In our continuing series, our own Marv Nelson takes a look at what it takes to be a father. This is a great series to check out if you're a dad, or thinking of being one. Just remember: these are stories about parenting and the unpredictable nature of children, so some of them can be pretty off the wall. #DaddyLife
In the life of a child, the presence of their parents (especially the father) is the most important basic need they innately have.
As a Daddy, I've seen the powerful effect that my presence plays in their lives. When I go away for a week, the first few days they have a really hard time with the change and they in turn give my wife a hard time. My absence sparks disobedience and a strife they sense but cannot express except through bad behavior. I know some dads that when they leave for a week - nothing changes, because it's just the children's normal life and that is a sad reality. I do not confess to be perfect, but through my kids I've learned a few lessons about being present that I feel are important. Below are some of the lessons I am learning. Again, I'm not claiming to do these things all the time (and I do often fail) but I am quickly seeing the importance of these lessons and trying to apply them.
1. Involve My Children in my Work
This may be a difficult lesson to apply for many, but I've found for me it is necessary. I'm a pastor and I've seen a lot of pastors do their work completely separate from their families. I've also seen pastors model this lesson of involving their children in their work. There are places that this is really hard to apply, but simple places to apply it as well. A perfect example is what happened last night:
I was taking college students to a Pittsburgh Pirates game (where they crushed the Mets). It would have been easier for me to go and simply roam free during the game with the students and engage in some good conversations. In fact, this was my first inclination. Then, my son discovered I was going to a game and deeply desired to go. My dilemma: do I go with what is easier, or use the power of my presence in his life and invite him into my work? To be honest, it was a tough decision - but I chose to bring him along and it was the right choice. He was actively involved in the game for a time, then asked to sit with some of his favorite students. They gladly obliged, and the students had a great time with my son. I was even able to roam around and have some good conversations. Whenever possible, I try and will try even harder to involve my children in my work. It allows them to be with me, see what I do, understand me better and they also feel welcomed into all aspects of my life. Being with them and inviting them into be with me during "my stuff" has had a powerful effect on my children - for the better!
2. The Art of Being Present, Not Just "There"
Technology has really messed up our ability to be present and not just "there". This is one of my toughest battles as I wrote about in my last blog "A New Rule of Life", where I layout how I needed to make rules of life in order to get rid of the high temptation to be bodily present but absent with Facebook. In the lives of our children, they need our interaction, they need our playtime, they need our conversations, they need us. Too often we as Dads are failing to give our children these things.
We may say: "Well, I'm not like those dads who just up and quit; who walk away and never look back". True, you're not, but in some realm you are walking away from them into the realm of that ESPN app, or the world of social media where random people have your attention and those closest to you suffer with your absence. I will continuously admit that I am not perfect at this, but I am trying to get better.
3. Letting My Children See the Real Me
I know a lot of tough men. They are strong, rough, and tough but they also have a gentle sweet side. Some reserve this gentle sweet side only for their spouse and their kids only see the rough, tough and mean side. This is a mistake. For too long in my childhood, I only saw the strong tough side of my dad and felt that I had to be just like him in that and felt guilty for my softer, more tender side. Later in life, I was able to see his heart and the real him and it was POWERFUL for our relationship. I'm learning how to be the real me in front of my kids so they can see that even their strong, tough dad is also tender and soft. This act of modeling will go a long way for our children and will shape them into better men and women who can live authentically rather than being brought up learning certain aspects of themselves need to remain hidden.
4. Say "I'm Sorry"
I'm pretty sure in other #DaddyLife blogs I've mentioned this one, but I can't enforce this one enough. When we mess up we need to admit it. This does coincide with lesson #3 as well, because it is being real; owning our mistakes and our faults helps our kids see we are not perfect, nor are we pretending to be. We do NOT need to seem perfect to our children - because that is not real life! Saying "I'm sorry" opens the door for deep conversation, even with a 5 year old.
Today, after only 1 hour of being with my son I did something I needed to say "I'm Sorry" for. He was whining about finding the right shirt and he was throwing a fit about it. In my frustration, I flicked the top of his head and told him to stop whining. Minutes later, I felt convicted about my response and went over and apologized. He then forgave me. He was able to see that my overreaction to his whining was wrong and my flicking him was an inappropriate response. If I do not say I am sorry for reactions this way - he will think they are OK and may respond in kind to his sister, his mom or me. Modeling this life of apology teaches many lessons in one act!
As I said, I am not perfect in these nor do I pretend to be, just sharing lessons on the journey of #DaddyLife!
Check out the other columns in this series here!