RELATIONSHIP: DADS, IT REALLY MATTERS!
On Saturday morning, August 29th, I received an email from my brother letting me know that the day before, on Friday, August 28th, 2020 my father had died. Honestly, it did not surprise me, nor did it send me reeling with shock or overwhelming grief. It was rather a quiet resignation that as he had lived, he also died, on his own terms. I imagined this moment for years and had felt a sincere premonition that the next time I heard about my dad, I would be hearing that he died. My sorrow had run its course many years earlier.
I have not seen my father face to face in over 31 years. I have a picture from that day, standing in front of the James Hill House in St. Paul, Mn. He is holding my then 6-month-old youngest son, as the rest of us stand together. My dad had called out of the blue, passing through town, and asked to come over. Kathy and I welcomed him to our home, had dinner together, and took him on a little adventure.
My father chose not to know most of his children. My father chose to be distant. He did not know their successes or share in their joys, nor share in their sorrows. Yes, he was aware of some of the great troubles of some, as a sibling kept him informed of a few. My father never heard me preach, except for the care package my wife once sent him of a few photos, a cd of one of my messages, a box of his favorite “Turtles” and the DVD, “The Cinderella Man”, as my dad grew up in that era and was a boxer himself. Several weeks later I received a letter from him, mostly containing his criticisms of my preaching. My father knew none of my children, nor any of my grandchildren, his great-grandchildren. Simply put, he was absent, gone, and there was just no relationship, nor a genuine interest in having one. As such, I honored the choice he made and let it play out.
Most of what I learned from my father was what “not to do.” God used my father to give me a burning, unquenchable desire and determination to be a godly father, a devoted, loving husband, and a devoted father. To learn from the mistakes he made. His life was a powerful warning to my soul that instructed me in many things as I reflected on it often.
One of those great lessons was this: Children need a relationship with their father. Children need a father who takes the initiative with his kids to have that relationship. Children need a father who is genuinely interested in their welfare and well being all the days of their lives. Children need a dad who takes a keen interest in their lives, cares about their joys and sorrows, and shares their burdens with them. Children need a father who consistently builds an intentional relationship with them. Children need a father who seeks them out, goes after them, even as God the Father pursues us, His beloved children. Children need the reassurance that their father loves them, cares about them, supports them, believes in them, understands them, accepts them, and walks with them through the journey of their lives. Children need a father who will take the time to understand their hearts and perspectives, especially as they get older and become teens and adults themselves. Children need a father who prays for them and knows what it is they need him to pray for! Children need the sound of their father’s voice. Children need the spiritual encouragement that only a father who walks with God can give. Children need a father who will call them up and pray with them. Children need a father who will share his resources with them in their times of need. I would rather share my resources with my kids in their time of need than drive a fancy car, or own a timeshare unit in the Caribbean, or take vacations around the world or just spend my money on me. I mean that with all my heart.
In every possible way I can, I want to be like God the Father to my children all the days of their lives.
This concept of “relationship” has driven me for the last 40 years as a father. I want my children to know and feel they matter to me, their thoughts matter, their decisions matter, who they are, or who they want to be, matters to me. What they believe God is calling them to do, matters to me. What they are going through, matters to me. Their families matter to me, their fathering and mothering matter to me, the struggles they are facing matter to me.
Some of the blessings and trials I have kept track of in my Blessing Book are theirs. I have probably written down things they have forgotten about themselves.
Fathers, reach out to your kids. Take the initiative. Let them know regularly you love them. Spend time with them. Throw a football with them or play catch. Read them a book, watch them play their favorite video game. Let your daughters show you their dolls and show an interest. Let them play their instrument for you, or sing you their song, or show you their art. Pick up the phone and call them. Send them nice emails of encouragement, or simply ask how they are doing. Go out to lunch with them, or out for coffee. Never slack in showing genuine interest as Romans instructs us. Rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep. Be a source of strength, encouragement, and comfort to your children. Children long to be known, understood and seen by their father!
As long as there is a breath in my body, I am determined, despite my shortcomings, to pursue a relationship with my children, and walk with them in any and every way I can through the journey of their lives. I am determined to pray them through life and to know the important details of their lives so I can pray specifically and intelligently to God the Father, who can and will answer those prayers.
Fathers, some of you reading this may have children who have chosen a path in life that troubles you, or breaks your heart. You may struggle with feelings of disappointment in them. Let me urge you, pursue them anyway. Call them up, or write them a loving thoughtful note. Tell them how much they mean to you. Stay in touch with them, simply letting them know they matter to you. Let them share their life with you, even if it is only a small part, even though what you hear may not be what you would wish for them. Acknowledge to them any wrongs God brings to mind that you realize in reflection you have done to them. For some of you, your children may have greatly offended you by their words or actions. They may have communicated to you they do not want you in their lives. I understand that this hurts deeply and makes it very, very difficult to have a relationship or even pursue one. My advice: Be respectful of the boundaries they insist on, but find ways to show love and interest, despite that child’s stubborn pride or foolishness. It might be a card sent to them in the mail several times a year with a gift card to their favorite restaurant or coffee shop. Just find ways to remind that child “I love you, you matter to me, and I am here if you need me.” And pray for them every single day of their lives.
Never forget this tremendous insight given to us by God: Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.” Your kindness will have a tremendous impact on them throughout their lives.
Many years ago, my mother gave me my dad’s dresser. It is the only thing I have of his. It is made of a very special kind of wood. Every day, I put my belt, pocket knife, and watch on top of it. I keep my kid’s photos on top of it. It is a constant reminder to me to never let go of my determination to be a Christ like father. I thank God with all my heart that he gave me the privilege to be their father! What a blessing from God.