach. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. The emotion and guilt left me speechless.

The congregation had to sing a chorus so that I could regain my composure.

Our children's ministry director, Linda Brandon, happened to be in that particular service with her young son. He turned to her and said, "Mommy, why is Mr. Stone crying?"

Linda candidly replied, "Well, when the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin in your life, sometimes you cry."

Ouch! (Don't hold back, Linda, tell me how you really feel…)

I can laugh about it now, but you know what? She was 100 percent right. God used the words of that song as a wake-up call. With the Lord's help, I changed. I put my family back on the priority list.

Ever since then, I've been in the picture. Sometimes a little fuzzy and out of focus, but there. And I plan to stay there. Forever.

Dads, be encouraged. You can do this. You really can…just not on your own. Invite the Lord and your wife into the equation. From this point forward, things can be different.

Things can be better.

Check your priorities. Be intentional.

Slow down. Step up.

Get in the picture.

When you look back years from now, both you and your family will be glad you did.

Excerpted from Dave Stone's Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord (Faithful Families series from Thomas Nelson, 2012). www.PastorDaveStone.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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