24 Years of Fatherhood

Today I want to shift the spotlight – about parenting, really – to my wife. She is a wonderful woman, and has been an inspiring wife for 27 years. Today, she did something that reminded me about her deep mother’s heart – and the reason I love her so much, and why I like being a dad so much.

Some background: My wife updates her Facebook page a few times a year. A Year! Really. Today, though, she posted something that made me tear up. It’s short yet very poignant…

“24 years ago today I learned several things: the depth of my parents love for me; how possible it is to let go of “self” and think of someone else first; the incredible worth of every human being; and that the God of the universe loves me more than I could ever imagine.

All this from a newborn… with much, much more to come. Happy Birthday Dakota!

I love you,

Mom”

That is quite touching! Let add my own “Happy Birthday!” to our oldest child, who turned 24 today. (What a privilege to be your dad!)

And…thanks, God, for that boy – and his wonderful Mom.  What a terrific journey it has been so far.

 

 

Lessons Learned About Being A Good Dad

As we approach Father’s Day, some reflections about parenting lessons I learned from my own dad:

Time – My dad used to have me work alongside him in the garage or yard. That wasn’t easy, as I was lazy and not particularly interested in doing the job well. But he involved me anyway, just to spend time with me.

Advocacy – I’ll always remember the time in grade school when Dad stood up when a teacher made a hurtful comment about me in front of the class.

Laughter – Our evening meal times were frequently punctuated by a joke or humorous story. Some of my best childhood memories are of funny moments at the dinner table.

Correction – sometimes gently, other times not-so-much, my Dad was a disciplinarian. He gave me boundaries. He taught me how to live well.

Modeling – As I was growing up, my Dad lived out his convictions. He had set moral guidelines, and along with teaching those to us, he modeled them daily.

Sacrifice – My dad had some hobbies as I was growing up, but they didn’t keep him away from home a lot. In fact, his love for model trains was something that kept him at home in the basement, and  we loved being down in the “train room” with him.

Those are just some of the qualities my own father has passed on, primarily through example. I dedicated my book, First Time Dad,  to Thomas L. Fuller,

“for modeling in word and deed how to be a good dad.”

How about you? What lessons did your father teach you about parenting? Leave a comment here or on Facebook. I’ll randomly select one commenter to receive a copy of First Time Dad.

(By the way, I’m pleased to announce that First Time Dad is now available in audiobook form. That’d be a great instant Father’s Day gift! Just download and put it on a flashdrive or CD for a new dad.)

Your Great Father’s Day Gifts?

It’s a fact. In our household, most holidays and “greeting card occasions” are not celebrated with great fanfare. We do observe most of them, but only birthdays, Christmas and Easter warrant much attention. It’s not that we’re party poopers, although my kids my think so at times. Really, it is a pragmatic matter. We have six children, and we’d be broke if we went out to eat or had a big to-do every time it is “National Second Cousin’s Day” or “National We Can’t Believe We Didn’t Think To Honor Zucchini Gardeners Day” or “Middle Children Are Special Sunday.” We’d be broke if we spent a couple of bucks on every special occasion.

On that note…it’ll soon be Father’s Day (have you noticed the sales already?). This isn’t the same kind of sentimental, tear-in-your-eye observation as Mother’s Day. In our culture there is affirmation for fathers, but not the emotional expressions we show moms. I’m good with that.

Reflecting on my past, I’m sure my mom was behind many of the Father’s Day purchases and gifts given to my dad as I was growing up. I do recall making things for my dad as a boy – seems like we sometimes used macaroni noodles, glue, construction paper and spray paint.  Or we’d go find a new key fob for him, or the traditional new wallet. Over the years there were “coupons” fore a car wash, a chore done in his honor, or hand-made cards. As we’ve gotten older, there have been gift cards, tools, a meal out or an audio book.

I’ll admit that as time has passed, finding that special something for my Dad becomes harder. What do you give a guy that seems to have everything he needs, and buys what he wants to have? What in the world can I get him that says, “I love you, Dad, and thanks for everything?”

Can you relate?

As for me, I’ve tried to downplay the whole Father’s Day gift thing, but still they see the day approaching and they want to do something for me. I’m glad for their affection and love. I really don’t desire much to be reminded of the wonderful job I’ve had as their dad. A very meaningful gift for me is a home-made item. Nothing special. And maybe an extra hug. I don’t expect big items, but if there was something I had in mind…I’ve probably already purchased it and have it in the closet waiting to be “gifted” on Father’s Day.

Are you struggling to find YOUR dad something meaningful this year? Is he like many men who, only a few weeks before Father’s Day, come home with a new tool, electronic gizmo or nick-knack that you would’ve been happy to give them as a gift? And if you’re a dad, are you guilty of doing that?

So tell me, what gifts have you’ve given to your father that have made Father’s Day extra special? Was it a surprise, a hand-made item from the heart, or maybe the computer of his dreams?

And if you are a dad, what gifts from the past stand out as most memorable, or (hint hint) would you hope to receive this year?

Impact of Fatherlessness

I just spent a delightful weekend away with my family. We were away in the mountains, with no internet, and lots of time together. It was great! We played games, talked, and relaxed as a family. I tried to spend individual time with each of the five who made it (our oldest lives on the East Coast), and was grateful for the meaningful ways we connected. With the warmth of the weekend on my heart and mind, earlier today I was reflecting on some startling stats about kids who don’t have a dad in their lives.

Did you know the United States is the world’s leader in fatherless homes? The impact is breathtaking: 63 percent of youth suicides come from fatherless homes, and 75 percent of all adolescent patients in drug treatment centers come from homes without a dad.

In his book, It’s Better to Build Boys than Mend Men, Truett Cathy offers some other insights about the trouble children from fatherless homes experience. They are:

• 5 times more likely to commit suicide.

• 32 times more likely to run away.

• 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders.

• 14 times more likely to commit rape.

• 9 times more likely to drop out of school.

• 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances.

• 9 times more likely to end up in a state-operated institution.

• 20 times more likely to end up in prison.

Such revelations should drive every wayward father home and cause every dad teetering on divorce to do whatever he can to salvage his marriage.

And if you ARE home, Dad, those statistics should push you to spend time – quality and quantity time – time with your children. You should do that because it is the right thing. Because your child needs you. And because it is wonderfully rewarding!

Have a little boy? Or maybe a teen boy? For a father who really wants to shape his son’s future, let me suggest there is an outstanding set of resources from my friend Robert Lewis. His book, Raising A Modern Day Knight, has been wonderfully helpful to me in bringing up three boys, and I’ve recommended it for years. Additionally, let me suggest a cool – free! – smartphone app to help you be more intentional in training your boy to become a man of integrity with a rock-solid faith. Find a link to some videos, as well – check out these resources and hear an interview with Robert Lewis right here.

I might also add that regardless of your stage of parenting, in my book First Time Dad I tried to capture some of the common challenges – and joys – every father, especially new dads, encounter.  Intended to encourage and inspire, the book reflects my experiences as a Dad for the past 23 years. You might consider it as an early Father’s Day present?

 

Attack of the iPods

Last week, in two separate packages, the delivery truck dropped off two new iPods at our home. The beautiful little (really little!) pieces of technology magic are already the pride of their new owners, two of my teen daughters. So now all three of our girls have “portable music devices” with white ear buds that will be a constant companion, a friend when they are lonely, and also a source of entertainment and distraction.

My wife isn’t the happiest about iPods and the music they hold. I understand her concerns. After all, what music is on those things, and what kinds of messages are our daughters hearing time and time again?

I’ve been a little more lax on the matter, probably because when I was about 13 I started discovering pop and rock music (I wasn’t yet a follower of Christ, so “Christian” music wasn’t part of my record collection) – and it quickly became a permanent part of my world. The teen years aren’t exactly easy. Music soothed a hurting soul, was a common denominator among friends, was even motivational and inspirational. Mostly, though, I found music gave voice to my turbulent emotions – it said things I couldn’t quite express. It still does to this day. I love how music paints pictures, moves my heart and causes me to think.

Probably because it meant so much to me all those years ago, I understand the power of music in my daughters’ lives. Dena and I are on the same page as to having some limits on what they listen to. We have general house guidelines and rules about “screen time” and music listening for our children. We try to model good consumption patterns. We talk through the impact of lyrics and lifestyles of the artists. We rely on Focus on the Family’s Plugged In media reviews for reliable information about the trends and popular groups.

The older they are, the less restrictive we are. I want my kids to “learn to discern” and offer them growing amounts of trust with regard to their choices. Helping them process the “why” behind my affirmations and objections is a pretty important part of the process. Still, I’ll admit that I’m not always on top of their playlists and “most listened to” music. So perhaps this post is more for me than for you.

With that context, then, a few questions. How do you handle your child’s media consumption? Do you allow unrestricted access to electronic devices like phones and iPods? Do you have safeguards in place to ensure your younger kids are protected from crude lyrics and content? What is the most challenging parenting problem you deal with when it comes to your kids and media?

 

Searching For More

My friend Zeke Pipher has a new book out, and I found it to be candid, engaging, challenging, and also rather convicting. Its called, Man On The Run: Helping Hyper-Hobbied Men Recognize The Best Things In Life. Here’s a quick excerpt:

I’ve lived the first thirty-nine years of my life by Irishman Laurence Sterne’s creed: “A large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life, by him who interests his heart in everything.”

“Everything” might be a slight overstatement. There are a few pursuits that I haven’t thrown myself into. But then, they involve knitting needles, scrapbooks, and shopping malls, so they don’t really count anyway, right?

I’m a simple case, really. Like many men, I don’t handle inactivity well. My lowest lows—the times when I feel blue or despondent—come to me when I’m sitting on my hands wondering what to do. I keep busy in order to keep sane. On my days off, I fish, exercise, or clean the garage. In the evenings, I write, wrestle with my kids, or play basketball at the fitness center. I even started cooking because it gives me something to do during that restless hour between when I get home from work and when it’s time to sit down for dinner.

Some people enjoy large blocks of time with nothing planned. I don’t understand those people.

I need more than busyness, though. I need to be challenged. An after-dinner stroll around the neighborhood holds little appeal. But I’ll walk for hours if there’s the chance a pheasant might flush or the next swing might be the golf shot of my life. Likewise, I can’t sit for fifteen minutes and do nothing. But I can plant my rear in a tree stand from sunup till sundown, listening for the snap of a twig, the faintest indication that a deer might be walking in my direction. In order to enjoy time, I need something to do, and that something must hold the power to thrill me.

Does that description of a busy, activity-filled life resonate with you?I think most of us have far too many hobbies – many good things – distracting us from the best things.

In my own book, First Time Dad, I wrote about the need for new fathers to put away the golf clubs and instead put their free time and energy into being a good dad. It’s a radical mind-shift for some men. It was for me, as I wrote in the following admission:

About the time of our first child, I took up an extra-curricular activity. I suddenly had a hankering to attend graduate school. It occupied a lot of my time during those first couple of years after Dakota was born. In my defense, this was something my wife and I had discussed for some time, and it was in many ways a labor of love that was intended to position me for a different job. But the timing of this effort was, in hindsight, awful. With a new baby, my wife needed me home more, not less. But there I was for about two years, commuting 250 miles twice a week to work on a graduate degree. Finally, circumstances changed and I had to abandon that pursuit.

Was I actively seeking an escape from the demands of being a new dad? Really, I was not trying to get away from those new responsibilities. However, I wish someone had told me about the importance of being more involved in my child’s life, especially during those early years. Old family photos and videos reveal that I was there for Dena and Dakota  – just not as much I now wish I had been.

And, lest you think setting the right priorities is an easy thing to master, despite the strains on our family from that earlier educational effort, I found myself back in grad school a few years later, pursuing that degree one more time. This time, though, we had four children. While the stress of that commitment damaged our marriage, it also took a bit of a toll on our children. I was an absent dad, in many ways. And I worked for a global family ministry!

Ouch. It is somewhat painful to revisit the wounds I caused with my pursuit of an advanced degree.But I hope it catches your attention and causes you to consider once again what is most important in your life. Does your calendar reflect your priorities?

Here’s a suggestion: As a man, you are driven. That’s not a bad thing. God wired men to seek adventure, challenges, victories. Driven men have accomplished much in this world. But as Zeke points out so well in his book, and I addressed this in mine, we have to channel that energy, passion and drive into the right things. Things that matter most. Ultimately, that means pursuing God and others more than a trophy catch, or a season championship, or a personal record. Instead, go after, with your whole heart, your family. Your wife and kids. You’re irreplaceable in their lives, and your investment in time, energy and heart to make them number one won’t be wasted.

By the way, download a sample chapter of First Time Dad here, or Man on the Run here.

Five Tips To Help Survive A New Baby

‘Tis the season…for babies! A number of co-workers and friends are welcoming new little ones into their families.While I think most will adapt well to being new parents, some of us have not made that transition to life with a baby so easily or quickly. I’ve often said that getting married was oh-so-natural, but learning how to be a new dad was a lot of work! This was especially the case when it came to my marriage. Dena and I re-centered our lives on our new son, and in the process I found that not only did the baby need new efforts – so did my wife.

From my book, First Time Dad, here are five quick tips for men to help with the many adjustments needed when “baby makes three” (or four, or five…), especially when it comes to keeping your marriage strong:

  1. Stay connected with your wife. Make room in your schedule for daily talk times and weekly dates. Do things together as a family. Hang out at the park with parents who also have younger kids. Develop routines like Thursday night pizza, or Sunday afternoons. Take family hikes or bike rides.
  2. Remember your wife is not your enemy. She is the love of your life, and you need to treat her as the shining jewel that she is for you. So don’t get angry with her. Don’t blow up when she is exhausted and needs you to really help out. Extend lots of grace. Follow the Scriptural admonition to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19 NIV
  3. Remember this child is not your enemy. You love this little baby, really, you do! So don’t for a minute think that she is an enemy to your marriage. Yes, she will demand a lot of you and she will extract a lot of your wife’s energies and attentions. But she’s your child, and you have a tremendous responsibility to raise her well. It’s your job to allow her needs to dictate a lot of your life’s choices and activities – for now. And that’ll impact your marriage.
  4. Share the load. Now is the time to show your wife you love her by sacrificing your pride – or your stubbornness – and really stepping up the contribution you make to her life. Clean the kitchen, or her car. Empty the trash. Change that baby’s diaper. Make dinner. Those domestic duties that you’ve let her handle need to be shared, as she is pretty tired from being a Mom. That means you have to come alongside her and help. Look around, find practical things that need to be done, and get to work. Trust me, your wife will notice, even if she doesn’t say anything right now.
  5. Get some sleep. Suggestion: Take turns wearing earplugs. Seriously. Buy some Mack’s Silicone Earplugs and learn to love ‘em! I didn’t want to consider these things, but Dena started using them and it became apparent that she was sleeping well – while I didn’t, because our son kept waking me up during the night. So when you are desperate for sleep, wear earplugs. Alternate turns, so at least one of you gets a good night of rest, every night.

Guys, what other tips would you offer?

The e-Book Revolution, Coming To Your School Soon

It arrived without the fanfare of a new phone or tablet, but last week’s introduction to the world of digital textbooks signals Apple’s “next big thing.” As the company continues to explore new ways of delivering content, and to expand its revenue sources, I think they’ve tapped into a HUGE market.

Any college student will tell you that bookstore visits are usually dreaded. It isn’t that the staff are unfriendly, or that the atmosphere isn’t nice enough. Its the drain on the wallet – or pocketbook – that is so painful. Buy the latest edition, because last semester’s textbook is pitifully outdated. Get the right edition, because the prof isn’t going to accommodate a slacker who can’t get the required book. And watch the latest become…a big old paperweight, rather useless after the semester is over. I am ashamed to say that I actually thought I’d refer to some of my most valued college texts…and that a few remain crammed into a box in the attic…even though it has been a long, long time since those courses.

Obviously the textbook system is antiquated and in need of overhaul. And our friends at Apple are looking out for us. According to some quick research, Apple sold 350,000 textbooks in the three days after unveiling their availability on iBookstore.

While the market is only for college books at the present, you can see where this is headed. K-12 educators and parents need to be ready for the day, coming all too soon, when all students use a tablet device for all their books. I recall a conversation less than a year ago with my daughter, a high school student who carries about 100 pounds of books to and from school everyday (oh, alright, maybe it was 40 or 50 pounds…but still).I shared my concern about the burden – literally – of carrying that much weight. Too many books! There is hope, I told her, of a brighter future.

“Saige,” I said, “Before you finish college you’ll be getting all your textbooks electronically. You’ll have ‘em all on an iPad. It’ll save you money – and it’ll save your back!”

Looks like I was a little long on the projection. Seems she’ll see that textbook revolution happen before she finishes high school. And for that, I am grateful.

However, I’m wondering about the downside of having so much loaded onto a computer or tablet. Don’t our kids spend too much time already in front of those glowing screens? Do I really want my child to turn on their “books?” I guess it is inevitable, and I’ll look at the bright side of this development.

How about you? Has your child worn out the backpack from overloading, or suffered back problems from carrying around too many school books?

 

Advice For First Time Dads

I’m very pleased that the Focus on the Family radio program about my book, First Time Dad, re-airs today as part of the “Best of 2011″ series. What a privilege to share from my own experiences with new fathers. Here’s a reflection on some early memories as we anticipated the arrival of our first child.

If you visit the Amtrak level of New York City’s Penn Station, you’ll notice a large schedule board that hangs from the ceiling. At rush hour, crowds gather there, sometimes several people deep, to await their train’s track assignment. People are eager to make a beeline for the train to get a good seat. Just prior to the boarding announcement, a voice bellows from the speakers: “Ready! Ready! Ready! Ready!” The passengers grab their bags and brace themselves for the sprint downstairs.

That’s a lot how we felt in those days leading up to Dakota’s arrival. We were ready. Our bags were packed, and we had one in each hand.

If having a child is akin to a college final, we were prepared to ace the exam. Within months we were set to take on the biggest responsibility we’d ever known, the most significant work a person can do. We knew that raising a child is a fearful and wonderful job, one that never really ends, but one for which we were as prepared as we could be.

Or so we thought.

Simply thinking, reading, and talking about our new roles of dad and mom wasn’t enough. Looking back, I realize just how little I really knew about being a dad when our firstborn entered the world.

If you’re feeling confident, or even if you have some reservations, about becoming a new parent, I’ll encourage you to listen to the conversation, download the free materials (over there on the right side of this page) and maybe even get a copy of my book.

And maybe you can share a story from your early parenting experiences here in the comments section? Thanks!

Your Kid Needs A Cell Phone

Having lunch with a friend the other day, we came across a problem common to many parents. Cell phones. More specifically, kids and cell phones.

“He wants a smart phone. But I’m not sure I want him watching movies unsupervised. And I certainly don’t want him playing games online.”

“I understand those concerns,” I replied.

“Well, we also have to figure out how to deal with the texting minutes. He routinely goes way past the allowable texts every month.”

“Why not let HIM bear the cost of the plan? I think he’ll see that it is too expensive for him to have a smart phone.”

“And,” I continued,

“Why even pay for him to have a phone at all?”

His response was expected, and I can’t really argue with the reason.

“His mother and I think it is a good thing for him to have a phone, especially if we want to reach him.”

Bottom line: How do you handle your teen’s request for a phone? For a smart phone?

On this I am surely in the minority. Of our six children, only two have their own cell phone. And they are adults paying the entire cost of the phone and plan. My 17 year-old wants a phone, but “no dice.” Our 16 year-old would surely love a phone. But we aren’t acquiescing.

“All your friends have phones. Just ask to use one of theirs if you need to call us.”

That’s my wife’s response to a teen’s”need” to have a cell phone.  And I think it is appropriate. Well, appropriate, at least, to suggest that if my kids want a phone they can…buy one.

“And give me a number or two of folks you’ll be with. Write it on the kitchen white board, please.”

That’s my request as one of our daughters leaves the house. If I need to reach her, I should be able to do so through a friend’s cell phone.

Now, to be clear, I don’t have any argument with a parent who has reasons for providing their teen with a phone.  I’m just too cheap to do that! And, I’d prefer to avoid an early dependence on technology like phones – which lead to other things (like texting, movies and games).

So, I’m pretty much a grump about cell phones for kids. Summing up our family rules:

I am not alone in this. Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal capturing a similar perspective from another parent. Liz Moyer writes,

My girls are both responsible, reliable kids who wouldn’t lose their phones (they haven’t misplaced so much as a mitten since kindergarten) and wouldn’t use them at inappropriate times like during school (too afraid of getting in trouble). But I’m going to take the un-cool route and say no to the phone, at least for now. I’d like the girls to have a few more years of talking to their friends and building relationships the old-fashioned way.

Have to hand it to Liz: The unpopular route is definitely the way to go on this.

So, about teens and ‘tweens and phones: What do you think? Does your kid really need a cell phone?

Next Page →