In recent years, much of the debate over today's family crisis has focused on men--or more specifically, the lack of positive male role models. It is true too many fathers are absent and are not taking responsibility for their children. There are, however, many fathers who are bravely trying to live up to their high calling. As a husband and father of four, here are ten principles that I have learned over the last 20 years of fathering.
1. Passionately love your wife.
With few positive images of husbands around, girls don't know what to look in a man, and young men don't know how to treat a woman.
Your daughters are going to date fellows who show the same level of commitment and respect you model. And your sons are going to treat their girlfriends and wives the same way they see you treat your wife.
Let your children see you sharing love and affection with their mother. When you and your wife have a conflict, show your children how two people can make up. The most important area of life you prepare your children for is marriage and family, and their best preparation is to live with a dad who loves their mom.
2. Be a man of integrity--or your words will fall on deaf ears.
Who you are behind closed doors is the real you. If you sing in the choir on Sundays and then yell at your wife all week, whatever you say about kindness and caring won't count in your children's eyes. Do you keep your promises? When you commit to do something with your kids, do you break your back to carry it through?
Recently, my oldest son, Bryan, introduced me to a group by listing my credentials, then he said, "You know, those things are nice, but they don't mean anything to me. What means the most to me is that my dad is in private what you see in public. That inspired me to be even more consistent.
3. Your children's importance to you can be measured by how much time you spend with them.
Calendars don't lie. No matter what we say, children know we spend time on the things and with the people that are most important to us. Remember this when you are deciding whether or not to attend an activity that is important to them.
Plan to spend time with your children. Every Thursday before school, my two younger children and I get up early, go out to breakfast and have Bible study. They know that's in Dad's schedule, and we have a lot of fun. Whatever your work schedule is, it's dad's responsibility to foster times of just being with his children. Find out what interests each child (it will be different for each one). My sons like sports, so we go to ball games. My daughters like to go to the mall, so that is where I take them.
4. You, more than anyone else, can give your children lifelong self-worth.
How your children perceive their worth in dad's eyes powerfully influences their lives. My mother has been a phenomenal influence in my life. But when my dad would say, "Son, that was a good job," that meant so much to me! A man makes a lasting mark on his kids' lives when he gives them appropriate praise. It inspires them and gives them an incentive to reach higher.
But the reverse is also true. Never call your children names or use demeaning words--from dad those arrows inflict deep wounds. Separate any negative behavior from their personhood.
5. Communicate as a family.
A united family makes children feel secure. Share at least one meal every day as a family, when you sit down and talk about the issues of the day. Spend one night a week together as a family (not watching TV). It doesn't have to be expensive; you could play games together, go for walks, or go to a park. During family times, the toughest things for us dads is to learn how to listen. We love to give advice, but only by listening will we learn what their hearts need.
6. Understand your mission.
Your mission as a father is to present to the world a gift from your home who will live on after you. The pressure of taking care of one crisis after another, and trying to make ends meet, easily distracts us from devoting time to this mission.
It's unfair to our wives that so often we come home too tired from our jobs, our friends, and our social activities to have any joy or energy left for our children. If one of them got disciplined that day by their mother, a dad should be able to pull him aside and say, "I understand Mom had to discipline you today. What was the issue involved? How are you going to do it differently next time?"
7. Be vulnerable and admit your weaknesses.
The other evening I really came down hard on Heather, my oldest daughter. I didn't have all the information, but since we had talked about this issue several times, I knew I was 100 percent right. After I got the rest of the story, I realized I was completely wrong. I had to say, "Sweetheart, your hardheaded father was wrong again. There is no excuse for how I reacted. Please forgive me?"
Pride makes us fear people thinking we are weak, instead of in charge. But our children don't only need to see our successes. They need to see that when we hurt others, we seek healing; that when we make bad decisions, we deal with them responsibly.
8. Discipline means character development, not venting anger.
Don't discipline your child out of anger. Give yourself time to cool off. Children need to see that discipline and love are not opposites.
Before Karen and I had children, an older couple shared some wisdom: "Whenever you spank your children, try praying with them first. After you pray together, tell them why you are spanking them. After the spanking, pray with them again."
Discipline is not punishment--it might involve pain, but its purpose is correction and development. I want my kids to know that when I take privileges away from them, or when they have to be spanked, it's not to torment them. It's so that later in life my kids don't have habit patterns that hurt them.
9. Don't overprotect--let children learn the law of reaping what they sow.
I bought Bryan an in-style sports team hat. I told him not to wear it to school because kids there were getting their hats stolen. He ignored my warning and, sure enough, his hat got stolen. We were pretty sure who took it, and my first thought was to go down and get that hat. But then I realized, "No, don't do it this time." Bryan needed to learn a lesson.
When our children make bad decisions, sometimes the best thing a dad can do is to stand back and let them feel the heat. Learning that "you reap what you sow" is a very important part of becoming an adult.
I don't want Bryan to do right because I said so; I want him to reason for himself why something is a bad choice. Unless our children suffer the consequences of their affections, they'll never be able to make informed, reasoned decisions on their own.
10. Don't be afraid to show your tender side.
Tender words and affection matter. Studies show that when children don't experience that affection, they will search for it in self-destructive ways. A day shouldn't go by that a dad does not tell his children, "I love you." Each day may be the last time we have that opportunity.
It takes a lot of energy to shape the lives God has entrusted to us as fathers. We need to make the most of our time with our children, so that we never look back and wish, "If only I had spent more time, or given more praise, or told them how much I loved them." I want to give my best to being a father. Even if my children decide to adopt values contrary to what Karen and I have taught them, I never, ever want them to say it's because they felt like they got the leftovers in my life.
Crawford W. Loritts, Jr., National Director of Legacy, lives in Atlanta with his wife Karen and their four children.
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