It didn’t start off as one of my top ten days of being a father, but it certainly ended up right near the top. In fact, the day started with my having a dreaded conversation with Kari, our oldest daughter.
Kari was going to turn sixteen—a major milestone in most kids’ lives these days. Like many soon-to-be-drivers, there was the excitement and hope that a lovingly used, or perhaps even a new car with her name on it, would magically appear in the driveway. Only now I was bursting that bubble, sharing with Kari the “final word” that a car wouldn’t be an option on her sixteenth birthday—nor would it be for that school year.
As we sat at the kitchen table, I talked with Kari about the benefits of her saving money towards a car as well as short- and long-term goals (i.e., spending money on a car today versus saving for college tomorrow). I also shared with her the challenge our small speaking ministry was facing at that time. While many people suffered far greater losses due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, our ministry had eight different speaking events cancelled as a direct consequence of that tragedy. In practical terms, that meant that half of our ministry’s yearly income disappeared almost overnight. And with all those cancellations came missed paychecks, lots of prayers, and belt tightening – and funds that might have been allocated for another car.
Before you send me emails or write me letters, I know that kids don’t need a car at sixteen. I also know that having a daughter (or son) work to earn money for her own car is a far better life lesson then just giving her one. And I know there is nothing wrong with sharing a parent’s car, and that my wife and I are blessed to each have a car that can be shared. But I also knew that Kari was the youngest in her class, and living in affluent Scottsdale, Arizona. For months she had watched classmate after classmate turn sixteen and receive a car on their birthday (and in several cases, a new car far nicer then any at our house).
Feel free to call me shallow, prideful, vain or unspiritual, but it still hurt inside when I sat down with Kari that morning and told her, “Kari, even if it were an option to get you a car, we can’t afford to do that right now.” It is tough to look around at other dads who seem to be able to provide so much in the way of tangible things for their children, and not get drawn into feeling that because you can’t do the same at that time, you are somehow failing as a father.
I have to say that I was proud of Kari’s attitude that day at the kitchen table. She was honestly disappointed, but she took the news with grace and understanding. I remember her attitude that day, but what I’ll never forget is what happened later that evening.
As usual, Kari and I were the last ones to stay up. She was finishing homework, and I was working on a project that was due the next day. She came into the study to let me know she was going to bed. On cue, I got up and got her a glass of water and followed her into her room. Though she was a high schooler, we still followed the nightly ritual we started when she was five years old of my getting her water “with five ice cubes” before bed. If my wife, Cindy, had been up, she would have joined us. But it was very late and a kindergarten teacher’s day starts early. So it was I who tucked Kari in that night, stood and held her hand, and prayed a short blessing over her, like we always did. But then, as I started to leave, Kari kept hold of my hand and pulled me back towards the edge of her bed.
Then she said softly, “Daddy, I know that was a hard talk for you today, but can I tell you something?”
“Sure,” I said.
“It’s okay about the car. You’ve already given me what’s really important.”
We both sat there as time froze for a moment, Then her words melted into tears, and hugs, and finally smiles, and then she went off to sleep and I went and sat in the study for a long time.
Kari’s words, “You’ve already given me what’s really important,” will stay with me for the rest of my life. They were words I couldn’t say to my own father. He left when I was two months old, and I never meet him until late in high school. My father stayed so distance from us even after I met him, he died not knowing the name of my youngest daughter. In other words, I didn’t learn about what was really important to give a child from my own father (unfortunately). But I thank God for several godly examples of outstanding father’s that He put in my path, for His word, and for realizing early in Kari’s life that she would need a foundation of love, commitment and caring—lived out in “small ways” consistently.
Here are five small, specific, and positive things I learned to pour into my two daughters lives—five things you can share with your congregations and use to strengthen your relationship with your kids as well on this Father’s Day and each day thereafter…
Five things every father can do this Father’s Day and beyond…
You’ve heard it said that it’s better to give then receive. So this Father’s Day don’t worry about what you’re going to get—even if you’re worried about getting another tie. Instead, think about these five specific things you can start doing right now to make a real difference in the life of your child.
- Every day, set your watch to pray for your child
Be honest. Have you ever said to your child (or spouse, or a good friend), “I’ll be praying for you about that…” and then didn’t really remember or take the time to pray? That’s what I realized I was doing with Kari and Laura, our two daughters. I’d ask them about their day and what I could pray for as I took them to school—and then I’d totally forget to pray or even ask them about their prayer request when I got home. That’s when I got a new running watch that has two alarms. (Actually, you can set up to five alarms!). I’d ask Kari, “What can I pray for?” and if she said, “A math test in Second Period, I’d ask what time that was and set my first alarm for that time. I’d do the same thing for Laura as well. Then, later on in the day, almost always when I was busy doing something else, my watch alarm would go off—and I usually had no idea why. That is until I remembered and thought about it, and then as quickly as I could (or right then), I’d stop and pray for the kid who’s alarm just went off. Being faithful in a little to pray for our kids is a small thing that can carve out big things in your relationship with your child.
- Don’t wait to say something positive about your child… Say it now
I’m not talking about cheap flattery, or insincere complements. But don’t hold back in verbally telling your child they’re done well, or made a good decision when you see them do so. For example, I remember when Kari, our oldest daughter, made Varsity as a cheerleader her sophomore year. That year, the entire squad voted to let a senior on the squad who was in a wheelchair. Her name was Brooke, and she had cerebral palsy. Brooke couldn’t do the stunts or jumps the others did. But with her arms and eyes and voice and heart, she was every bit a part of the team. And it was Kari’s job to stand proudly next to Brook at the first football game and at each game thereafter. I would watch Kari pick up Brooke’s pom-poms and hand them to her when she dropped them, get her water to drink (it’s hot in Arizona in September, even at night), smile at Brook, and push her chair over to include her with the other girls when they huddled and talked. I was proud of each girl on Kari’s cheer squad for letting Brooke be a part of the team—but I was especially proud of Kari for her obvious love and concern for her friend in the wheelchair. It made me think of the cheerleaders I knew when I was in high school, who would have been mortified to have to stand next to an “uncool” girl in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy—with hundreds of people watching no less. But Kari didn’t care what others thought—and I couldn’t wait to tell her verbally what an example of character and caring she gave us all. Dad, if you see your child doing something right—tell him or her. It’s a way to give them your “blessing,” and will cement that kind of courageous conduct in their lives and hearts.
- Turn your backyard into a National Park this summer
Don’t have time from your busy work to take the kids camping this summer? That was always my excuse. That is until we declared our backyard the newest National Park. For years, we’d pick a night for a summer sleepover, set up tents in the backyard, cook hotdogs on the travel grill (and later s’mores over the same coals) and try to remember to turn off the sprinkler system (after an unexpected early morning disaster the first time we did this). No, it wasn’t the same as going to Yellowstone (which we’ve still yet to get to), but it was a small way to build a great memory into our children’s lives.
- Go “High/Low” to score points with your child
No, I’m not talking about clothes-lining your kid to get their attention. Rather, a simple, but powerful thing to do with your child every day is ask them (in the car, or during dinner, or after dinner, or before you pray for them at the end of the day), to tell you a “High” and a “low” from their day. For example, I would say to Laura (our youngest), “Let’s play high/low. What’s a “high” today at school?” Laura might say, “I got an A on a test!” or “Betty sat with me a lunch!” Then I’d ask what was a “low,” and you might hear, “Mom had to send me to time-out” or “I forgot an assignment that was due today.” It’s amazing by going “high/low” you can find out some of the things that were high and low points in your child’s life—and build into their life at the same time.
- Help your child understand their strengths.
It’s my honor to get to work alongside Rodney Cox at Insights International . What we get to do on a daily basis is help people (mostly adults) discover their unique, God-given strengths, and learn how to value the strengths of others God has placed around them. What we do by having grown-ups take a powerful online assessment (called the Leading From Your Strengths report), you can do by helping your child see one “strength” they have that you think God has given them, and that they can use in the future to help and encourage others. Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that in marriages where there are five “positives” for every “negative” that is spoken, are most often filled with loving and caring—even if there are challenges. In other words, positive words can protect and sustain a marriage, even if the couple is facing very real challenges. The same thing is true for our kids. Our job isn’t to “test” them the way GM “tests” Ford cars… in other words, our job isn’t to look and make comments on only the things they do wrong and focus on their weaknesses. Rather, we’re focus on their strengths, pointing out character traits and actions we see in them today that God can use to build up their own family or others in days to come.
Whether you had the “best dad in the world” to model for you, or no dad at home like in my case, may your Heavenly Father be the one you always look to, as you seek to give good things to your children and to your congregation this Father’s Day and beyond.