Walter on Being a Dad
January 22, 2006
Dear Paul and my GFC Friends,
Thanks for taking the time to read these letters. You've got more patience than a chipmunk stuck at a turtle-crossing!
Well, last time I wrote I tried to make clear that the most important thing for your family is a happy marriage. Husband and wife loving each other and living in unity will create a family bond stronger than duct tape and binder twine.
Today I want to move on to the role the husband plays in the family. Lord willing, we will look to the wife in the coming weeks.
It seems to me one of the great mistakes many men make is worrying more about looking wealthy than having a happy home. Some men will die for what they love, and I've known more than 7 who've worked dawn to dusk, day after day, all for their love of mammon. Money in the bank won't bring peace to your home. Love isn't for sale, no matter what the song says!
It seems to me that one of a husband and father's most important chores is to make his home a happy place to be - a place where his family wants to be! I've known Dad's that get this all backwards. They work off their tails trying to buy a few thousand pleasant square feet, only to find that, nice as it is, ain't nobody wants to be there! As soon as the door cracks, his children fly out into the world like a caught-fox from the henhouse - happy to be free from prison "Home.". Why is this?
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
Home isn't a work-camp, or a jail-house or boot camp or school or the office. It is home. And the wise Dad will seek to make that a place of love, not hatred. For some reason, we tend to think that what everybody wants is our money. But, truth be told, they'll only want your money if that is what you train them to want. If you're off at work all day, and never connect with your wife or quiver, then soon they'll get to thinking that you're like one of those Automated Bank Machines. Open 24 hours a day and ready to pour out cash when they "push the right buttons."
But your job isn't just to make everybody rich - it is to love those under your care.
Who cares if you live in a big house, with a big TV and big stereo and a big car and big bills... if all that goes on under your roof is fueled by hate? Perfect paint and perfect tiles and perfect furniture and a perfect cottage with a perfect boat will all peal, lift, rip, burn or sink one day. And a man who lives for those things will soon have a feast on his table - to eat all by his lonesome. "Eagles fly alone, but sparrows fly in bunches," they say. Well, I'd rather have a few chirping swallows in my humble nest than sit alone at my table with a view! I say, make your home a happy, loving place. And it'll become that if you are a happy and loving husband and father.
All the days of the afflicted are evil,
but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
Dad's need to be reminded:
Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.
If you read a few of those early saints who graced our planet, you'll find some of the happiest homes had little more in them than the people who lived there. In some ways, life was hard and there wasn't much to hope for in the way of goods and services. But,
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
than great treasure and trouble with it.
A man needs to set his priorities in order. What use is a big home if you have to work so much you can never set foot in it? What use is getting ahead in work so you can retire at 50, if there isn't anyone around to be with when you hang up your skates? What use is a pile of debt on your shoulders so you can't think of anything but that while you're playing hockey with your boys?
I've seen more than my share of slick city folk buying themselves a so-called hobby farm for the weekends... the TWO weekends... the weekend in the spring when they come open it up and the weekend in the fall when they close it down again! The poor fools have to work so much in order to pay for the farm they never even get there. (Besides that, I've farmed my whole life and never quite seen how it could be a hobby!)
Anyway, I'm not suggesting you quit your job, put on some old flannel shirts watch soap operas and drink beer from morning to night while you wait for the government to buy your groceries. No, you know I've said many times before; a man needs to work and to work hard. But there needs to be some balance.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
Our trouble is that we tend to be like lions. I've read that the lion spends the better part of his day doing nothing except looking mean. Then he hunts something on the quick, wolfs it down in a flash and gets back to his loafing and lollygagging. I couldn't help but wonder if that beast would be a might more fearsome if he balanced things out a bit. And rather than just sitting off on his own, licking his mane, he ought to be spending some time with his wife and cubs!
A wise man knows that the days of children under his roof will come to an end. That means he will spend the time now with those little ones - getting to know them and being with them and learning to love them the way they need to be loved. He will also keep in mind that there is a strong possibility he and his wife will be all alone again sooner than you would think. So, he keeps things with his Mrs. where they need to be - so that the day the nest finally empties, there's more joy than despair!
Now, exactly how does a man make his home a happy place to be? That's a very good question and one I wish I could answer from a better track record than I have. I feel a little like a bankrupt dairyman telling a Junior Farmer how to run his operation. I'm not so sure I'm the best advisor in this category... but I'll do my best and trust you'll pick up where I fall short.
First off, I think a man needs to learn to be open and honest with his family. To share his successes and his failures.
Better to be lowly and have a servant
than to play the great man and lack bread.
Some Dad's seem to think that they've got to hide all their mistakes and look like a King when they ain't even a pawn! Some men are experts at disguise - they should work for the secret service! They look all fine and dandy on the outside but live a life of misery behind their own front door. Others play it up like they were the King of Kensington around their family and barely hold down a job in the real world. No, our family needs to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes - so Dad needs to learn to be humble around the family.
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
You might as well be honest with who you are, since your family sees way more than you think they do at the best of times. Want to know your faults - ask your kids! And zip your lip while they tell you!! If Dad is humble and owns his sins, then he creates a place where everyone else can do the same. He ought to be the first to seek forgiveness and to confess when he has sinned against a child or wife.
If your kids are ashamed of you for who you are, that can mean one of two things. One: they have a good reason to be and you had better shape up. Or two: they've got wrong expectations that need correcting. If a child thinks his father is embarrassing since he faithfully collects the trash every week, then that child needs a lesson in humility. If Dad responds by trying to be something he's not, all with the hope of winning his child's approval, he's set off down slippery False Expectations Street. A road that leads to miry trouble.
Dad is better off to be who he is - and faithful to it. Keep your inflating ego in check with the pin of self-disclosure. Be who you really are with the ones you love most.
Second. Not only should he cultivate humility in his life, but he needs to learn to truly engage his mind with the ones under his care. Men are strange creatures. I've seen a man so lost in a book he didn't notice his house was on fire all around him. I've seen Daddy's reading the dailies while their sons are screaming at the top of their lungs hanging by a toe from the high chair. A man has an uncanny ability to have his body where his head ain't. I mean his flesh and blood is there - but his mind is somewhere far away. It seems to me that the first step in building relationships is to learn to get your mind where your body is!
How can a home be happy if even when Dad is there, his brain is on vacation? You need to take an interest in people, to listen to them and ask questions. How can you pray rightly for them if you don't know them? How can you shepherd their little hearts if you only see the outer person all the time? I think one of the best ways a Dad makes a happy home is by learning to listen and pay attention to his wife and kids.
Sorry, I just had to check over my shoulder to see if Mrs. Walter was reading this, for if she was she would either laugh out loud or yell, "Hypocrite!" And rightly so. We need to work on our brains men - and I mean the "we" part!
Third, a man will make his home the place his family wants to be, if he shows more concern for his family than his stuff. If a Dad tells his boy to "buck up" when he falls out the window, but sheds a bucket of tears when somebody scratches his new tractor - well then it doesn't take a brain surgeon to tell what he loves more.
A Dad needs to be willing to let stuff take second place to people. So, when the kids have friends over, he opens his fridge and smiles when his sofa gets stained. In fact, he makes a point of keeping the right kinds of foods at the ready. I used to find whatever excuse I could to visit my grandma, since there was always a piece of the finest, blue ribbon apple pie with ice cream just sitting there waiting for me! Now, don't get me wrong - it wasn't just the pie I wanted... I loved my granny... but the pie was a sign of her open house and open heart. It may not be too spiritually minded, but it seems to me that part of keeping a home a happy place is to have lots of food and drink at the ready. And a smile when it gets ate!
Fourth, a Dad needs to be willing to be embarrassed by his children. Your pastor loaned me a book that I like a lot. It is called, Age of Opportunity. Now the title implies the message. The author of the book suggests that the teenage years are the time for the spreading of wings and jumping out of the nest. Problem is, nobody flies perfect on their first try. So, a Dad needs to be there to watch some horrific crash landings and help that budgie back into the nest... not to scold and hide, but to try again!
Judge Baker had a habit of buying up the cheapest car for sale in town every time one of his 4 boys turned 16. Then he would set them to driving. They had to buy their own insurance and gas and make their own repairs. Well, I don't think a one of those boys drove a year without a crash, flip, fire or lost keys. They were young and foolish and, truth be told, had their Dad as a driving instructor, so they garnered themselves a few knocks and bruises along the way. But it wasn't the end of the world as the car wasn't much to begin with. I think there is some wisdom there. We ought to create some ways in which our kids are free to fail - ways that won't cause serious repercussions.
Old Joe Thompson was what I think they mean by the phrase "micro-manager." He decided everything for his kids, from clothes to friends to how they spent their time. That was okay when they were 8, but when they turned 18 and went off to work or school, those near-perfect kids all crashed and burned. One failed college. Another got pregnant without a husband. The third still can't keep a job. Now these were well-meaning parents they had! But they had not taught their little sheep how to make a decision - worse, they had never let them fail and learn how to make good on a failure. That's a lesson to be learned while they are in your home, not when the stakes are high and the results final. So a Dad needs to be wise and allow his kids some room to fall and get up again. He may think he's gonna keep bailing out his adult kids... and he may try... but one day he'll either run out of money or heartbeats and that grown up toddler will have to fend for himself. A wise Daddy makes his home a place where, when his kids are young and live there, they are free to fail.
He will not jump on every stumbling, but watch with a tear in his eye as someone makes a decision he knows will end in sorrow. Then he'll jump in at the right times, when age and experience has taught him that to let that child go further will only reap weeds and thistles. Best of all, he will not abandon his son or daughter when the chips are down. A wise Dad finds a way to vent his anger on a tree before his own sapling.
My own pappy helped us kids with this by setting us up in little businesses. I would haul a cart of fresh cut flowers into town every Saturday in the summer to sell on the roadside. My Dad had us growing them, cutting them and paying him for the land and such. We learned all kinds of lessons about planning, investing, spending, selling, credit and the like... mostly from our mistakes! But those were life lessons not soon forgot.
Fifth, to make a home a place your family wants to be, Dads will learn to discipline when they have to. This may sound like the opposite of what is true, but hear these words again:
22:15Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
29:15The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
19:18Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.
23:13Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.
13:24Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
29:17Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
he will give delight to your heart.
I'm sick and tired of people on the news yapping about corporal punishment as if it were a hate crime. Worse, they make those out that practice loving correction to be some kind of social Neanderthals that aren't hip with the times. Well, some things never change. I use bigger tractors than my Daddy could dream of, but they still do the same tilling and digging. You can't grow hay if you don't plant the seed and you won't change a foolish heart apart from the loving application of discipline and instruction. The rod and reproof, I have said before, are the two keys to raising wise children. But my point here is to say that the brunt of that duty falls on the lap of the father. Even if he is not at home when such correction must take place, he needs to be the one who has set the family standards and enforces the family policy.
I've already written a bucket load of stuff about this, but I would just repeat this one idea. A dad needs to establish obedience early on with his kids, so that as they grow, it never crosses their mind to cross their mother. Where the expectations are clear and the punishments are fair, you will find the foundation to a happy home.
Sixth, a man will be careful to watch his whole life, remembering that how he acts at work or church or play is having some kind of effect on his home
Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
but he who hates bribes will live.
I've known men that led double lives - but that kind of faking will ruin your home. Once a boy finds his father is a liar or adulterer or drunk or a cusser or whatever - when he is none of those things at home - that Dad has lost a lifetime of trust. Kids grow up with idealized views of their parents, and eventually that image will have to crack. But when it cracks through hypocrisy, it rarely sets right.
Besides, if some Dad is off living like a sinner everywhere but home, the Lord is going to allow that to catch up with him some day. The Dad who steals long enough will eventually get stolen from or hauled off to jail... whether he stole wearing a suit and tie or a black ski mask. Sin is not like a dog that you can tie up outside. It follows you wherever you go and sooner or later will bite.
If you can't seem to make enough money or get ahead, you might just try praying about it.
The Lord is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
Finally, the most important thing a man can do to make a happy home is to keep the Lord there. Eli honored his sons over the Lord and was judged for it. Samuel weren't much of a father either in that regard. And David himself seems to have struggled at keeping his home a place where the Lord was spoken of and prayed to. All of them had troublesome children to show for it.
A Dad has to see himself, in some ways, as a kind of priest before God on behalf of his family. Job would make his sacrifices - and we can learn from him. The best thing a man can do for his family is to walk closely with his God. This only makes sense. If a man is praying and reading his Bible and getting to church and evangelizing the lost and putting to death his sin and making right his blunders - well, who wouldn't want to be around that man?
For all they charged Jesus with, the fact is, those soldiers who came to arrest him said, "No one speaks like this man" and the Centurion who oversaw His crucifixion exclaimed, "Truly this was the Son of God!" A man who is full of Christ in word and deed will be a delight and treasure to his family. Even if lost men choose to hurt him, they won't be able to charge him with any true evil. So a Dad ought to be the godliest person in his household. And I am talking about true, Spirit-empowered godliness. He should be the one everyone feels most free to come to, to talk about the Lord and life.
So Dad, are you making your home a place your family wants to be? Are you loving them, letting them fail, disciplining fairly, shunning avarice, living consistently, filling the fridge, and turning on your brain? It is no small task to be this kind of Dad, so we need to take the last point to heart - are we seeking the Lord with all of who we are?
May He give you much grace as you encourage each other and build each other up in the faith!
P.S. Please tell Laura how much I appreciated that elephant.