When I was a child, few things were so essential to the identity of being a Dad than mowing the yard on Saturday. For a little boy emulating his father, this manly pursuit came second to only driving a truck and shaving with a razor.
Seeing my Dad mowing the lawn one hot Saturday when I was only a toddler inspired something like awe in me. To see him working so hard, likely clad in the Seventies Saturday uniform of cut-off jeans and a sweaty red T-Shirt, made me want to do something special for him. A drink of water to quench his thirst seemed to be perfect.
This may well have been my first attempt at retrieving a glass and filling it up with water from the faucet. Having come straight from playing in the mud by the garden, I childishly forgot to wash my little hands before grabbing a milk-blemished glass from the “dirty dish pile” our house, like every house, had by the sink.
Flipping the one-armed-bandit of a faucet distinctly to the hot side of lukewarm, I filled that glass to overflowing for Daddy. Wobbling out to him at the mower, shouting, I suppose, for him to stop and have a drink, I held up that rare present to him as it were a cup full of diamonds. At that point Dad had a decision to make.
Response vs. Reaction
A father must make daily decisions on what a child’s actions deserve in response. Teaching, stern advise, correction, pride, encouraging words, praise, laughter, punishment: these and hordes of others run the gamut of parental response options. But when our children take certain actions, often we respond too quickly. Perhaps we as fathers should not think as much about what we need to do in the situation, but rather, what our kids need from us.[quote_left]Every action of a child is deserving of the right response rather than the flippant reaction we often choose to make.[/quote_left]Every action of a child is deserving of the right response rather than the flippant reaction we often choose to make. Let’s be straight with each other: when our kids do stupid things it ticks us off, and we immediately think, “I need to pass along some sense to this kid.” But, as we intuitively know, when our kids do something, it often means they need something.
Reading what kids need is the greatest skill any Dad can develop. And giving them what they need in response is the greatest gift any Dad can offer. We must respond to them rather than simply reacting to them. When we are tempted to react too quickly, we should first “read what they need”, and then respond as we deep down know we can.
The Big Gulp
Looking down at his earnest son holding up that milky, dirt-floatie-filled, distinctly warm and cloudy mess of a drink, my father had one of these reaction/response decisions to make. In a moment that is telling of more than just the moment, Dad seemed to not even notice the glass. What he saw was his boy extending flawless kindness to his father. What he saw was his child’s desire to not only thank his Dad for his hard work, but also coming in great hopes of making him proud by bringing him a drink without any help in getting it or in knowing he needed it. What he saw was not what he needed to quench his own thirst, but what I needed to satisfy the Daddy’s-pride-shaped hole in my little chest. Dad grabbed that glass and knocked it back straight like only Dads seem to be able to. Whether he remained thirsty or gagging or grossed out I don’t know. What I do know is that experience explains what a Father can be to his child.
But that is also what God can be to us. We as the Children of God long to thank Him for His work. And I believe the desire is in us all—no matter how religious we are. We want to do our best somehow. We extend our milky, dirt-floatie-filled, lukewarm lives up because of who He is. When we do that he doesn’t even see the dirty glass of our lives, He sees in our eyes the love my Dad saw in mine. He sees what we need, not what He deserves.
Living that example of God’s nature is one of the greatest treasures a father stores up while raising his children. Kids always seem to tie their view of a Father in Heaven with their fathers here on earth. This is a huge responsibility, but a relatively simple one. We don’t need to be perfect as dads, but we can extend our own dirty glasses up to God and down to our kids. My bet is they won’t even notice our dirty glasses. They’ll be looking into our eyes just like we’re looking into theirs.
Questions to Ask Yourself or a Group of Other Dads:
- Do you have high expectations of yourself that you have trouble living up to?
- What kinds of things do your kids do that you have trouble reacting too quickly to?
- How could you respond to them instead?
- Do you have a cute story of something your kid did for you that made you proud?
- How are you connecting with God these days? Do you think He’ll accept you as you are?