It’s 5:30am and my daughter, Sara James, is sitting in her swing beside me. She didn’t want to sleep in this morning, and that’s ok. I’ll exchange sleep for a few quiet moments with her. She’s just learned how to touch her tongue to her upper lip and it fascinates her. It fascinates me as well. I love staring into her clear, blue eyes—they cut me to my core. As her father, I feel a deep sense of gratitude that is inexpressible.
When she was born earlier this year, it rekindled something within me that had been lost in the challenges of parenting her older brothers. While my three sons remind me of what it’s like to have a childlike heart, they also push the envelope on testing my patience. When they melt into a puddle of emotions on the floor or throw punches at each other on the basketball court, it frustrates me and causes me to lose that sense of gratitude in simply being their dad.
But in the stillness this morning, I’m reminded of the joys of being a father.
A Father is More Than a Paycheck
Four years ago, I wasn’t a very good dad. I never was a baby person, but taking care of three little humans made me feel incapable. I guess that’s God’s grace on display. Sometimes He gives us the very things that incapacitate us so we’ll finally let go and trust Him. He was molding me for something far bigger than I could see and it took breaking those strongholds for me to be free. In hindsight, I’m grateful that He loved me enough to chip away at my selfishness.
Back then, I thought that loving my children well meant providing for them. If I could make enough money, then they would know that I loved them. Somehow the idea of a trust fund felt honorable and a legacy worth pursuing. I even justified it by saying that I was teaching them the value of hard work. But the truth is, I valued my role as their provider more than my role as their father.
The more I valued money and my ability to provide it, the less I valued the One who is the source of all things. Curiously, the more I valued myself as the provider, the less I valued myself. I wasn’t a man, a father, a leader. I was a paycheck.
Dads, your kids need to learn the value of hard work and they need a healthy respect for money, but you’re so much more than a paycheck. Being a Father is about forging an example for your children and cultivating a trust and respect that points to something greater.
The Role of a Father
The relationship between a father and his children is intended as a direct reflection of our relationship to God. In effect, fathers are mirrors by which their children come to understand the love of their Heavenly Father. And our Heavenly Father isn’t a magical genie who grants every wish. He also isn’t a condemning authoritarian. He weaves provision and grace and authority together with absolute patience.
The truth is, our kids don’t want our money, they want our time. Little kids just want to be with their dad. They want to be loved and taught and guided. In fact, that same childlike spirit echoes in each of us to be known and still be loved. And of course any good father lavishes his kids with provision and blessings, not because it’s his duty, but because he loves them.
Our responsibility to provide for our kids flows from God’s promise to provide for us. As my mentor, Kevin Adams, taught me, “You are not the provider. You are the conduit by which God provides.”
It took me a long time to learn that, but it has removed the stress of provision and replaced it with a desire to be present.
A Picture of Fatherhood
The other day, I took my boys to the beach. The ocean was fierce, far too dangerous for a child. But like boys often do, they wanted to see how close they could get to danger without getting hurt. As their father, I walked with them, holding their hand as they courageously tested the power of the ocean.
At one point, my son let go. His bravery began to conquer his fear. But the next wave swept him off of his feet and churned him in the salt and sand. He quickly jumped to his feet and wiped the salt water from his eyes, then quickly reached back up for my hand.
In that moment, it all made sense.
Too often, I’m like my sons. I want to do life on my own and I reject the hand of my Father. But when the waves of circumstance crash and churn me in their wake I’m brought to that humble place of remembering to reach for His hand.
That’s a picture of fatherhood. When I hold fast to the hand of my Heavenly Father and reach down for the hand of my children. Then, I’m so much more than a paycheck. I become the conduit by which they will come to know Him.
My role as a father is to teach my kids to love their Father.
It’s really that simple.
If you’re struggling to meet the demands of fatherhood, check out my faith development mentoring at www.mattham.com/mentoring