Occasionally people will observe our three wonderful sons and ask something like this. "What did you do to parent such great kids?" My response is simple. "I married Joni. The rest is a blur." There is a little too much truth in that answer. She was and is remarkable. But we did partner in this grand adventure called parenting. Along the way I learned some things mostly by error and stumbling trial. Over the next day or two I will share what I have figured out with the disclaimer that I do not claim to be an expert. It is with humility and grateful appreciation to God that He has given me the gift of this family.
One thing I have learned in my journey is that every dad leaves a legacy. The only question is whether that legacy will be good, bad, or indifferent. Being a father is tough because we generally learn how to parent while on the job.
Ken Druck and James Simmons in The Secrets Men Keep discuss six major secrets men have. At the top of the list is that "men secretly yearn for their fathers love and approval." This is often without their conscious knowledge that this yearning manifests itself in the drive that many males have to prove themselves. The authors say:
It may surprise us to know that the most powerful common denominator influencing men's lives today is the relationship we had with our fathers .... Of the hundreds of men I have surveyed over the years, perhaps 90 percent admitted they still had strings leading back to their fathers. In other words, they are still looking to their fathers, even though their fathers may have been dead for years, for approval, acceptance, affection, and understanding.
This series is not about being a perfect dad. If it were, I would be completely unqualified to write it. This series is not about piling guilt on you for mistakes made. I am not looking for the result like the boy who said to his preacher on the way out, "Boy, that was a good sermon. My dad slumped way down today." This series is seeing what God's plan is for leaving a positive legacy as an earthly father.
The first way to leave a good legacy is found in Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (NIV, Ephesians 5:25) The translation in The Message says this.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church--a love marked by giving, not getting.
The number one way to leave a great legacy for your children is very simple:
Love your wife.
If you are already 0 for 1…or 0 for 2…hang with me. God is a God of grace and compassion. He can redeem damaged relationships with children.
The idea of marriage as an absolute commitment is an endangered species. Actor Brad Pitt has confessed he knew his marriage to Jennifer Aniston would never last. He said in a recent interview that he never expected to be wed forever. He described his high-profile breakup as "beautiful." Pitt seemed frustrated about the public perception… "It's talked about like it failed. I guess because it wasn't flawless." Now comes Pitt's wisdom about marriage: "Me, I embrace the messiness of life. I find it so beautiful, actually. The idea that marriage has to be for all time - that I don't understand."
Our culture has devalued marriage to the point where far too many people enter relationships on a trial basis with no expectation that it can last. I will guarantee you one thing…that mindset will make it very likely that it will not last. Had Joni and I shared that value we would be a stat and our children would be from a divorced home. Why should followers of Jesus believe that marriage is for all time? A report by Warren Mueller revealed that where both parents attend church regularly, 72% of their children continue in the faith. Where only the father attends, that percentage drops to 55 percent, but where only the mother attends, just 15 percent of the children remain involved in the church.
Theodore M. Hesburgh wrote that the "most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother".
Your children watch how you treat their mother. They WATCH … and they are LEARNING and FORMING their concept of marriage from YOU. You are creating a PATTERN, a BLUEPRINT for marriage with your children. I struggled as a husband because I had not seen that blueprint in my parents' marriage. My Dad was a good dad but my parents did not have a good marriage. Joni and I had to break the cycle because she also came from a difficult family situation. Because we broke the cycle our kids have seen a marriage that survived, and not only survived but is very happy. But we had to do a lot of learning on the job.
Part of my preparation for this series was a survey of my three sons…I know…it makes you want to hum the music and do that thing with the hands and knees they did at the beginning of the show. I asked my sons three questions and not one of them was "What is your quest" or "What is your favorite color". A real sign of growth for me. Here are the questions.
What were their favorite memories with me?
What did they learn from me as a dad?
And what do they wish I had done differently?
Yeah…that last question scared me for one major reason. My sons are truthful. But I figured if I had done something really wrong in their eyes I wanted to seek forgiveness now. Plus I would have a written document so that if they turned up on Dr. Phil someday I can say I gave them a chance and they didn't say anything. Seriously, I thought the exercise would make them consider how they could be a better father someday…how they could break more cycles.
Our oldest son Matt wrote a little extra in his letter:
And thank you for being committed to Mom. It is a rarity to have a family that is not broken. But you gave up bigger things to make sure we stayed together and that has made all the difference.
If you are still able to control this one move it to the top of your list. The first step to leaving a good legacy as a dad is to love your wife!
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring'em Back Alive: A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com.