I’ve been a dad now for just over 22 years. That’s a little over half my life. I’ve learned a few things in my time as a dad. I’ve learned that. . .
- When you assemble Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, you will discover that stores that sell batteries are closed at 1:00 a.m for some strange reason.
- Little kids’ hands are sticky about 99% of the time.
- Goldfish make great low maintenance pets until they die, which is often.
- Kids want to learn how to cut the grass until they are old enough to cut the grass, at which point they lose all interest.
- Sons want to learn how to drive a car until they are old enough to drive the car, at which point they become more interested, and you lose access to a vehicle you paid for.
I could go on. I don’t know what you thought about when you became a dad, but if anyone told me it would be the amazing, emotional, confusing and rewarding journey it has turned out to be, I might not have believed them. Of all the things I’ve learned about being a dad, here are 5 of the most enduring insights I’ve gained:
1. Be who you are.
Your kids have expectations of you. The culture does. Your spouse might. And you might have expectations of yourself that, in the end, are pretty hard to live up to. I’ve raised two sons. You would think we would have a long list of father/son things we do together. And yes, we spent hours fishing together, playing sports together and having fun together when they were growing up. But in the end, I’m not really the stereotypical sports/fun/hobby dad many dads are, much to my own disappointment at times. I’m not really a sports guy, although I was almost always at my kids games. I tried fishing, but I still hate worms and don’t really have the patience to sit for hours on the water. I tried to be the wood shop guy. I even bought tools once. Only once. (I kept all my fingers so I quit while I was ahead.) But I’m not really any of these things. I’m a preacher. I’m a communicator. I’m a writer. All things that are not very exciting to kids. And yet I’m realizing as my kids get older that one of the best things I can be is simply myself. Sure, we’ll find some fun stuff to do when we get together. But now that they’re young adults, the conversations we’re having are fascinating. I’ll always be their dad, but we’re also developing a friendship and understanding built around ideas and shared interests and passion. Like I would with other friends. And that’s cool. Don’t feel the pressure to be something or someone you’re not.
2. Your kids judge your actions, not your intentions.
I judge myself on my intentions. Hey…I didn’t mean to do that! Sorry! But over time, my kids judge me (rightly) on my actions. Come on, you do this too. You judge yourself by your intentions but others by their actions. What I realize is how loudly my actions speak around the house and in my family.Good intentions make up for things from time to time. But over a lifetime, actions matter more. As a dad (and husband), it’s my responsibility to ensure that my actions and intentional match up.
3. Your teens need more of your time than your toddlers ever did.
We’re just wrapping up the teenage phase in our home. And what surprised me is how much time parenting teens takes. You’re not watching them every second like you would a toddler, but you just need to be around. There’s a temptation to withdraw when your kids withdraw. Fight it. Be around. If you’re just around when they’re around, you’ll be amazed at how many great moments and conversations happen. If you’re not around, you’ll never know what you missed.
4. Your marriage matters more than you think it does.
Everyone struggles in their marriage. My wife Toni and I have struggled in seasons, and your kids get a front row seat to your ups and downs. It matters how you treat each other. We’re fortunate to be in a season as a family where our kids are seeing us in a healthy place. How I treat their mom is as important as how I treat them. So work on your marriage. Go to counseling. Go for date nights. Deal with your junk. And you marriage will get stronger. Don’t feel like it? I can promise you from personal experience that your emotions will eventually catch up to your obedience. We’re having a better time as a couple than we ever have. And our kids see (and appreciate) the difference. One of the best gifts you can give your kids is a healthy marriage.
5. There is no finish line.
Parenting is for life. In a few months our youngest son moves to the other side of the country to start university and our nest will be…empty (for now). It’s tempting to think we’re at the finish line. Not at all. Parenting is a journey that lasts as long as you’re alive. I’m still working on being a dad and on being a husband. There’s still progress to be made, relationships to strengthen, advice to be shared, moments to be savored and a lifetime of relationship to pursue. Instead of thinking you’re done, focus on what you can do and what you will do to deepen the relationship. I’m so thankful for what’s been and even more grateful for what’s ahead.
How about you? What are some things you’ve learned about being a dad?
Carey is the lead pastor of Connexus Community Church, a growing multi-campus church near Toronto and strategic partner of North Point Ministries. Prior to starting Connexus in 2007, Carey served for 12 years in a mainline church, transitioning three congregations into a single, rapidly growing congregation. Carey writes one of the most widely read Christian leadership blogs today. He is the author of “Leading Change Without Losing It” and co-author of “Parenting Beyond Your Capacity” with Reggie Joiner. He and his family live in Ontario, Canada. Find Carey on his blog or follow him on Twitter @Cnieuwhof