With the last name of Smith, my wife and I hoped to set our boys apart by giving them first names found off the beaten path. We started out alright with Isaac and Noah. In 1993 when Joshua came along, we had no idea it was destined to be one of the most popular names of the entire decade. We gave Gideon a name so seldom used he can’t find a personalized bike plate anywhere!
In bestowing these names, we also hoped to attach a sense of legacy to our boys. In the Bible, some of the most moving scenes happen when a father solemnly pronounces the blessing — a forward-looking benediction intended to guide and encourage the child in his life. I am fully aware that giving my children the blessing is far more complex than recycling Bible names. A father who’s a friend of mine says blessing our children is more of a process than an event. Like many dads, I have the restless anxiety of wondering, “Have I done enough to set up my children to succeed in life?”
“The big boys,” Isaac and Noah, were born two years apart, then “the little boys,” Joshua and Gideon, arrived six and eight years later. Much of what I’ve learned about parenting is found in the revelation of what I didn’t know to do with the big boys and what I’m trying to be sure to do with the little boys. I yearn to have the insights into my sons’ lives that allow me to coach them toward fruitful living. Wherever you are in your parenting journey, I hope you find encouragement in these observations.
The most important thing I can do as a dad is give my children courage to face life’s challenges. That’s parenting in a nutshell. I’ve discovered that each child’s unique personality is the funnel through which I pour that courage. To put it practically, I shouldn’t tell a child who’s a poet to “buck up” the same way I might with one who has more of a warrior personality. Every dad’s great challenge is to pay close attention as each child develops. We must learn how to coach each child according to his or her “bent.”
Joshua, for example, has a wonderful servant’s heart and can be counted on to show up for any project. Not surprisingly, he’s often asked to head up tasks or events. The problem is, he’s not a great organizer and recruiter — essential skills for a team leader. Joshua is the poet I referred to earlier and he’s not the world’s most linear thinker. My first inclination is to suggest he avoid leadership assignments. In reality, the life skill I should teach him is to surround himself with folks who have strengths that complement his. I can’t protect him from failure, but I can help him develop ways to maximize his success.
I’ll pick on another son: the baby of the family is born into a spotlight, and my youngest is no exception. I’m also the baby of my family. My parents spent a lot of time frustrating me, telling me to not enjoy the spotlight. I encourage my youngest to bless others with his popularity. Breaking cliques and bringing others into spheres of friendship is a great act of love. I’m always asking young Gideon, “Who’s on the ‘outside’ that you could include in this get-together?” I want him to learn that his popularity is valuable only to the degree that he uses it to bless the people around him.
Most parents have a good sense of what makes their kids tick. I have found some tools that either confirm my observations or open my eyes to new dimensions of my children’s lives. I highly recommend two books: The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman and The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Personality type inventories (such as the Myers-Briggs) can provide invaluable insights into what makes your child tick. Assessments like this can be found online or from a counselor. Also, fathers.com has put together an excellent questionnaire all fathers should take to get a big picture on how engaged they are with their kids. Take the profile here and then use the other online tools to help you address areas where you have room to grow as a dad.
The goal in all of this is to put together as full a picture of your child’s world as you can. Ask yourself what motivates your child. What causes him disappointment or hurt? What are your child’s emotional and intellectual strengths and weaknesses? When she has her “best day ever,” what happened? Make written notes about all these aspects and mull them over frequently. Bring them into the conversation when you’re coaching your child on facing challenges. Milestone events like birthdays, graduations, and the like are great opportunities to share a blessing. Just as important is keeping an attitude of blessing in daily conversation. Your child will never get enough of your encouragement.
Yes, I still occasionally tell all my boys “Knock it off” or “Buck up” without respect to their personality profiles. But I also find I am more effective as a father and they are more receptive as children when I approach them according to their natural temperament. I don’t want to change them; I want to be the dad who blesses them to be the best they can be.
Clark H. Smith is a husband of 27 years and father to four boys. Clark is a pastor and writer living in Overland Park, Kansas.