After dropping off my clubs, I walked toward my son's truck and saw two brothers sitting on the tailgate, chatting happily, leaning toward each other. I stopped to watch. "That," I said to myself, "is my legacy as a father." Not money, not a guaranteed future. But a love that helps brother to love brother.
Without claiming any unique expertise as a father, I would like to make six practical suggestions to my fellow dads. They reflect my observations as a pastor and writer, remembrances from readers of my daily "On a Journey" meditations, and learnings, sometimes difficult, from my own experience.
First: Give time. Not money, not possessions, but your time. A reader remembers how her father "would run down the imaginary football field with a bunch of 15- and 16-year-old girls playing flag football. It brings tears to me eyes to think how tremendously lucky I am (that) it meant something to him to spend time with us and our friends."
Second: Heal what needs healing. A daughter remembers "daddy's old bench" where he fixed whatever they brought him. "By fixing our toys, you mended our hearts," she wrote to him. Whether the presenting problem is a skinned knee, a bully at school, lost love, failure at work or confusion about decisions, we must heal the deeper wound, namely, that awful aloneness which only love can heal.
Third: Love each child. Not all children are equally easy to love. But fathers must try. For the scar of being lesser in the eyes of one whose approval is everything cuts deep throughout life. A daughter still feels the pain of a father who was "angry, mean and hurtful" to her but not to her younger sisters.
Fourth: Recognize what is important to the child. A daughter remembers coming home from a trip abroad, looking up at the gallery where greeters waited, and "there on the floor, scrunched amid many legs, was my kneeling father vying for the best spot in order to see me! Seeing him on the floor waiting for me made me feel so very loved."
Fifth: Live with integrity. A man's power, wealth, political leanings and religious opinions mean little to children. They study Dad's character. "My Dad was a dependable employee and a willing volunteer," writes a grown-up child. "He never cheated anyone, always paid his bills on time and did not overspend. I will always remember him for his integrity. He taught me honesty and to do the right thing."
Sixth: Live freely. A woman writes that she and her husband grew up with emotionally distant fathers. "Neither of them ever, not once in our whole lives, told us they loved us, or hugged us or kissed us," she says. She marvels at how her husband broke that cycle of aloofness and, before leaving for work, "quietly went in each of our children's rooms and semi-woke them and kissed them and told them, `Goodbye, I love you, have a good day.'"
A reader says her father broke free from a "stern, verbally abusive" father of aristocratic pretensions and chose instead to show "unswerving friendliness and servitude."
Dads, I doubt that we will be remembered for how much money we earned, how far we rose in our careers, how fervent we were in our opinions, or how dashing in appearance. Children need more from us. While we have the chance, we must give them time, healing, love, recognition, integrity and freedom.
One more thing: Many children are separated from their fathers by war, estrangement, incarceration, accident, illness or death. Those children still need what a father can give. Let's step up to help.