After looking at that Sedaris quotation yesterday, I thought a bit about my own role as a dad. It struck me in mulling over busyness and “success” that it is easy, not hard, to be a bad parent and a bad dad, to care way too much about oneself and not nearly enough about one’s loved ones. (Photo: Hamilton Beach)
Here are some ways that I am tempted to be a bad dad:
1. Talk on a cell phone while spending time with kids. At times, I reflexively reach for my phone when I’m on a walk with my daughter. “Here we go,” I think. “Half an hour to kill.” This reaction is natural. It is also disgusting. I already work a ton; why can’t I spend even twenty minutes with my child? I see this all the time. Don’t do it. Walk with your child; talk with them; be goofy with them; train them; tell them no strongly when they try to eat trees and follow up on discipline. Train them, love them, invest in them.
2. Work when at home. This is difficult for students. To make it through programs to which we have been called, we have to work when we can. That’s understandable. But there are also plenty of times when we don’t need to be working.
If we’re fathers, we should try to do well in school or in our work. But we should care far more about our families than our grades or, dare I say it, job performance. Does that mean our work might suffer? Yes, it does. So be it. Be a better dad than student or employee wherever you can. Sacrifice your selfishness and anxiety. Invest in your children. Outside of the moment, you won’t regret it.
3. Watch them without playing with them. I’m not saying that dads need to engage with our children during the entirety of their playtime. After all, they have to learn how to entertain themselves. We shouldn’t smother them. But we all know the temptation to tell our wives that we’ll watch the baby, giving her some much-needed rest, and then to plop ourselves on the couch after tossing a few toys to the baby on the floor. At that point, your child gives you a quizzical look–“Weren’t we going to play together? Dad?”
So the point is, play with your children. Get down on the floor. Play weird little games with their toys and blocks. Make them laugh. Tickle them. Play dolls. Play GI Joes. Don’t be a bad dad. Love your children. Get off the couch.
4. Claim you have no time to help (but find time for fun). This is related to number two. Dads like us can be tempted when home to sigh, tell our wives how much we wish we could help them, and then busy ourselves with work. Later, we somehow (miraculously!) find time to play sports or hanging out. That stinks like month-old laundry.
So the solution is: sacrifice. Kill your selfishness. Stop being a dork. Play less sports if you have to. Spend more time with family. And yes, this can be challenging for me just as it can be for many others.
Some might think is harsh and hard. Well, life is hard. God made (most) men strong specifically so that they could provide. We may get less sleep, we may be tired, we may have to take fewer classes or work fewer hours. But we should do these things for the good of our families and the glory of God.
Satan has been warring against men since the garden. He wants us to be bad dads. He wants to snare our children and send them to hell. He wants us to neglect them, even for expressly positive ends, and to make them bitter against us. He will give us all the help we need to accomplish this end.
Of course, we have to balance our responsibilities, and at times we have to make hard choices. It is important that we live in light of the gospel and not our previous condemnation. Even as we have to fight laziness, we have to fight false guilt, and know that it is good to live a balanced life of work, play, rest and so on. There is a time for hanging out with friends, and for recreation, and fun, and lazing around. There is.
On the other side of Satan, with all people, men or women, Jesus Christ stands and calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, denying ourselves, shirking our sin, aggressively taking dominion of our lives and our world to advance His kingdom and spread His gospel. Through His awesome Holy Spirit, He waits to empower us. He searches the earth for men (and women) who will lay their lives down for Him. He gives us local church accountability, exhortation, and encouragement so we can do just this.
He calls us men who are gifted with families to be great dads–not so that we can merely warm hearts and make Hallmark cards together, but so that we can act in whatever capacity and place we find ourselves as bold, strong, loving agents of grace.