November 17, 2000. The temperature is around 50 degrees and the sun feels warm despite the crisp fall air. Leaves from a young elm tree are scattered over the front yard… my front yard. My hand shakes as I unlock the door to our new house. The family is together; there is an atmosphere of wholeness. Being daddy is easy, it’s almost like I can walk on water, but I can’t shake this feeling. I know that it won’t always be this way. Not that there are no problems or worries. I still go in their rooms at night to watch them sleep. I can’t relax if I haven’t listened for the soft inhale and exhale of their breath as they lie there so fragile and innocent. Every father wants to raise good kids, but my instinct tells me that as they mature and life presents its challenges, I will have a choice to make. I can wing it and hope they turn out well, or I can invest my time and energy making sure they do.
The investments of the early years of fatherhood are simple. I didn’t say easy. I said simple. Much like their favorite Spongebob episode, the basic tasks are played again and again. Change the diaper. Feed and burp them. Put them down for a nap, and show off new pictures at any opportunity. Playing with them comes so naturally. It is fun in their world: Rocket ships made from pop bottles, the look of awe when they see your fancy Lego castle. You sing the alphabet with them repeatedly so you can show your friends and family how smart and cute they are. Packing up the diaper bag, stroller, and their favorite toy just to go the corner store seems like an all day affair. You think to yourself, man I won’t miss this when it’s gone. All of the sudden they are walking and talking, even going to the bathroom in the “big girl potty” all by themselves. Then before you know it, you’re dropping them off to kindergarten. She looks so cute with her hair in pigtails and shiny new shoes. How can you feel happy and sad in the same moment? The seasons fly by and time seems unstoppable.
Then a day comes when time screeches to a halt. Here is where some fathers choose to stop investing in their children’s future; this can shatter the self-esteem of their kids and cause deep regrets. Your little girl, with great big tears streaming down her face, asks why you have to leave. “Why can’t you and mommy just make up and love each other again?” That day was one of the darkest of my life. Divorce is a crushing blow to everyone involved. No matter what goes wrong in a marriage, whether it is adultery, abuse, or just a lack of commitment, a father has to put hurt aside and place the children first. If you want to influence them in a positive way you must lead by example, not words.
The example you show them now will direct how they see life and the actions they take for years to come. Share with them your dreams, goals, and disappointments in life, and encourage them to share theirs as well. Be careful; if your attention isn’t genuine they will know it. Show them it is okay to fail as long as you keep trying. I tried to quit smoking many times before I promised them I would never touch another cigarette. I left a successful sales career to return to school and pursue my passion. This meant sitting them down for an explanation that everybody would have to make sacrifices, but there would also be rewards.
The reward of open and honest communication with your children has an unlimited return on investment. My daughter and I recently had a conversation about her having stomach cramps. She thought it might be her first period. It wasn’t my favorite topic, but she felt secure enough to share that with me. I was proud of how close we are. A certain peace comes from knowing your child will tell the truth, even if they have to face consequences for their actions. One of my favorite scriptures says; “Wisdom is more precious than rubies and nothing you desire can compare with her.” (Holy Bible, Proverbs 8.11). Preparing children for life’s hardships can help them to cope better with pain and disappointment. A good understanding of what is really valuable to them is a foundation that will last a lifetime, unlike material possessions that come and go.
The desires of the material world are an illusion. How many times have you saved up for, or worse, went into debt to get the newest gadget only to have it leave you with a hollow feeling, like something is still missing. So the decision is yours. Will you spend your life pursuing a false dream that joy can be found in wealth or the collection of toys? I have never known anyone who found comfort in their golden years from a big house or fancy car, quite the opposite. Many times a big house and no one to share it with can elicit feelings of loneliness and despair. Life offers us so many possibilities; all I ask is that you consider the future and what will bring you the greatest chance of happiness. Sacrificing time and desires to form a good family bond is a small investment for the return of a contented life.
Works Cited: Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.
Article image by: Rodolfo Clix, SXC