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If I Had Another Shot at It
BY T. RAY RACHELS
“A father, says the cynic, is someone who carries pictures in his wallet where his money used to be.”
Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. In his book, Stress Fractures, he describes how he grew increasingly nervous and tense about the situation.
“I was snapping at my wife, our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day,” Swindoll wrote. “Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.
“I distinctly remember, after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, ‘Daddy, I want to tell you something, and I’ll tell you really fast.’
“Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me — and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’
“I’ll never forget her answer: ‘Then listen slowly.’”
The innocent wisdom of this child’s reply is good advice for all the speed demons among us who run through our family’s flashing red lights day after day en route to our agendas, schedules, and goals.
Dads, if you had a chance to start over with your kids, to set a firmer foundation for your family’s life, would you do the same things over again? Or would you make a few adjustments?
If I had another shot at it, I can think of a few things I would do differently.
I would love my wife with greater tenderness and sensitivity, putting her at the heart of our family. I’d be freer to let my kids see that I love her. How? By showing respect and special kindnesses to her in my kids’ presence, whispering loving words about her in their ears, and praising her in their midst. Security, stability, and the sacredness of life and relationships are values we can tuck deeply in our family’s soul. When a dad expresses open and shameless love for his wife, the mother of his kids, he passes these values to the next generation.
I would be a better listener. A kid’s words can seem like an inexhaustible reservoir of unimportant chatter. Children talk about their little fears, trials, complaints, joys, and the things that interest and excite them. It hurts when they sense impatience or feel their perspectives are not taken seriously.
One night a small boy tried to show his dad a scratch on his finger. Finally, after repeated attempts to get his dad’s attention, the father stopped reading his newspaper and said impatiently, “Well, I can’t do anything about it, can I?”
“But, Daddy,” his small son said, “you could say, ‘Oh!’”
It’s estimated the average kid asks 500,000 questions by age 15. Think of it. That’s a half million opportunities to talk to somebody you love about the meaning of life.
I would find more opportunities to give my kid a greater sense of belonging. This happens when families do things together; share common concerns; invite everybody to be a part of the party; and plan and enjoy special-day celebrations that make people more important than gifts. It’s transforming when a kid hears prayers spoken on his behalf, feels his opinions are really listened to and valued, and knows he is important to the family and has a real place at the family’s table.
I would express more and better words of appreciation and praise. It’s easy to slap a kid’s hand or grouse at her for making mistakes. What would happen if you changed your grousing to words of encouragement and praise?
A friend once said, “If I had a teenager, I would cover him with praise. If he blew a trumpet, I’d try to find at least one note that sounded good to my ear, and I would say a good word about it. I would find something every day that I could honestly brag on. Then I would brag on it.”
Kids don’t want flattery but honest compliments. Sincere praise builds confidence.
I would spend more time with my family. In every dad’s week, there are 168 hours. If you allow for 40 hours at work, another 15 hours for overtime, lunch, and the job commute, and set aside 56 hours for sleep, that leaves a dad 57 hours every week to spend somewhere and with somebody. How many of those 57 hours would I give to my family?
Arthur Gordon tells an interesting story from his youth: “When I was around 13 and my brother was 10, my dad had promised to take us to the circus. But at lunch there was a phone call. Some urgent business required his attention downtown. My brother and I braced ourselves for the disappointment. Then we heard him say, ‘No, I won’t be down. It will have to wait.’
“When he came back to the table, mother smiled. ‘The circus keeps coming back, you know.’
“‘I know,’ said father, ‘but childhood doesn’t.’”1
I would laugh more and look for ways to make life more fun. A wise man once wrote: “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.”
Laugh at their knock-knock punch lines and their “Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes. Enjoy their funny stories, fall for their pranks, and play along with their crazy questions. When I laughed with my kids our love was enlarged, and the door was opened for doing a hundred other things together.
Somehow we manage enough muscle to handle the big things of life but forget that life is mostly made up of the little things. I believe a dad’s faithfulness in the small things most often determines his children’s happiness.
God Bless Fathers
My heart goes out to fathers. Lord, bless them all.
Bless the young, new father — grinning proudly as he experiences the odd and somewhat frightening sensation of his firstborn’s tightly-curling fingers around his own. Keep him forever close to that child, Lord. May he remain as loving and as tender as he is today but stand strong enough to meet the ever-growing demands of fatherhood. Help him to enjoy the journey as he laughs, provides guidance, and listens. May he walk beside his child as a friend as well as a dad.
Bless the dad in the middle, Lord. This seasoned dad knows that raising kids isn’t just circuses and games, but also bills and braces, discipline, and, at times, dissension. Ease his aching bones, Lord, and his often-aching heart.
And Lord, bless the aged father, the one looking back. He is no longer the main spring of that strange, exasperating, demanding but so important, institution of family. His views don’t count anymore … or so he thinks. He may even believe — wrongly — that he is no longer needed.
You, the Father of us all, must know how each of these fathers feels. Comfort them, Lord. And help us, their sons and daughters, to show them our appreciation. Help them to know we love them and feel grateful that God gave us a glimpse of what He’s really like — in them.
1. Arthur Gordon, A Touch of Wonder: A Book to Help People Stay in Love with Life (Old Tappan, NJ: F. H. Revell, 1974), 77-78.