Like many men that have gone before me, I embarked on the journey of fatherhood woefully underprepared.
Fatherhood is the greatest adventure you will ever embark on in your life as a man.
Nothing will test you, stretch you and push you like your children will.
As a father of five myself and as an advocate for Fatherhood, there are far too many lessons I have had to learn and continue to learn. Some were hard lessons, others came from the other men and fathers with whom I have been privileged to walk with on their journey. These are just a few of the lessons that I’d like to share with you.
Lesson #1 – To give as well as take
A good friend of mine shared this simple and practical insight: Life is a bank balance. If you keep on withdrawing and don’t put anything back in the bank of love, you will go broke. The same goes for your family and your relationship with your wife. If you are always withdrawing love and taking from your family without giving back you will eventually run your account down.
What is taking?
Well, eating a meal your wife has cooked. Wearing a shirt your wife has washed. Living in a house your wife has cleaned. Not listening properly at the dinner table to your children’s stories when they desperately want to tell you, ‘what happened today at school’. Receiving a cuddle when you didn’t ask for it. Listening to “I love you Daddy” when you didn’t say anything in the first place. Or just being too busy to spend time with your children.
As males, we are often so self-absorbed we don’t know what is happening in our families until it is too late. We think our families will love us just because we earn money for them. Nothing could be further from the truth. ‘Money can’t buy me love’. The Beatles certainly knew it and experienced it, some of them quite tragically. Eventually the family bank balance of love will run out, often with devastating consequences.
Lesson #2 – Dying to myself
Children bring great joy to a man and a woman. Who can forget the joy of holding your newborn baby in hospital for the first time? Fast forward four weeks, when you wife is still having problems breast feeding, the baby won’t sleep and you haven’t had sex for what seems like years, your relationship seems to be in free fall and your baby is the source of all the problems. In fact, you even start to get jealous of your ‘new baby’ because you suddenly seem to have lost the old one.
I remember after I had my first three of five children, I was surfing most weekends, playing guitar in the church band and playing in the local church soccer competition. I had to make a decision about who, and what, should come first. Sadly, I had to lay my guitar down for a while and the spiders got inside my soccer boots. I still got the occasional surf, but I am glad I took the road less travelled, and my children are too.
James Dobson says,
“When these parenting years have passed, something precious will have flickered and gone out of my life. Thus, I am resolved to enjoy every day that remains in this fathering era.”
The truth of this statement was brought home to me as our family celebrated a Monday Night Family Dinner. My five children are growing up and beginning to fly the coop. It is getting a lot harder to get together regularly, and we all know it. It is almost ten years since we started our Monday Night Family Dinners. It is one of the best things we have ever done. It is a time when we can all connect, play family board games according to the ages of the children or just generally hang out together. Our family talks, laughs, prays and has a hilarious time together.
The key to such a long-running tradition was the commitment Alison and I made to it. Often I would break engagements early so that I could fly home for family dinner to hang out with my children. We also committed to the Family Commandment: ‘Thou Shalt have Fun Together,’ because everyone is more pleasant when fun is prioritised.
Lesson #4 – Learning at the Father’s knee
Recently I watched this YouTube video (watch it now). If watching this doesn’t touch your heart nothing will. I ignored the tear jerker alert posted below the video, much to my discomfort. By the end of the video I was bawling like a baby. With six million views and climbing it seems I am not alone.
There is something extraordinarily inspirational about a truck driving dad who obviously can’t dance, endeavouring to dance with his beautiful 12 year old disabled daughter who is in a wheelchair. It gives us imperfect fathers some hope.
I asked the question of myself: What was it about this video that made me cry so profusely? McKenzie Carey is beautiful and her obvious smile in the middle of the dance is touching, but it was not this that made me cry.
What moved me was the attempt by an obviously imperfect father to share his love for his daughter with the world. You see there is only one loving perfect Father, as Jesus said in Matthew. For the rest of us it is a work in progress!
Watching this video reminded me of my broken promises to my children, the missed performances, the clumsy dates and the lost opportunities when my work came first and my children last. Watching Mike Carey love his daughter in the dance gave me a strange hope that I could aspire to that journey despite my own imperfections as a father.
“Love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
We should not think it strange that we are imperfect fathers. Even Jesus would not allow himself to be called ‘good’. Perhaps this should give us hope in our journey to fatherhood perfection. I can always remember asking a man with a happy marriage and nine children what the secret was to his happy marriage. His answer was short and to the point, “I have a forgiving wife”.
Perhaps it is the same for us as fathers. The true secret for success as a father is having forgiving children. All the more reason for us as fathers to practise our forgiveness on those around us. Love is still the most powerful force in the universe. I think that is why the ‘Dancing Dad’ video is so inspirational. We must become the change we seek.
About the authors:
Warwick & Alison Marsh established the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation, a harm prevention charity in 2002 to encourage Dads to be the best they can be for the sake of their children. The Dads4Kids Good to Great Fathering Course is now being rolled out on a national basis. Warwick is well known in Australia for his advocacy for marriage, family, fatherhood and faith.