My wife and I sometimes joke about what our kids will tell their counselors someday, particularly after we lose our tempers, handle a conversation wrongly, or execute discipline poorly. “Just another things on his or her counseling list,” we will say. And of course, it is a joke. Mostly. We joke because it’s terrifying when you start considering how much you are shaping the hearts and minds of your children as a parent. It becomes even more terrifying when you realize you are shaping them even when you’re not doing it on purpose.
Even if it’s not in a counseling appointment, our children will someday look back on their childhood, and the things we said, did, and modeled for them as their parents, and reflect. They will have opinions. They will tell stories. They will both pattern their own parenting behavior, and change their own parenting behavior, based on what they experienced in our home.
And I wonder, in those reflective moments and those story-telling opportunities – what will they say? Beyond the memories of vacations, holidays, and traditions, what will my children say about their father? There are obvious answers to that question. I hope my children say that their father protected them. That he encouraged them. That he helped them live without a sense of anxiety. But maybe there are some more specific statements they might, by God’s grace, make as well. Here are a few of them:
1. My father loved – and liked – my mother his whole life.
It has often been said that one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children is the ongoing commitment and affection they show to their spouses. I continue to believe that is true. More than the words their father says, the way in which he treats his wife speaks volumes to their children. That’s about more than just creating a stable family structure for these kids – marriage is meant to be a walking, talking, breathing illustration of the gospel.
As fearful as it is to say, the husband is meant to be a picture of Jesus, and how he treats his wife is meant to be a picture of the way Jesus treats the church. When I don’t just commit myself to my wife, but actually enjoy being in her company more than anyone else, it holds out a representation of a Jesus who is not only committed to His followers, but also genuinely enjoys them.
2. My father showed me how to apologize.
Apologizing is increasingly a lost art. We live in a day and time in which people constantly justify their actions, hold fast to their opinions, and refuse to back down either in person or virtually when they have made a mistake. And even when we do apologize, it is far more often than not that we do so with conditions.
“I’m sorry, but…” is the order of the day. Our homes, with the people who are closest to us and therefore the most likely to be hurt by us most deeply, should be the places in which we apologize most often and most freely. This is something a father can – and should – lead out in. When we are wrong, we must own the fact that we are wrong. It’s a humbling thing to apologize to our children. It’s also good for our souls, and good for theirs as well.
3. My father didn’t just tell me what to do; he taught me how to think.
As fathers, we have a lot more life under our belts than our kids do. We have been through most of the same things they are walking through. We have made mistakes in thinking, acting, and believing, and the simplest way to protect our children from making the same mistakes is to just tell them what to do. In some cases, that’s the right thing. But as our kids get older, I’m feeling the increasing need to not just tell them what to do, but instead, to teach them how to think about an issue or circumstance.
If somehow that can happen – that our children learn how to think biblically about life, it will help them not to just run a script later on, but instead be able to process complex issues in their lives and act with wisdom. This is a great gift. And it’s an awesome responsibility to have as a father, one that demands the discipline from me to stop talking so much, start listening more, and help my children process though telling them would be much faster.
There are, of course, more statements I would love for them to make. Because they will. And yours will too. The value in considering what you want those statements to be now is that it can help form the patterns of parenting you and I institute in our homes.