I am a father of four kids. I have a seven-year-old, five-year-old, three-year-old, and an eight-month-old. And in the words of the brilliant comedian Jim Gaffigan, “I should probably learn their names.”
Being a dad is among the greatest joys of my life. It’s also the most challenging responsibility I have. And there are many days when I feel like I’m blowing it.
Recently, my five-year-old daughter wanted to swap out her flower petal earrings for a pair of butterfly ones I bought her for Valentine’s Day. All seemed well until I tried putting them in. Before I even touched the vacated hole in her left ear, she began screaming and hyperventilating. You would’ve thought I had attempted to make a new hole with that dull-tipped earring!
Fearing her three-month-old pierced ears would close overnight and not wanting to pay another $50 to get them pierced again, I got my wife involved and we simply sought to return the flower petal earring to its original place. Well our daughter wasn’t having that either. The screaming and hyperventilating was reprised. After a few moments, she calmed down and we tried again. Repeat. After several cycles of this incomprehensible and frustrating behavior, I pierced the tension-ridden air with “Aryah, this is ridiculous!”
If I go to my grave never shouting another phrase as loud as I shouted that one, I will die a happy man. Though a teaching pastor and an author, I can’t even begin to describe with words the shock and terror that raced upon my precious daughter’s face, and the volume of tears that followed. It crushed my heart, because I had decimated hers.
Perhaps you other dads can relate to these epic moments of parenting failure.
Being a dad can be brutally hard. But it’s precisely why it’s so significant. Like so many things in life, it’s the difficulty that affirms the importance. The most meaningful things in life will always cause us the greatest degree of stress, frustration, and challenge. Being a dad pushes us to the edge. And we don’t always stay on the ledge. We blow it. We say the wrong thing. We let our emotions get the best of us. We do the thing we said we’d never do.
The questions becomes, “What then?”
There’s a story told about the legendary founder of IBM, Thomas Watson Sr. On one occasion, a young senior executive made an error that cost IBM ten million dollars. Oops. Upon hearing the news, Watson summoned the man to his office. Upon entering, the young executive remarked, “So I’m guessing you want my resignation?” To which Watson quickly replied, “Are you kidding me? We just spent ten million dollars educating you!” And the man didn’t lose his job.
Watson saw failure as education. I believe God does the same. We’re not always going to get things right as fathers. And our kids aren’t always going to get things right either (as if either of these observations needed to be made). Both parties will fail. But how we respond to our failures as fathers will ultimately impact how our kids learn to deal with their own.
In our blunders with our kids, we are offered beautiful opportunities. We have opportunities to model what heartfelt and genuine apologies look like. We have opportunities to talk about the grace and forgiveness of God, and how His love isn’t dependent upon our deeds. We have opportunities to talk about failures in light of education, and how every time we don’t get something right, we are gifted with an experience that teaches us what didn’t work, and thus how to learn from it. We have opportunities to let our kids know that it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s how you respond to them that demonstrate the true depth of one’s character.
I woke up the following morning with that sick feeling you get when you’ve blown it. I knew I had to have a redeeming conversation with my daughter. So I walked down the hallway, past the kitchen, and slowly entered her room. She was in bed, but awake. I sat down next to her and began to discuss the previous night. While apologizing and asking for her forgiveness, she leapt to her feet, threw her arms around my neck, and said, “It’s okay, Daddy. I love you!” In that moment, grace and forgiveness clung to me, and our broken hearts were mended. It’s one of the most precious moments I’ve ever had with my little girl, and one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
So fathers, maximize your less-than-stellar moments with your kids. Your responses in those moments may be one of the greatest lessons your kids ever learn. And they may also become some of the most meaningful moments you ever have with them.
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