We are a big deal. Our kids look up to us in a unique way. They need our affirmation and approval. Statistics show that kids who get a father’s love tend to soar well into the world, and those who don’t tend to struggle. Consider that. Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks so specifically to fathers. (see Col. 3:21, Ephesians 6:4, Prov. 20:7)
My own dad had no idea what a big deal he was. He thought our mom was the cat’s pajamas when it came to parenting (and she was pretty awesome), so he left her to take care of most of the affirmation and approval stuff. He did typical dad things: we fished, golfed, watched football and laughed together some. Yet, Dad wasn’t one to put constructive words to his feelings. His silence left me wondering. Even though he loved and cared for me deeply, I came to believe that in Dad’s eyes I was a disappointment; that he didn’t love me. I made a lot of destructive choices in my teen years perhaps because I was looking for a reassurance of my father’s love.
It turns out there was a huge disconnect between what dad felt about me and what I thought he felt. Dad has spent the better part of 30 years wishing he could have a do-over, and struggling to forgive himself for the unintended disconnect his emotional absence caused.
Only through some intensive help and maturity did I come to understand my dad’s love for me. In a recent conversation he said again, “If only I had known how to express my love.” And then he asked, “What could I have done differently?” as if somehow in the answers he could find his way into forgiving himself.
I told my father three things.
I offer the same advice to any dad who deeply loves his kids:
- Say “I love you!” early and often. C’mon, practice it right now. Say it out loud. If this is hard, do like I did and get some professional help. Yes, getting professional help is a good and strong thing to do.
- When you notice something good about your child, talk about it. Just matter-of-fact. Like this: “I noticed you working hard on that project. Tell me about that.” Your kids will light up when they know you notice.
- Give grace for mistakes. Learn to forgive not just your kids mis-steps, but yours, too. You don’t have to get it right all the time. They don’t either. Apologize when you blow it and remember #1.
When I told my dad these things he said, “That seems so easy. How come no one talked about this stuff back then?”
I guess the fact that dads are a big deal was taken for granted back then. But these days there is too much to lose if dads keep taking their role for granted. So I’m telling you what my father wished he’d been told.
In short: Dads, you’re a big deal. So get at it and make sure your kids know how much you love them, how much you notice the good they do, and that mistakes are a part of life. This is how you’ll grow as the dad your kids need.
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