“Dads, there are some things only you can give your kids,” writes Dave Stone, pastor of one of the largest churches in America and author of Building Family ties with Faith, Love and Laughter. “And I’m not talking about basketball shoes, cell phones or bigger allowances or expensive vacations.”
No, these are gifts much more important than that—and much more valuable. Give your children any of the following gifts, and you will reap the benefits for years to come.
1. Love Their Mom
Communicate regularly and lovingly with your wife— especially in front of the children. Take an interest in her interests, do unexpected things for her, treat her the way you did when you were pursuing her. You may think romancing your wife has little to do with fatherhood, but it is key to helping your children feel safe and loved.
Block out a night once or twice a month for a date night with your wife—just the two of you. You may think you’re too busy, but it’s an investment you can’t afford NOT to make. Love your wife and show it. The best way to be a good father is to be a good husband.
2. Teach Your Kids Respect
Part of the growing-up process is to test boundaries and to see how much you can get away with. Your children will push back when you set rules. You need to be clear about what’s expected of them. Teaching them respect begins in the early years, and it must be reinforced by both parents.
Teach your kids simple lessons to show the importance of respect:
Look people in the eyes when you speak to them
Understand the universe doesn’t revolve around you
Express thanks with a grateful heart
Dive in and serve
Respond with obedience the first time you’re asked
Treat your mother with respect and honor
3. Make Memories with Your Kids
Get in the picture. Create traditions together as a family. Don’t allow time or money to become an excuse. Let’s be honest, you will spend the money on something, so why not invest in activities that will deepen your family bond? Your effort to create memories will make a lasting impression.
But you don’t have to go into debt to make memories. Maybe you can start a tradition, an annual activity around a holiday. It might be a spur-of-the-moment surprise, a game night, a trip to see Christmas lights, tubing on the river, or a summertime cookout. Making memories doesn’t have to cost a lot. It just has to be a priority.
4. Give Spiritual Direction to Your Family
A father is without question the single most significant influence on the spiritual life of his children. The statistical data from three major studies in recent years is overwhelming. If the father is involved in a church and is growing spiritually, the likelihood of the child doing the same skyrockets. If Mom goes to church alone with the kids, the chances plummet.
Numbers don’t lie: If a child is the first person in a household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. If the mother is the first to become a Christian, there is a 17 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow. But if the father is first, there is a 93 percent probability everyone else in the household will follow.
Little eyes are watching. Little ears are listening. As Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” If you want to produce the real thing, you must be the real thing.
5. Encourage Your Kids
Your children need to know you are in their corner. We are all busy and pulled a lot of directions, but when your son or daughter takes the stage, the court, or the field, that glance into the crowd is a subtle search for significance. Your absence deflates them. Your presence shouts that they have value. They can pick your voice out of a crowd with the precision of a piano tuner.
Dads play a key role in determining whether children venture outside their comfort zone or fearfully settle for a status quo existence. Your genuine affirmation provides a safety net for taking risks and stretching their confidence.
6. Invest Quality Time
At one time in my life, I was enjoying the climb rather than focusing my attention and priorities on my wife and small children. The ministry, like any other profession, can eat you alive if you let it. I gave at the office—sixty-hour weeks like an obsessed and driven workaholic. However, all that changed one Father’s Day. Before my sermon a soloist sang a song with this refrain:
Slow down, Daddy, don’t work so hard.
We’re proud of our house, we’ve got a big enough yard.
Slow down, Daddy—we want you around—
Daddy, please slow down.
When she finished singing, I went to the pulpit to preach. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. The emotion and guilt left me speechless.
The congregation had to sing a chorus so that I could regain my composure.
God used the words of that song as a wake-up call. With the Lord’s help, I changed. I put my family back on the priority list. Ever since then, I’ve been in the picture. Sometimes a little fuzzy and out of focus, but there. And I plan to stay there. Forever.
Check your priorities. Be intentional. Slow down. Step up. Get in the picture. When you look back years from now, both you and your family will be glad you did.
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