I’m a dad. I make dad jokes.
As a dad when my kids were young, I did the dad things. I suppose I was a good dad, or maybe not. I could have been better.
When our son was born, we decided Cynthia would be a stay at home mom. I worked hard and built my career to provide income for the family. Each house we lived in needed tons of work that we did ourselves. I drove a used Pinto station wagon with wood sides for 10 years to save money. One year I was Cub Master for the Scout troop, an Elder at church, and a new manager at work besides the house remodeling. Thank God for time management!
Somewhere in the middle of all that busyness, I was a dad. Sometimes present, sometimes absent, busy with this or that.
When my kids were 4 and 7, my older neighbor was watching me meticulously scraping and sanding the paint on our garage door. He came over and remarked “I will never be able to see all the work you are putting into your paint job from across the street, but your kids will see whether you are choosing to spend this time with them.” Ouch.
And I tried to be less of a perfectionist when it came to my projects, and more available when it came to my kids; still filling every nook and cranny of my schedule.
After I took a new job across town, the commute was killing our family time. In our kid’s teenage years we decided to move to a neighborhood near my office so I could always be close at hand and home for dinner. And my kids could show up at the office if they ever needed anything.
During those years, I wanted to take more opportunity to speak into my kids’ lives, but I also encouraged them to speak into mine, even calling me out if I was being a jerk about something. I was sometimes.
My daughter listened to my struggles at work and church and challenged me to make the right decisions after she’d heard me complain about the same thing enough times. And she would come to me with her struggles.
My son would teach me how to engage when I was distracted by the worries of work and church leadership.” Tell me about your day, Dad. I want to hear all the details.” And in turn I would then ask about his.
My daughter’s friends that had no dad, or a crappy dad, sometimes “adopted” me as their second dad and I “adopted” them. My best friend left his wife, and we stood with her and the kids. They are my kids. And I started building dad momentum.
Looking back at our childhood parenting years, sometimes I think we screwed up our kids as much as we helped them. But we all still love each other, so I guess we did OK. If nothing else, they have modeled forgiveness as we stumbled through being parents.
When my son struggled with mental health last year, he took time away from his wife and three kids to live with us for two months. We went for walks on the beach and he shared his inner dialogues that drove him to consider suicide. I had experienced my own deep depression some years ago, and could relate to the feelings of hopelessness and speak my own experiences into his. I would ask questions, explore his feelings, right-size his observations, be open, trusted, answer questions. I simply needed to be there with him. He did not need to walk this journey alone. And I was honored to be a part of his life, to be there as his dad.
It has taken me some years of practice to slow down and be a dad that’s present. These days, I can have long talks pretty much any day of the week with my kids. That is a blessing. I love being their dad. Our kids are some of our best friends. And our “adopted” kids are many of our friends, too.
So what makes a good dad? I suppose it’s someone with your best interests in mind, that will be there when you need them and not when you don’t. Someone who gives you space to grow, to be you, keeping watch from the background alert for danger.
The role of a dad is an honor to me. To have youngsters who are willing and even eager to talk with me and allow me to pour into their life is a gift. And I continue to “adopt” kids. I enjoy the many young friends we have in our life, and as they have kids, I’m adopting grandkids now!
For those reading this and your dad has let you down, cut them some slack and love them anyway. They are on a life journey of learning, too. And they won’t learn without someone speaking into their life.
If you don’t have a dad, or you could use a second dad, adopt one that you respect. It will honor him and bring new life to both of you.
If you want to experience a peace that passes all understanding, deepen your relationship with God the Father. He will adopt you as His own daughter or son. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17