by Perry Thinesen
“Be present! Be there! Enter their world, and invite them to enter yours.”
When I heard this advice from Jeff Jenkins, I started reflecting on my childhood, my experiences with my dad growing up, and how that shaped me as a father today.
I loved my dad dearly and I still do. He worked hard as the manager for the local lumber yard, and he definitely loved all his children. His dad—my grandfather—passed away when I was around ten years old, so I knew him just a little bit. And what I remember is that he was very reserved, and even intimidating.
My dad was also very reserved, but certainly was not an intimidator. Like many fathers of his generation, he wasn’t big on telling you that he loved you, inviting you into his life, or entering your world. He wasn’t very hands-on as a dad; I can’t recall ever playing catch, going fishing or hunting with him, or anything like that. (And I never really thought much about that until recently.)
And yet, despite all that, I never doubted that he loved me. He rarely missed one of my sports events, although in his later years he admitted to me that he’d been nervous to come to my first baseball game because he was afraid I might not succeed! He helped me through college, both financially and through his encouragement when he noticed that I was lonely or needed cheering up. I consider him to be a great dad because he did the best he could given the tools he was given by his dad.
Like my dad, I now have five energetic and awesome kids, and I have tried to copy many of his wonderful qualities and then add to them. One thing I have tried to add is being actively involved with my children. I try to initiate discussions on what is going on in their lives. I show interest in their passions. We share laughs. I intentionally develop those relationships.
And like many other dads, being involved is a challenge because of our busy lives. In our country, it’s almost a matter of pride to be busy. We dads are busy with our jobs, our hobbies, our pursuits, and we often say we’re too busy for some things that may be important to our families. Or, sometimes we’re too tired! So then we often pass up opportunities to be present and make a difference in our children’s lives. Maybe it’s just human nature: it seems easier to focus on the things we have to do or want to do, rather than focus on our families.
This year on Super Bowl Sunday, most of my family sat down with me to watch the game. Afterwards, my 8-year-old son asked if I’d play catch with the football … in the house. (Yes, I have a very understanding wife!)
First I ran through all the reasons why I didn’t want to: I was tired and wanted to read or watch TV. Then I thought, My precious son is asking me to spend time with him! Why would I pass up this opportunity? We had a wonderful 10-15 minutes, and didn’t break anything! Then, it warmed my heart when he thanked me, hugged me and told me he loved me as he went off to bed.
Be present with your children. Yes, there are challenges, whether they are related to your upbringing, your busy schedule, or something else. But make time for them. Allow yourself to enter into their world, and invite them into yours.
The rewards—for yourself, for your children, and in turn, for our society—are immeasurable.
Just be present. Just be DAD.
Perry Thinesen was named Minnesota Father of the Year in June of 2014 by NCF. He and his wife Joyce have been happily married since 1990 and have five children ranging from young adult to school age. Perry lives in Cokato, Minnesota, where he is the Activities & Community Education Director for Dassel-Cokato Public Schools.