Just about every week, there’s another story in the news about some tragedy. A school shooting. A suicide or drug overdose by a celebrity, musician or athlete. An act of desperation or irresponsibility by a parent. Violence at youth sports.
Whenever I see those stories, the first thought that comes to mind is, Where were the fathers? A large percentage of the time, I look into the situation and see that there was a lack of influence from responsible fathers and father figures. I truly believe that a father makes a difference, and that his guidance, protection, and affirmation will help his kids do well in life and avoid major pitfalls. The research backs that up.
The rest of the cases—the tragedies carried out by people who did have present fathers—are perhaps even more unsettling. Time and again I knock my head up against one of the great mysteries of fatherhood: sometimes great dads have children who struggle, and sometimes children raised without a dad—or raised by largely uninvolved fathers—grow up to be well-adjusted, outstanding citizens and leaders.
Fatherhood isn’t brain surgery, but it does rest on a wide range of variables. Being a dad is part art, part science, but mostly an act of faith. So how can we make sense of all of this and do our best as dads? My suggestion: Embrace both sides of the paradox.
On one side, there are no guarantees our children will turn out the way we want. There are many variables we cannot control, and the biggest one is that our children will make their own choices. Eventually, we’ll have to make peace with the notion that our kids are their own people. They will likely make decisions that could cost us money, energy and/or embarrassment. They are responsible for those poor choices, so it won’t seem fair. We don’t deserve that kind of humiliation, right?
We need to father our kids with a lot of grace. Even if we’re committed fathers, we aren’t perfect, and since none of us can see we did everything right, we have no reason to expect perfection from our kids. And when they do mess up, that’s where our true commitment as dads is tested. We need to hang in there and keep believing in them. Don’t ever give up! No matter what your child has done, you have to trust that the roots that you worked so hard to establish are still there. Keep the door open and the light on because that might be the only light they have.
The other side of the paradox—which we must never forget—is that as fathers, our actions do have a significant influence on our children. While we can’t guarantee that our children will lead a responsible life, we can greatly increase the odds that they will. We should give fathering the best of our energies, make our children’s schedules and family activities a high priority, and seek to be a life-giving contributor to the entire household. These are wise investments.
One phrase I have used to help apply those fundamentals is go deep. Our dedication to be good fathers must run deep in our lives. It means we’re willing to address tough issues with our kids. We are not sitting on the sidelines and letting Mom handle difficult situations by herself. And we aren’t assuming our kids will get information they need on their own, or that we can always trust them to stay out of trouble.
No, going deep means having those involved discussions about issues of faith, or about sex or drugs. It means staying aware of what they’re into and talking to them about any danger signs we see. It means taking a stand and sometimes laying down consequences.
Dads, we have good reasons to invest our very best in our children, despite this puzzling, often frustrating mystery that only God can comprehend. We all need to faithfully apply our best efforts and humbly allow the rest to remain a mystery, trusting that we can have a positive impact on what kind of people our children turn out to be.
Here are some Action Points to help you invest in your children. Please share some ideas of your own below or at our Facebook page.
- Involve yourself in an activity that your child enjoys, even if it isn’t your favorite. Really invest yourself in figuring out what your child likes about it.
- What activity serves as a bonding activity for you and your child—maybe something unique that just seems to work for you? It might be summer evenings at the lake, trips for ice cream, or time together doing a hobby. Please share it below or at our Facebook page, and make sure you make time for it regularly.
- Make it a priority for your family to eat dinner together at least 3-4 times each week. Those can be great conversation and value-sharing times.
- Remember that many kids out there are making poor decisions, for any number of reasons, and often it takes someone outside their families to really get through to them. Take a chance and encourage another child who needs a positive father figure.
- Take our Championship Fathering Profile to assess how you’re doing as a dad and find out more about each fundamental.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.