Every dad leaves a legacy. I have learned a few things through trial and many errors about being a dad who is trying to leave a positive legacy. Previous installments (follow the links below) detailed two ways to leave a good legacy:
Today we will examine one more way to establish a positive legacy. And we are adding a very dangerous twist today. I polled my three sons about my strengths and (gasp) shortcomings as their father. Those knee-buckling results were both sobering and encouraging.
First, the third way to leave a positive legacy as a dad.
3. Enjoy every mile of the journey as you model being a man
The best description I have heard about being a parent is this bit of wisdom: “Parenting…the days are long and the years are short.”
In his book, Being a Good Dad When You Didn’t Have One, Tim Wesemann gives his readers a two-word piece of advice: “Lighten up!” He says that adults laugh an average of 15 times a day while children laugh 400 more times. “Sometime between childhood and adulthood, we lose 385 laughs a day! That’s a great loss!” Wesemann says. “Maybe we need not only the faith of a child but the funny bone of one as well.”
I agree. One of my favorite moments happened on a family trip. Brett is several years younger than his siblings. I was addressing his older brothers’ behavior when I snapped at the boys and said in my best dad voice, “You are acting like children.” Brett was only five, and he thought I was including him in the accusation. He pondered the comment and then said, “But I am a children.” The laughter from the backseat derailed my dad authority and it definitely lightened the moment. The family that can laugh together has a huge advantage in the journey.
The Psalmist wrote these words: “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Sometimes it is hard to remember what a blessing those little ones are when they are throwing down a tantrum at Target. I encourage parents to enjoy every phase of their children’s journey. And I learned that what your children take away as favorite memories may be surprising. One of the questions I asked my sons was their favorite memories of time with me. I expected that they would remember the big trips we took together or some expensive outing. I was humbled by their responses.
Firstborn son Matt: “My favorite memories are throwing the baseball/football in the front yard of our Pecan Valley house, going to baseball games and growing up around sports.”
Second born son Scott: “Playing catch in the backyard for hours on end, even when your knees hurt. Going to cut down Christmas Trees every November and stopping at the Dairy Queen on the way home.”
Youngest son Brett: “You coaching my sports teams and going to cut down the Christmas tree.”
It was the little things that counted for them. The memories that really mattered to them were things that cost me only time. Each one of the boys felt valued when they felt I had sacrificed or made a special effort to spend time with them. I thought the big things mattered the most but I was wrong.
Model what you are teaching. Here is a powerful quote from Clarence Budington Kelland: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and he let me watch him do it.” Wow. I have seen that prove out in my own life. I can tell you exactly what my father modeled for me, but I would have a hard time remembering any of his lectures. I believe that is an overlooked component of the wisdom expressed in Proverbs: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” That training should include being a role model and then the verbal training will sink in. Being an authentic role model makes the message effective.
You are a role model for your children, like it or not. Your children will, to one degree or another, model their lives after you. You have inherited some of your father’s characteristics and your children are inheriting some of yours.
Brett wrote in his responses, “you are my biggest influence for everything.” Scary. Whether you know it or not (or mean to or not), you are influencing the lives of your children and your children’s children.
You are a role model and every dad needs to reflect on that responsibility.
When I asked my boys what I had taught them, this is what I read:From Scott: “You taught me to love the Lord and trust Him with my life. Your spiritual growth over the past decade has inspired me and taught me a lot about how to grow in the Lord. You taught me to be loyal and hard working in everything I’m involved with, and most importantly, to never give up. Burchett’s aren’t quitters, even if they want to be sometimes.”
From Brett: “You taught me how to be a strong Christian man and how to play sports.”
From Matt: “Never quit something you started. Work hard. Do everything with excellence. Treat everybody with respect and genuine kindness.”
Before you think that I am some really great Dad, let’s return to the third question I asked the boys: what they wish I had done differently. Their responses were consistent and they saddened me. I share this in the hope that young dads will take this to heart.
Matt: “I wish you could have been home more.”
Scott: “I wish you could have been home more.”
Brett: “I wish you could have been home more.”
That still makes my heart hurt. That is what I wish I had done differently. I wish I would have been home more. I cannot change the past. God is gracious and loving. My relationship with all of my boys is wonderful despite my misplaced priorities at times. Love does cover a multitude of sins. My sons know they are loved. They know they have my approval and respect. I am blessed by them.
Dave Burchett is the author of Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace.