My experience as a father has been atypical, with a few years of it in China and South Africa. But I have found that fatherhood is a long trudge with occasional bursts of indescribable joy. The joys include gurgles and zerberts, strollers and first steps, reading and knock-knock jokes. And the trudge is multi-faceted, too.
I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night so my wife could sleep just a little more. I’ve paced before dawn wondering how I’d find a job to support my growing family. I’ve worked long hours. I’ve eaten lunch at my desk to try to get home earlier. After work, I’ve done the dishes, changed diapers, and figured out an insurance question. Before work, I’ve read the Bible and prayed I don’t screw up my kids. I’ve found a deal on a car. I’ve changed the oil. I’ve asked for a raise. I’ve taught Sunday School. I’ve shown my daughter how to ride a skateboard. I’ve tried to be gentle. I’ve told my wife how smart and hard-working and beautiful she is. I’ve built a mammoth treehouse. I’ve volunteered at the school play. I’ve devised a work schedule so my wife can get her PhD and not worry about childcare. I’ve worked out so I don’t die early from something stupid. I’ve gone to Cub Scout meetings. I’ve checked math homework. I’ve been available. I’ve done my best.
In the midst of that trudging, it’s easy to lose my way. Like dads across the country, this weekend, I’m hearing:
- I love you.
- Thank you.
- You’re the best.
- Have a beer.
All of these are very important. I’ve heard all of them from my kids (ages 9 and 7). Ok, they’ve never told me to have a beer, though I’m working on that.
Even so, even for a man with good relationships with his kids and wife or girlfriend, there are two things that are not said very often that we dads need to hear.
I need you.
We need to know that all these things, this effort, this work, this sacrifice matters to someone. If my wife and kids tell me how much they need me, how they appreciate what I do, that without me they would be having a hard time, then I have some evidence that it matters. In the midst of the trudging there has to be a voice telling me that my strength is needed. Without this, we men are prone to squander our strength to sloth or to misguided pursuits.
When I hear, “I need you, Dad” I’m ready to run into a burning building. (That may be foolish, but I’d rather be a fool with a short life spent for others than an old, wise man who looked out for number one.)
If a dad doesn’t hear that he’s needed, it’s a lot harder to do all the stuff that a good dad ought to do. But just being needed can lead to stress and anxiety. I’ll put pressure on myself beyond what’s helpful. There’s something else we dads need to hear.
I need encouragement. When I’ve put the kids in bed at 8:00 pm and I’ve been going since 5:00 am, it is very hard to do one more thing—some banking, planning for a vacation, or even just having an intelligible conversation with the woman I love. I need grace for the moments when I am running on empty. I need to know that I can keep learning and figuring this out. Even when a guy’s had a great dad, his personality and own kids are different. He needs to grow a lot.
Being a father takes time, and it never feels like there’s enough to even read the manual, let alone fly the plane. I need to know that my kids and wife understand I’m doing my best and that I want to do better. And if they think I actually can do better, and are helping me to do so, I probably will actually be a better dad.
When I hear, “Keep growing, Dad,” I can continue the trudge. It’s 10:00 pm on a day that I biked 15 miles with my family, went swimming, and had a campfire. I’m exhausted. But with my family’s encouragement and amazing grace, I can still write a blog post that I hope will help a couple of families out there. And I’ll be learning, too, so that tomorrow, I’ll be a smidge better.
Rare is the man that things he’s getting an A as a dad. So find one and tell him how much he’s needed and that there’s grace for growth.
What else do you think dads need to hear?