As I fast approach my 64th birthday, I often feel like I am standing at the edge of my life looking over 64 years down below. Growing older offers a unique opportunity to look back on one’s life and ponder the things that mattered most of all. I have so many vivid memories of my yesterdays. I can say from my heart, with the utmost sincerity, that I have very few regrets. Truthfully, I can say that only because of Jesus Christ. Had He not divinely intervened in my life 45 years ago and gave me the determination to follow him as the Lord of my life, willing to pay whatever price to follow Him and his ways, I would have a vastly different story today. It would be a story of brokenness, destructiveness, shame, deep sorrow and regret.
One of the most important things God impressed on my heart as a 22-year-old man when I discovered Kathy was expecting our first child was to determine no matter what the obstacles, I would intentionally invest time and effort into my children’s lives. I decided nothing would be more important to me than being an involved, loving Christian father to my children.
God drove this home and burned it in my soul when shortly after my first child was born, my father left my mom and siblings. He had been disengaged for some time but this was a devastating blow to my mother and siblings. God used it tremendously in my life, making me even more determined that not only would I never leave my own family, but that I would give myself, my time, and my life to my precious children and do my utmost to build and maintain a warm, loving relationship with each of them.
Dads, no matter who you are today, or what your upbringing was like, you can be a good Christian father. You will never, ever regret the time you spend with your kids. More than anything else, your children need your time. Yes, of course, they need what you provide; food, shelter, clothing, etc. Those are all extremely important things, and because of your great love for your children, your job matters and it requires much of your time. There were times during my fathering years I had to work 70-75 hours a week to provide for my family. However, it is the investment of your time and emotion with your children that they will remember most and it gives you a wonderful connection with them, helping make their hearts soft towards you and the things you want and need to teach them and speak into their lives. They will treasure the time they had with you.
For your frame of reference and perspective, during most of my fathering years, I started and planted 5 churches, pastoring thousands of people, counseled thousands, had countless leadership meetings, spoke at approx. 9 conferences a year, traveled 17 times to central America, traveled 14 times to Europe, often for a week or two at a time. I was also a regional director serving 10 churches, working with our national leadership team as well. I understand what it means to be a busy father, with many responsibilities.
Here are some examples of those treasured memories of time with my kids in the hopes they provoke and inspire your own fathering and give you ideas of things you can do.
In my children’s early years we were quite poor. Still, I found ways to spend time with them. We lived in a college town that didn’t offer much for young children. But as they say, “Where there is a will, there is a way!” Little kids love animals. I happened to live in a town that had a university with a strong agriculture and animal husbandry emphasis. I would drive a few miles from our trailer to the university’s animal barns and take my two kids into the barn and let them pet and play with the baby goats! Most of the time we were the only ones there. As no sign said “off-limits,” or “do not enter,” I made use of them. They also had small holding pens for the little calves being weaned from their mothers and I would let my kids pet them. One particular day, my 3-year-old daughter Celeste found a doe-eyed Jersey calf that began to suckle her whole arm! Finally when we had to leave, she began to cry and begged me to bring the calf home for her pet!
There were woods right next to our trailer. We lived on a hill and the woods went down a big hill to a creek. In the winter the creek would freeze. It would become a winter wonderland. I would take an old orange plastic toboggan sled we got for 2 bucks at a garage sale, and using a thick electrical cord I found for a rope, I would wrap it around my shoulder and run them through the woods up and down the frozen creek pretending to be their horse. I gave them each Indian names. Celeste was “Little Flower,” and Jeromy was “Running Bear.”
Often when the kids were just babies, I would sneak into their rooms at night just to pick them up and hold them. I would often go into their rooms when they all shared the same room and bring my guitar and sing them to sleep. Other times I would lay next to them, cuddling up to all of them, telling them a story of my youth, praying with them, and kissing them all goodnight.
I spent countless hours throwing passes to my son, who loved football. I would make up special play patterns for him to run, then pretend I had a center to hike me the ball, get down like a quarterback, call out the play, he would run the pattern, and dad would throw a perfect pass into his outstretched hands. I would cheer him on with every catch! You would be amazed at my precision passes!
I spent hours watching them master Mario brothers. I even learned to play it myself.
I spent hours playing mini hoop basketball with my boys on our old cement patio under the old trees. We had so much fun with that simple little hoop and ball.
I took them on hikes in the numerous woods and parks around our home in Minnesota. I would sometimes randomly cancel school, having called up to the north shore of Duluth to check on the weather, making sure it was nice, then putting them all in the van, drive 3 hours north to Lake Superior, and hunt for rocks along the coastline, hike for hours, and get a burger or Rootbeer float afterward. We took so many wonderful day trips to Gooseberry Falls or Pothole State Park in Taylors Falls.
I eventually bought us all mountain bikes and we went on countless bike rides on all the trails in the area or the parks. When our 4th baby was born, I bought a Burley bike trailer to pull behind my mountain bike for our baby boy, while the rest of us rode our bikes. So determined was I to have nice bike rides and stay off the busy streets that I would load all the 5 bikes and the Burley into my Ford Aerostar van by taking the bikes apart, then put us all in the van and drive to the park to ride, having to put all the bikes back together again just to ride, then take them apart to drive back home!
We built fires in our backyard. Fires in our fireplace. We hung out watching video movies. I would often take the kids to the first showing of a new movie such as Star Wars, sneaking in our own bag of Skittles to the 10 am showing!!
I can’t count the times that I packed them all in the van and we drove to Como Zoo in St. Paul. Our favorite zoo! Or we would ride all the carnival rides at Como town, a small amusement park connected to Como zoo.
As they grew older I took each of them on dates with dad. Might be to Taco Bell, there was no Chipoltle then, or Dairy Queen or out for pizza or to Claires for jewelry for the girls, or just somewhere special just me and that child.
I would often bring them to Bible studies that I taught. I loved showing them off to the college students. They had never, ever seen or met kids like mine. They were all amazed, and I loved showing off my kids!
I once bought my youngest son a Razor scooter and we spent hours trying to see who could stay on it the longest, with a one-foot push, zig-zagging back and forth on our sloping driveway till we got to the bottom.
In 2003 I had an exceptionally busy year. I had been working much with my recent church plant called The Rock with my two oldest kids. I wanted to connect more with my youngest son Micah. I decided to take $500 and in August of 2003 I drove us both to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We stayed in an old roadside motel, ate a bunch of licorice, swam in an outdoor pool we had all to ourselves, floated around on those foam noodles, hiked through the mountains, went to Reptile Gardens, Rapid City, Wall Drug, went to the set of Dances with Wolves and ate lots of silver dollar pancakes. We went to Bear Country and saw tons of baby bears that all sound like little kids when they bawl. We had a wonderful time together driving in my old Honda Accord.
I drove my kids and Kathy with me to countless conferences that I spoke at in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska. These were incredible times being together, worshiping God together, spending time by the ocean, or in the mountains. So many, many memories we made together. Most of these I could have flown to by myself, but I requested that instead of them paying for my plane ticket that they would pay my mileage instead. They said they would, so I brought my whole family with me. Since the people putting on the conference would have me stay in a townhome they rented all summer anyway, why not bring my whole family, and make great memories! I did this not because I love to drive thousands of miles. I DON’T! Driving through Chicago and out east is a nightmare of stress. I did it to spend precious, never to be gotten back again time, with my wife and kids, and make special memories with them together.
When my daughter Jessica became very sick, during the 7 years of her illness, I canceled much of my travel and conference speaking so I could be close to home to help her and Kathy as much as I could. Her illness was extremely severe. I will never forget laying next to her on our king-sized bed, watching Napoleon Dynamite together and laughing so hard we cried! I bought the full DVD set of Little House on the Prairie and watched all those with her, often with tears in our eyes as they were so touching. Most of her friends during those years just didn’t come around anymore. I knew she needed my time. I would sometimes bring my guitar in the room and play and sing my songs to her.
I am so grateful to God that he impressed on me the great, irreplaceable value of spending time with my children. What joy they brought to my life, a richness that no amount of money, things or luxuries could ever replace.
Dads, spend a lot of time with your kids. Before you know it they will be gone and you will be almost 64 like me. May this verse be true for you as it has been for me all these years!
1 Thessalonians 2:8
We loved you dearly—so dearly that we gave you not only God’s message but our own lives too. (TLB)
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (NIV)
We were so taken by you that we not only eagerly shared with you God’s good news, but we also shared with you our own lives. That’s how much you’ve come to mean to us! (VOICE)
Here a very special little video with a special note from my son to illustrate what I mean. READ, WATCH, AND LISTEN. ENJOY!