I have always wanted to be a good dad, the type of father my kids could admire and praise. Unfortunately for me my desire was not combined with knowledge, for I did not have a father growing up. There were two men who shared the title of “dad” in my life, but neither of them was committed to the role. My step-father was an abusive alcoholic who believed that children were supposed to quietly serve their parents. He took no delight in me and showered me with curses instead of praises. He was a man to be avoided, not admired. My own father, a bitter, angry man, only saw us at holidays and for a few weeks in the summer. The rare moments spent with him were opportunities for him to criticize and correct us. I was told that I used too small a spoon to eat my cereal, did not know the correct way to take off a shirt or put on socks, and was clumsy. I was never told that I was loved.
By the time I reached high school it was clear to me that I would have to figure out fatherhood on my own. I looked for role models, typically to male leaders in the churches I attended, but those men were always too busy to invest time in me. My training was limited to an occasional Bible lesson or sermon.
Those sermons, as limited as they were in number, were not without impact. They gave me the principles upon which I could try to build the character traits I desired, an idea of the type of person I wanted to be. I learned the values that characterized a good man and father.
I learned from the book of Ephesians that husbands were to love their wives. From this I realized that the most important thing I could do for my children was to love their mother. I could not be a great father without being a great husband. A man’s highest calling is to be a husband, and I needed to model this for my kids. In sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, come hell or high water, in the way I loved and served my wife I could teach my kids what it meant to be a man.
I learned from Deuteronomy 6 that it was my job to teach my children about God. Moses’ words to the nation of Israel were a solemn charge to intentionally teach children about the nature of God, His words, and how to follow Him. With this in mind, from the age of 16 I worked to study the Bible and apply it to my life, to live consistent with the teachings of Scripture so I could be a role model for my children. When our children came along I worked to share God’s words with them. In conversations at the dinner table, in the car and at every opportunity I worked to teach my kids how Biblical truth applied to every area of life.
I learned from 1 John that in spite of my best efforts I would sometimes fail to be the man I was called to be. While sin was inevitable, through my faults I taught my children how to fail. From my father I inherited a bad temper and controlling it was a constant struggle. On those occasions when my anger got the best of me I showed my kids how to apologize, without excuse or justification. I am at times fearful and anxious, and my children heard me ask God for wisdom and help. I taught them what it meant for a broken person to love a perfect God.
I could have done better. Not a day goes by that I do not wish that I had been a better man, that I had listened more, been more patient, more attentive, or more kind. It is easy to look back over 28 years of fathering and think of all of the ways I could have done better.
It would be easy to let regret at my failures overwhelm me, to tell myself that I was a bad dad, but when I look at my children it is hard to accept such a conclusion. My son is singularly committed to the only girl he has ever loved and devoted to my grandson. While other men his age are out seeking pleasure and parties, my son wants only to be with his family. My son wants to be a great husband and father, and he is working hard towards that goal.
My daughter, who is engaged to be married this October, wants me to officiate her ceremony, because she believes that her dad is the best man for the job. She tells me she wants us to dance to “My Girl” and “That’s What Makes You Beautiful” because those are songs I sang to her and with her when she was a little girl. She is proud to be my daughter.
Father’s Day has always been a strange day for me. It brings with it sadness as I reflect on the men who raised me and the pain they caused, pain that lingers to this day, pain I will never fully escape. It also brings me joy, for I have children that love me, children that can see past my faults to the man I want to be and am striving to become.