Joey was spending the night with a friend across town. The two boys stayed up late into the night playing, as friends like to do, and finally made it into bed around 1:30 in the morning. But it wasn’t long before Joey woke up after a nightmare, and the scary images stayed in his mind whenever he closed his eyes.
As Joey tossed and turned, he remembered something his father had told him: “If you ever need me—for any reason at all, no matter what the situation—just give me a call. I’ll come and do whatever I need to do.” So at 3:00 in the morning, Joey called his father Greg, woke him up, and told him about the nightmare.
Greg drove a good twenty minutes across town to be with his son. When he got there, he tapped on the door, made his way inside, and stayed there comforting and consoling Joey until he could get back to sleep. Greg left for home that morning just before sunrise.
Jim, the father whose house Joey was visiting, slept through the entire episode, and only learned about it the next morning. Jim tells the story with a little embarrassment (though you can’t really blame him), but with a lot of admiration for Greg, who demonstrated what it truly means to be a committed father.
That’s our calling card as fathers—our commitment. It’s our resolve to always act on our child’s behalf—no matter what the hour, no matter what other pressures are competing for our time, no matter how little recognition we receive, and no matter how young or old, near or far away that child may be.
You just can’t separate commitment from being involved in the life of your child. Involvement is the basic “stuff” of fathering, and it’s your first instinct: a renewed commitment to fathering means time and activities which strengthen the connection to your children.
So you take them sledding, read a book with them, volunteer to coach their soccer teams, help with homework, and serve as a taxi driver when necessary. As they grow, you spend time teaching them about car maintenance, money management, dating relationships and spiritual matters. Later, you demonstrate your commitment by helping them move into their first apartment, staying in touch with regular phone calls and being available to give advice about marriage, parenting or job concerns. Soon enough, you’ll be hosting the entire clan—including grandkids—for the holidays.
Your commitment should extend even beyond your comfort zone, where you meet your children on their turf. This is not an invitation to intrude on your kids’ privacy, but rather a call to stretch your own curiosity to include your children’s interests. It could mean learning something about music if your son takes up the saxophone, spending more time roaming the halls of art museums if your daughter decides she likes to paint, or offering to be a judge if your child enjoys debate. Or, getting on your child’s turf could mean spending time with him and his friends at a hockey game or pizza joint. Think of all the activities that your child enjoys, and then try to place your commitment in each of those areas. Be sure he is comfortable with your presence; ask his permission if you have any doubt. And don’t take a “No” as a rejection, but rather as an opportunity for your child to assert his independence. You’ll find other ways to be involved in his life.
Healthy involvement with your children provides you with great opportunities: for bonding, for developing your kids’ strengths and talents, for being a model of a caring, responsible man, and for laughing and just plain having fun.
LEARN TO COMMUNICATE
Involvement taken to the next level is healthy communication. It’s talking to your kids, verbalizing your hopes and dreams for them, affirming them regularly, asking forgiveness when necessary, and being approachable no matter how “touchy” the subject or how much you may disagree. Talking and listening to your children lets you know what interests them, what they believe in, and what’s truly important in their lives. Even if you see yourself as “the strong, silent type” or “a man of few words,” true commitment to your kids means you’ll be more vulnerable, take more risks, and work harder on communicating with your children.
And it’s important that you communicate about your commitment to them. Even saying to them, “You are my child” is important. Many of us remember getting picked last for softball or some other team sport. It’s traumatic, and such rejections can be commonplace in childhood. What a pleasure it is for a child to grow up in an atmosphere of acceptance in which his father says, over and over, in hundreds of ways, “This is my son. He’s on my team.” It communicates belonging and pride to children, but it also creates in us a sense of duty that says, “I have roles to fulfill, and I’m committed to them for the full term.”
BE WILLING TO SACRIFICE
Making time for your children is never easy. After all, you’re busy. Keeping up at work might require overtime, and even when you get home, there are more projects to complete and decisions to be made. And your kids are busy, too, whether they’re at sports practices, student committee meetings, part-time jobs or just hanging out with friends.
When it seems like there’s no time for healthy, everyday interaction, you have to make sure you’re regularly crossing paths by working with your children’s mother to schedule significant events with your kids. It means sacrifice: taking a hard look at how you’re spending your time and what your true priorities are, and then choosing to make the necessary adjustments for the sake of your family. It could mean sacrificing job advancement, activities you enjoy, or even service in your church or community. As a committed dad, sometimes you have to place your schedule at the disposal of everyone else in the family. Sometimes you have to sacrifice what is good for what is best … if you consider that a sacrifice.
Often the best stories of fathering sacrifice come from unusual situations, where men have altered the course of their entire life to take care of a special-needs child. We can be inspired by those men, but let’s also recognize that all kids, to some extent, have special needs. Maybe you stay up late to help your son with a speech that he’s especially nervous about. Or you give up your weekly round of golf to go bicycle riding with your daughter. Or you and your wife stay home more evenings so your teenagers can take the car to their various school or church involvements.
It may seem like no one notices all you do or the things you’ve given up for your children, but committed fathering is its own reward. And you’ll be surprised years from now, when your kids will undoubtedly remember and appreciate your commitment.