Tonight after I prayed with my daughter, Sarah, and put her to bed, she looked at me and said, "Daddy, you're the best daddy in the world." Of course my heart melted over that. But her words also reminded me of an article I wrote last year, and I felt I was supposed to reprise it. Here it is.
Prior to 9/11, America looked at sports figures as heroes. Following that tragic day, we talked about our firefighters and police officers as heroes.
Sports stars who make millions each year are a pretty small group. There are a lot more firemen and cops, but they are still a pretty small percentage of our population. So what chance do ordinary guys have to participate in the hero business?
Actually, every one of us who has kids can be a hero. And when you think about it, who would you rather have consider you a hero? Millions of Americans, or your own children? Read on to discover how you can be a real hero to your children.
Live your life as an example of a Godly man before your children. Kids do what their fathers do. It's that simple. If they see you serving others and living an honest and upright life, they will follow your example. If you are selfish and dishonest, don't be surprised if your kids turn out like you.
Spend TIME with them. I have counseled hundreds of children over the years. I find most of them literally yearn to spend more time with their fathers. Time spent with your kids is an investment in eternity. I have been present when dozens of people left their bodies behind and stepped into eternity. I never heard a single man say, "Oh, I wish I had spent more time at work during my life." I heard many express regret that they hadn't spent more time with their families.
TALK with your children. The average mother spends four minutes each day talking with each of her children. The average father spends two minutes. A child reads that in this way: "The two most important people in my life, the two people who know me best, don't think I am worth talking to. That means I am worthless." No wonder we have an epidemic of teen suicides. No wonder children are shooting up schools. Please notice that I said, "Talk with," not "Talk to" your children. Talking with your kids includes listening to them. You will never know your own children unless you let them share their hearts with you. Tip: Get down on the floor. When they're little, get down on their level. It will make you seem much more human to them.
Remember to tell them often that you love them and are proud of them. You are second only to God, particularly to younger children. Your opinion of them means much more than you might imagine. Take every opportunity to praise your children. Don't miss a chance to tell them how much you love them. These simple statements from their father will do more to build your child's self-image than the praise of a thousand teachers or friends.
Let your kids see that you love your wife. Your children's security is based on your relationship with your wife. If they see that Dad and Mom love each other, they feel safe. There is no substitute for this. Don't wait until the kids are in bed to show affection for your bride. Hug her, kiss her, and be tender with her in front of your children. Let them see by your example what a good relationship looks like.
Give them firm but loving discipline. Many fathers I have spoken with think their kids don't want discipline. On one level they don't, but deep in their hearts they want to know that their father cares enough about them to correct them. That's right. When you fail to discipline, you fail your child. Not only are you teaching them to live irresponsibly; you are telling them you don't love them enough to be involved in their lives and show them the right path.
Let them know that they are more important than your job, your ministry, or anything else besides God and your wife. You know how important they are to you, but do your children know? You have to show them; just telling them doesn't cut it. Your actions speak so loudly that they can't hear what you're saying. Show your kids how important they are to both their earthly father and their Heavenly Father by doing the things I have talked about today. Live a good example. Spend time and talk with your kids. Treat your wife with respect, and let the kids see it. Make sure they grow up righteously by disciplining them with love and fairness.
I have often said that if nothing else causes a man to grow up and take responsibility in life, having a child will. Unfortunately, that is not a universal experience. Some men manage to remain children even after they have their own children. Their kids will grow up without a hero.
I want my daughter, Sarah, to see me as a hero. Not for my ego's sake, but for her sake. Everyone needs heroes, people we can believe in, people we can look up to. If your kids' heroes are coke-sniffing football players or foul-mouthed rap stars, God help them. Your children need to believe you are the greatest man on earth. Live your life so that they can.
When this article was first published on June 23, 2002, I received the following feedback from two members of our Editorial Board.
A few years ago my son's teacher asked the kids to name their top three heroes. With one exception the kids named rock stars, sports figures, and actors. My son listed me, and two of my friends. I was immediately struck by the significance of the moment. I believe there are millionaires out there who would give everything they own to have their 16-year-old son (of his own free will and accord) list them as their hero. All it cost me was the effort to be a father to him.- Red Thomas.
For those who have sons, I highly recommend Dr. Dobson's new book, Bringing Up Boys. In it Dr. Dobson explains the importance of "parent time," "mother's time," and "father's time" in the raising of balanced and mature young men. This book is a wise investment, as these are our future generation. If you do not have children or your children are grown, consider: 1) Buying the book and reading it for general content; 2) Donating the book to a library, church, high school library, or your friends or that young couple who just moved into the neighborhood. Dr. Dobson has written the book that should come with every newborn boy.- Ed Mitchell.
A collection of resources from Focus on the Family: www.family.org/topics/A0020738.cfm