by Charlie Loften
Twenty-one years ago I celebrated my first Father’s Day. I still remember that precious baby girl and what a joy it was to be her dad. All these years later, my joy in being a dad has only increased. I’m now the dad to three awesome girls and being their dad is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. The role of “Dad” (not sure I have ever been sophisticated enough to be called “Father”) is an honor and a privilege. It is certainly not an easy role, but it is amazing and worth all of the effort.
This is why it pains me when I talk to dads who either aren’t sure what their role is or, even worse, believe they don’t have a role. Somehow many men have gotten it in their heads that parenting is what moms do, and dads should support mom and work hard. But nurturing and caring for children is not only for moms. If you hear anything else today, dads, hear me say this: your role in the care of your children is essential. A former mentor of mine, Robert Lewis, author of Men’s Fraternity, says, “Dad is destiny.” What he means is that one of the major, perhaps even the top, contributor to who a child will become is the relationship they have with their dad. (Do not hear me minimizing moms. Moms of course are crucial, but that is widely known and accepted.) The way I like to put it is that a child will become what their dad believes and says that they are. Your words, encouraging or discouraging, and your presence, strong or absent, will be a primary determiner of how your children view themselves.
So what do you need to do? First and foremost, you need to believe what I am saying. Please believe that the role that you can play in your children’s lives is critical. (Side note for renegade moms reading: please create space for your husband to be a great parent. Too often moms are frustrated with husbands who are not as involved as they wish, but part (not all) of the problem is often wives won’t create the space for their husband to be a dad. There are things he can’t do as well as you, but it’s important he be given the space to be as involved as he can. Even if that means your kid’s clothes may not match, or he may not be as clean as if you had bathed him, or she may eat too many chips one day. Better to have an involved dad, than everything be just so. The preceding side note is Heidi Loften approved.)
The next thing you must do is to define your role. Heidi calls me the Novelty Parent. She by contrast is the Utility Parent. This comes from the fact that she has historically been with them more than me because her working outside the home has been limited. Even if that is not true of your circumstances, I believe you will relate to much of this anyway.
As the Novelty Parent, the one who isn’t around as much, I have the ability to bring a different energy if needed. My parenting tank is full while Heidi’s is closer to empty. Many dads choose to use that opportunity to be one of two kinds of parents—The Fun One or The Hammer.
The Fun One is a great role for a dad. When a day has been stressful and mom has had all she can take, it’s great to bring a different energy into the home. You can inject an upbeat happy attitude, because your parenting tank is full and you have not been around for all that has brought stress to the family. However, when dad is only The Fun One, you can, perhaps unintentionally, be undermining your wife. She has been towing a hard line with the kids for good reasons and you come in, unaware of the reasons for discipline and essentially say, “Oh it doesn’t matter. Let’s watch TV!”
The Hammer, while not necessarily what dads want to be, ends up being the default position for many dads. You come home and the kids are acting wild, disrespecting mom, and you engage. You start leveling out punishment and bringing the heat to your local version of Lord of the Flies. Mom will be very appreciative of the support especially when her energy for enforcement has been exhausted. The Hammer is needed, but no dad should want to be known as only a hammer. You don’t want your children to associate you with only fear. Dad coming home should never be thought of as bad news only.
So as you are considering your role as a dad, consider being both The Fun One and The Hammer. You bring a new needed energy to the home in your role. Different situations call for different energy. Sometimes you need to lighten the mood. Sometimes you need to calm it down. Other times you need to bring the heat. You bring what is necessary.
How do you know if you are bringing the right energy at the right time? How do you know if you have become too fun (yes it’s possible) or too stern? The best way to know is to ask your wife. “How do you think I’m doing as a dad?” is an important question, even if it feels dangerous or scary to ask. In fact, this brings up another very important role for you—initiator. You initiate the conversations that need to happen to evaluate how the kids are doing and how each of you are doing as parents.
Please believe, dad, that your role is essential. You have the power to shape your children and launch them into the world as healthy world-changing followers of Christ. We celebrate you on Father’s Day not because Hallmark tells us to, but because the love and direction you bring to your family is overwhelmingly needed and powerful. Happy Father’s Day!