To be a skillful father, you must be intentional.
(This is part 2 in our series. If you missed our first post, you can find it here.)
It seems a little ironic that such an important facet of our lives — our family relationships — often receive so little strategic planning. As Camp Paradise director Tim VandenBos, who hosts annual father-son and father-daughter retreats, explains:
Most men don’t give fathering the kind of intensity that we give work. We don’t set goals. We just hope it happens.
How can you be intentional about building your relationship with your child?
3 PRACTICES THAT WILL MARK YOUR CHILD WITH LOVE
1. BE THERE
Even your absence will mark your child.
Scott Pederson, who worked with junior high school students for more than 15 years, observed:
Most kids just want time with mom and dad. That’s probably the toughest thing for a parent to give, but I don’t know that a kid can be convinced their parents really love them without their parents investing time.
You can have the right intentions and the wrong actions.
Another man explained that no material possession could satisfy his need for time with his father.
Dad basically fathered me by buying me things. One of his motivations to work so hard was to be a good provider for us. He wanted us to experience life’s best, but that often came at the expense of what I really needed — which was to be with him.
When you think about your schedule, do you wonder how you can possibly carve out time to simply “be there”?
VandenBos points out that skillfully fathering requires prioritizing wisely:
You have to say ‘no’ to some good things to say ‘yes’ to the right things. You only have your children for a season; once that season is gone, it’s gone.
So once you carve out time to be with your child, what will you do when you’re together?
Listening is central to loving.
Reflecting on his relationship with his father, one man talked about the pain and frustration caused by his father’s inability to listen:
Some of my worst childhood memories involved trying to communicate or express things to my dad and not have him really listen or understand. It didn’t seem like he ever understood. For some reason, there was a wall that we could not get over.
Another 65-year-old man reflected upon his failures as a dad. He gave this advice to men who are still in the process of raising their children:
Pay more attention to your kids. See what they’re going through and try to help. If you can’t help, put yourself in a position where they can share what they’re feeling. Listen closely. Let them talk without fear of being criticized.
Regardless of the past, you can learn how to become a better listener today.
As Steven Covey pointed out in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,
“You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual’s own frame of reference?”
Steven Covey’s chapter on empathic listening is a great place to begin your study.
Some of the best activities to engage in with your child are those which provide the opportunity for spontaneous conversation.
3. HAVE FUN
Think back to your own childhood. What were some of your favorite things to do?
Toss around a softball, go fishing at the forest preserve, build a model together. As Roger Farrell suggests,
Do anything where your child is included not just as someone who’s tagging along because there’s no one to watch him or her, but where he or she is actually invited to be a participant and treated as such.
Be careful not to become so caught up in the activity that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place. Roger Farrell adds:
When you engage in a project with your child, keep your primary objective in mind. Perfect results or efficiency in completing an activity has to be second to the experience of doing it together.
Dick Schmidt, who invested several years leading a Dad’s Ministry, invites dads to enter their kids’ world:
Sometimes you’ve got to put the parent deal behind you, get on all fours, and just goof off with your kids!
When Mark Mittelberg’s kids were still little, he did just that. He called his preschool son from work and growled like the Lion King on the telephone with him. When he came home at night, he made it a point to playfully wrestle with his kids. And — though he knew his neighbors would think he was a nut — he did silly things with his kids like singing and marching the elephant march in his front yard.
BE THERE, LISTEN, HAVE FUN
Do you recall how much time you spent as a child listening to people tell you what to do?
Imagine how your children will feel if you make a special date with them—and invite them to set the agenda.
Will you make time this week to mark your children with love?
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in Celebrating Manhood — a rite of passage guide.