Here’s to Fathers
Forgive me, but I’m still thinking about Father’s Day. This is an exceedingly good tradition. It slips by too quickly; we need to linger on it a bit longer.
Among the things I appreciate about it is the fact that newspapers—regularly filled with the head-shakingly bad news of our day—all took a moment to feature articles highlighting something not only positive, but also deeply important: the latest research on the high value of fathers.
Take this Wall Street Journal piece, for instance. Citing several academic sources, it says that fathers’ “distinct style of parenting is particularly worth recognition: The way dads tend to interact has long-term benefits for kids, independent of those linked to good mothering.”
This article details some of fathers’ tendencies around the children: more-rambunctious play; blunter correction; a lack of compassion for the child’s scrapes and owies. Check, check and check, in my home. But lo and behold, studies show these inclinations actually put kids at an advantage. Among the benefits: “improved cognitive skills, fewer behavioral problems among school-age children, less delinquency among teenage boys and fewer psychological problems in young women.”
Not that Mom’s parenting style doesn’t work as well. But it’s more effective when it’s complemented and balanced by Dad’s approach.
Bravo. Anything that celebrates the family as it was designed is worth applauding, in my book.
I find it remarkable that, even after decades of an aggressive effort to paint Dad as irrelevant in the home, the stubborn, commonsense fact remains that the family is far better off when he is there and engaged.
“Liberated” women have tried to push them aside. Selfish men have embraced the erroneous, self-serving notion that their children don’t need them. But time and again the facts bear out that Dad has a central, vital role that he ought not abdicate.
I’m reminded of some timeless advice I received from an older man, a man I admire deeply for his sincere devotion to God and his exceptional family. How do you get the balance right between family and work? I had asked.
His response was wonderfully clarifying: “Go after your family like you go after your job.”
I do go after my job. It is always on my mind at some level. As I read, study, converse and think, I am mulling ideas for articles, pondering points and specifics, imagining possibilities for better headlines, considering how to improve a publication, weighing how to better employ staff—and all the while, petitioning God for His help in these areas.
Being the successful head of a household requires similar passion.
I have spoken to many men who, like me, naturally take a passive approach—sitting back and merely reacting to what is happening in the family. That doesn’t mean not being involved. But it is being a policeman, busting crimes, or a fireman, dousing flames, rather than truly leading the family as God intends.
Perhaps one of the biggest tests of leadership is not just to accept things as they are, but to imagine things as they could be. Many men do this in their jobs. Far fewer do this in their homes.
What do our families lack? Where are our families weak? Are our wives and children living up to their potential? What can we do to inspire them to achieve greater heights? With God’s help, we can achieve a lot by pursuing answers to these questions with diligent, creative thought and disciplined study.
We can seek out and take note of fresh ideas. Make our time together productive. Be alert to hidden aptitudes in our wife and children. Be open to new opportunities. Remember those activities that magnify our interaction with one another and that everyone enjoys. Take mental notes of negative patterns in the family’s conduct—bickering, laziness, sloppiness, wasted time. Keep a record of ideas worth implementing, things that need changing, and review it somewhat frequently.
And above all, we must pray often—actively—in detail—with zeal—to keep God involved in all of these things.
“Go after your family like you go after your job.”
Perhaps this seems overwhelming. When I go home I just want to relax, we may say. I don’t have the energy to be The Big Idea Daddy.
There is truth to that. Going after anything is more difficult than just going along. And we do need some down time in our family time.
But consider God’s instruction to husbands and fathers, and you quickly see that He expects a proactive, passionate effort. For our marriage, He instructs, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). To fathers, He says, “[T]hou shalt teach [God’s words] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
We can’t accidentally obey these commands. We have to go after them.
Down time must not completely consume family time. We can’t allow our personal interests to always supersede our family’s interests—not if we are to follow God’s instruction.
The man I spoke with said, “You can tell the difference between when you’re going after them and when you’re not.” I have found that to be true. There is a bright line between when I’m aware of my family’s needs and actively working to fulfill them, and when I’m preoccupied with other things. I can tell when I’m leading, and when I’m merely reacting.
Keeping negative worldly influences out of our homes, and putting God’s influence in, is a struggle. We need to fight our own passivity, and approach our duty with energy, drive and creativity. But the job—the critical career—of leading your family to a productive, enriching, satisfying and fun life of purpose is more than worth it.
Father’s Day is a terrific reminder of the beauty and effectiveness in the design of the family. Forget the father haters. We have a job to do.