Every dad leaves a legacy. The only question is what kind. The first step to leaving a positive legacy is to love your wife. For some readers that already has not worked out. That does not mean that you cannot leave a good legacy. There are many ways to redeem the father/child relationship. The second part of leaving a legacy that endures is to be an encouragement to your kids. Paul wrote this simple instruction to the church at Colossae.
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (Colossians 3, NIV)
The Message translates this verse like this….
Parents, don't come down too hard on your children or you'll crush their spirits.
I cannot remember hearing a lot of teaching on that verse over the years. It is really easy in this success mad culture to discourage your children. Nearly every dad wants his child to be successful and what is wrong with that desire? The simple answer is nothing if we balance that desire with love and affirmation and awareness of your child's unique design. Sometimes we forget the journey we have traveled in our own lives. Frank Clark said that "a father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be." Ouch.
I came into this whole dad thing wanting a star athlete or a brilliant scholar. But I had forgotten one little detail. Where did I expect they would dig up those genes to be an All-American quarterback or Rhodes Scholar? I deepened my gene pool considerably when I married Joni but she can only contribute so much.
What I got were three guys ranging from average to very good athletic ability. Very bright but not valedictorians. What God gave me was three godly men of integrity. Men that are kind and loving. I have been blessed more by their character and wisdom than I could have possibly have been blessed by awards and trophies.
The dad factor may be more critical than we ever realized. Christian author/speaker Josh McDowell commissioned a definitive study of the last 17 school shootings. On the surface, the results were the same as dozens of other similar studies; there seems to be no "profile" of a teenage killer. They come from poor, middle class and rich homes. Some are nerds and geeks; some are the most popular kids in school. They come from a variety of races and religions. Some make good grades; some don't. Some have been bullied, others are the bullies. McDowell went below the surface and discovered a common thread that other studies missed or ignored. He found that in every case, the families of the murderers were superficially ;normal but were, in fact, dysfuntional when it came to the relationship of the children with their parents. In particular, the fathers were either absent or minimally involved in parenting.
After making this discovery, McDowell commissioned another study that involved 2,000 children ages 12 to 17, and 1,000 parents. The study revealed that children raised in a SINGLE PARENT home were 30% MORE LIKELY than the national average to be involved in drugs, alcohol, and violence. I can almost hear some of you saying, "That's no surprise. I've always felt that divorce was the major cause of youth violence. I'm glad WE have two parents raising our children."
Adolescents raised in TWO PARENT families in which the father had a poor to fair relationship with his children were 68% MORE LIKELY than the national average to have problems with drugs, alcohol, and violence! That floored me. Two parents in the home are no defense against the problems we're discussing unless the father is close to his children. If he is not, his children are at more than twice the risk of children raised in single parent homes.
The final statistic shows us the answer to school violence as well as a host of other problems affecting our youth. Teenagers raised in two parent families in which the father had a good to excellent relationship with his children were 96% LESS LIKELY than the national average to become involved with drugs, alcohol, and violence.
These statistics show us that many of the things that we have assumed would protect our children will not necessarily do so. You can raise your children in a two parent family in a "good" neighborhood, send them to a "good" school, and even take them to church. But if there is a lack of emotional attachment, if there is no loving bond between the children and their parents, particularly the father, children of every background are at some risk.
I am not talking about being a perfect father. These kids (and even many of us) are simply looking for the affirmation and blessing of our earthly fathers.
When Scripture says that God is our Father, it is telling us that these needs can be met by Him. This is where our role as Christian dads becomes so important. There are no perfect earthly dads. But it is critical that we understand the impact that we have on our child's relationship with God. Some may find it hard to get excited about the scriptural descriptions of God as a father because of the hurtful models of fatherhood they have experienced here on earth.
Some remember a father who was too wrapped up in his job, his buddies, and his hobbies to provide much support or affirmation. He might have been one of those men who believed that their only job was to bring home a paycheck, while mom was responsible for everything else. Others might recall a dad that was demanding, cold, and unapproachable. Children can tend to transpose their father experience when they think of God as Father.
I have talked to many men my age who are still desperate for the approval of their fathers. And I know that is true for women as well. Jim Valvano, the now deceased coach, said "My father gave me the greatest gift that anyone could give another person, he believed in me."
Yesterday I noted that I had asked my sons to critique my performance as a dad…both good and bad. Here is one comment from eldest son Matt.
The biggest lesson you taught me was to believe in my ability to accomplish things I never thought possible. From the kid who got C's in 8th grade math to going to graduate school at a great university. I could never have accomplished this without parents, and a father, that believed in me.
Don't EXPECT your children to be perfect. Don't expect them to meet all of your expectations…to fulfill all of your goals for them…to be what you want them to be. Be grateful for who God made your kids to be. Too many fathers try to live out their own lives through their children. Every child is different. They are not a clone of you (Thank God!).
My son Scott wrote about something that he wished I had done differently.
I wish that you would have made more of an effort to understand me and my personality at an earlier age. I think mom did a good job at this, but that might have just been because I opened up to her more.
This is a great example of how husbands and wives are a team. Joni told me that I needed to spend more time with Scott. She sensed what I did not. She told me that I gravitated to his brother who was more like me. She made me mad, hurt my feelings and made me feel like a bad dad. And thank God she did that. I became intentional about coaching Scott's teams and being with him. It still took a few years for us to really understand one another but I believe Joni's loving intervention saved our relationship. Today our relationship is awesome. Who knows what would have happened if my bride had not challenged me about that shortcoming in my relating to Scott.
Father's Day might be a great time to give a gift back to your children. You can give the gift of forgiveness. Or you can ask for forgiveness.
Ernest Hemingway wrote a short story called "The Capital of the World". Hemingway told the story of a father and his teenage son. The son had sinned against his father and in his shame he ran away from home. The father searched all over Spain for him, but still he could not find the boy. Finally, in the city of Madrid, in a last desperate attempt to find his son, the father placed an ad in the daily newspaper. The ad read:
"PACO - MEET AT HOTEL MONTANA NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN PAPA."
The father prayed that maybe the boy would see the ad and maybe - just maybe - he would come to the Hotel Montana.
And on Tuesday at noon, the father in Ernest Hemingway's story arrived at the Hotel Montana and he could not believe his eyes. A squadron of police officers had been called out to keep order among the eight hundred young boys named "Paco" who had come to meet their father in front of the Hotel Montana. Eight hundred boys named Paco read the ad in the newspaper and hoped it was for them. Eight hundred "Pacos" came to receive the forgiveness they so desperately needed.
And you can remember that all child want the approval of their fathers. If you have not done so, I encourage you to give the gift of approval this Father's Day. Give your children the gift of believing in them. Step 2 to leaving a positive legacy as a Dad is simple but powerful. Affirm your children.
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.