The Part of Us That Wants to Avoid Our Kids
For some of us dads, the responsibility of getting our kids to undress, take a bath, jump into their PJs, brush their teeth, and get into bed is ours, and ours alone. One writer describes the situation this way,
As far as they’re concerned, asking them to perform any of these tasks–rather than, say, letting them watch television or play video games–flies in the face of natural justice. They puff themselves up with moral indignation, outraged that I should have so little regard for their feelings, even though this has been the ritual every day of their lives.
The phrase ‘herding kittens’ doesn’t do it justice. It’s like trying to herd a group of tiny lawyers, all convinced that ‘herding’ is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. (Toby Young, The Telegraph, Why men don’t want it all)
I remember when my kids were in diapers. I looked for opportunities to trade shifts with other firefighters, because a night at the fire station provided much better rest than a night at home waking up to feed or change the kids. And during the day a 24 hour shift trade offered sanctuary from changing poopy diapers, and heating up formula, and playing the same game for the 100th time, and answering the question “Why?” for the 1,000th time. My plan was to take the payback for those trades, after my kids were out of diapers, and sleeping through the night, and after I found them more interesting. Honestly, my career was a safe and socially acceptable way to avoid my responsibility as a dad.
My job, specifically shift trades, that was my solution back in the diaper days. And apparently I’m not alone. The former director of policy and planning at the U.S. State Department wrote, “Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family.” (Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All) Yes, my job, it was a culturally acceptable place to escape.
But it wasn’t just my job, at the time, there were plenty of other activities I preferred over parenting. Television and video games weren’t just for the kids, Like most dads, I wanted time for those things for myself as well. And like most dads, I also wanted to play golf, and read, and shoot hoops, and fish. I wanted to do these things and I wanted to do them unencumbered by children.
I’m OK, You’re Super Not OK!
Then I heard something that radically changed my outlook. I was sitting in a class on juvenile firesetters when the instructor, who was a psychologist, said these words: “Ever hear of that book, I’m OK, You’re OK? Well a juvenile firesetter’s outlook can be described as, ‘I’m OK, you’re super not OK!'” And then he went on to explain one of the most common causes of this nasty outlook, was a dad who was mostly absent from the family, absent either physically, or emotionally.
Hearing that changed my perspective on fatherhood forever.
Kids Without Dads
There’s a strong trend in the U.S. of fathers disappearing from families. There’s a neighborhood in Southeast Washington D.C. where only 1 in 10 children live with both parents, and 84% live without a dad. Nationwide 1 in 3 children live without a father. In 1960, only 11% of children lived without their father. (Luke Rosiak, Washington Times, Fathers disappear from households across America)
That trend is bad news for the kids, and for society as well. Kids without fathers are more likely to engage in early sexual activity. Boys without fathers consistently score lower on a variety of moral indexes such as measure of internal moral judgement, guilt following transgressions, acceptance of blame, and moral values. Girls without fathers are more likely to cheat, lie, and not feel sorry after misbehaving. Both boys and girls without fathers study 3.5 hours less per week on average, their scores are lower on achievement tests, their scores are lower on intelligence tests, their grade point averages are lower, and they’re more likely to experience socio-economic disadvantage as adults. And the list of problems goes on and on. If you’re interested, you can read more in a paper written by two Canadian PhDs, Sarah Allen and Kerry Daly. (Allen and Daly, Father Involvement Research Alliance, The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence)
My Best Friend Rick
Growing up in Island Lake, Illinois, Rick was my best friend in grade school. He was one of the most intelligent people I ever knew. He was funny, and imaginative: every day he seemed to come up with some brilliant idea on how to have fun. He was a total blast to hang with. But Rick’s dad was a different story. His dad had problems and was at home sporadically. And when his dad was home, he was abusive. When I was 10, I slept over one night when Rick’s dad came home in the wee hours of the morning. Rick told me his dad sometimes beat him up, and I remember waking when I heard him open Rick’s bedroom door. I was terrified and pretended to sleep, but I peeked out enough to see his silhouette darkening the doorway. He stood there for a long time. Finally he turned and walked away. I guess he didn’t want to beat on the kids while a guest was in the house. Not long after that his father and mother split up for good. So from then on Rick didn’t have a father present at all. Rick was always a major underachiever in school, but within a year of his father leaving Rick became involved with a child pornographer, at the age of 11. He was confused and lost. Even though he was one of the brightest and most likeable people I ever knew, Rick fit almost every profile from that research paper written by Allen and Daly.
How Jesus Loved People
People were attracted to Jesus, and some wanted him to pray for their kids. So they brought their children with them and approached him. Thinking they were doing Jesus a favor, his disciples refused them, like a receptionist refuses the “wrong” people trying to get in to see a CEO. But Jesus said, Let them come to me, and don’t prevent them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. (Matthew 19:13-14)
Love Like Jesus
You know it’s funny how our culture values certain ways men spend their time. Working is highly valued. Football and other sports are highly valued in most circles. Hunting and fishing are highly valued in many circles. Playing video games is valued in certain circles. But for too many men, spending time with kids just isn’t important or manly, especially if it takes away from work. This cultural influence reinforces whatever reluctance already resides inside us.
I know a cop in his early thirties who works in Springfield, Oregon. This guy likes to talk with the men he arrests while they ride to the station in the back of his car. He frequently tells them they need to spend time with their kids. They usually respond that they’re just not interested, that they don’t want to. Then this cop I know tells them all the same thing, he says, “You know, you’re going to find that most of the time, what your kids need from you and what you want aren’t the same thing. Do it anyway.” That’s good advice not just for criminals, but for you and for me too.
That’s good advice because often that’s what love is: doing what someone needs, even when I don’t want to. That’s good advice because of the radical difference it will make for your kids.
And that’s good advice because Jesus did it that way: He spent time with the kids. And he said what we do unto the least of these we do unto him. God is pleased when the hearts of fathers are turned toward their children. (Luke 1:17)
So to love like Jesus, love your kids, and I’m not talking about a feeling, I’m talking about being there and doing. I’m talking about becoming engaged, regularly, and consistently.
Jesus loved people by engaging with the little children.
You can too.
[Image via Tobyotter – Creative Commons]
- It should be noted that juvenile firesetters fall into several different categories. The psychologist’s comment I refer to in this blog post was directed toward the most extreme and most dangerous type of firesetter.
- “Rick’s” name was changed to protect him and his family.
wish my son’s father would change his mind set – just because you dont share the same house hold with your kids…DOES NOT mean that you cannot still be a very vital part of their lives.. a great deal of men dont get this… whether they are in the house hold or out the house hold……. IM AM SOO GLAD GOD GAVE YOU THIS REVELATION…..God will use a donkey …a story…..or even a shrink! congrats on your new start in fatherhood my friend……thank you for being honest!
Yes, of course you’re right, just because a father is gone from the house doesn’t give him a pass on being his children’s father. I pray our Father in heaven will turn the heart of your kid’s father toward his children. Thanks for sharing your comment and for stopping by!
Dear Woman and Her Pen,
There is always hope for the “dead-beat” fathers:
Mal 4:4 “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances.
Mal 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes.
Mal 4:6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
The prophet John, who was the Elijah to come, turned the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers in his ministry:
Luk 1:16 He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, their God.
Luk 1:17 He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
We never know how our Father in Heaven will work to turn the dead-beat fathers around, just continue to hope and pray for him. I’d like to share with you my brief story:
My ex-husband never sent my twin sons a birthday card or a Christmas card, but his dad (Grandpa) always remembered my sons. Grandpa would send them $200 every year. This went on for years. The boys would acknowledge Grandpa and call him often to see how he was doing, especially as they got older.
One of my sons flew to the east coast with his wife and two daughters to see his Grandpa and Dad in 2007. That began a softening process in my Ex. Before my ex-husband died in 2009, something happened to him. He was very sick from his alcoholic/drug lifestyle and was dying, and he knew it. In January of 2009 he called the son who visited him to wish him a happy birthday. That was a first since the divorce, our son just so happened to be visiting my husband and I here in OR at the time. We took him to brunch and during that time he got a call from his bio-dad (he referred to him as that) since my second husband was more of a dad to him and to his brother. He asked my son to give me a hug from him, which my son did right then and there at the restaurant. In essence, my Ex made peace with his sons, and with me through the gesture of the hug, which frankly was a miracle when he had such hatred for me for leaving the east coast to move out west and start a new life. Mind you, he had access to our address and our phone number so he could call or write them at any time. Years prior I sent my Ex a letter as a Believer in the LORD Jesus and said that I forgave him for things that he did to me; I shared my faith with him and asked him to forgive me for anything that I had done to hurt him. He responded by calling me, but I wasn’t home, and he never left a message. I believe the call was not for good intentions on his part, and he never tried to call me again.
To this day, I hope he made peace with His Maker. But as to our present hope, I truly believe that there may be another Elijah to come in these last days.
This post is very important, Kurt, and I’m glad that you took the time to share your heart and experience. I would agree, thanks to that “shrink”, whom God used to wake up a “lethargic” Dad who had no clue. I rejoice that it changed your way of thinking.
On the other hand, the statistics he gave about boys/girls without fathers sadly are very true. Neither my husband, nor myself, have ever known our fathers. And yes, it had a huge impact on our youth. So, our Savior interceded, intercepted, interrupted, and intervened, in the lives of my husband and myself.
He saved Mike’s life by putting him in an institution called “Boystown” to learn discipline so that one day he would have military training thus becoming a Medic in Viet Nam to save lives. And afterwards he’d meet his future divorcee wife, Irene, and become part of a ready-made family raising twin boys, eight years old.
As for myself, the Almighty intervened in my life and put me with my Grandparents and loving relatives that would protect me from further emotional damage that had occurred from Mother’s “in and out” relationships. The shrink is right about what happens to girls who lacked a true and healthy relationship with a Dad. But then, my Mom didn’t have a healthy relationship with her Dad, running away at 15 to get married, only to be divorced 3 times. Indeed, the sins of the forefathers/mothers repeat themselves to the disadvantage of the children and grandchildren who come along UNTIL those curses are broken and lives are changed and the LORD of lords intervenes.
This person is VERY grateful for what the Almighty God has done to turn my life around, my husband’s life, the children’s lives, and our grandchildren’s lives, and our great-grandchildren’s lives because the scripture says it well:
Exo 34:7 showing grace to the thousandth generation, forgiving offenses, crimes and sins; yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects of the parents’ offenses to be experienced by their children and grandchildren, and even by the third and fourth generations.”
There is always the hope of salvation and deliverance! With Yehovah nothing is impossible. Thank you, Kurt, for your candor; may this truth change lives through those who read and heed..
Irene, you and Mike are a testimony to our Father’s grace and mercy, and a blessing to Kathy and me. Thank you for your comment and for sharing how our Lord intervened in your and Mike’s lives.
Well, we’ll give all the Glory to Yehovah for any good that comes out of us! It truly is nothing more than His miraculous grace and mercy. We appreciate your prayers and your kindness towards your neighbors. May He bless you both for all the kindnesses you have shown His people, for that makes Him smile!
Hi there I like your post
For far to long what was espoused as good parenting that is to leave to the “wife” and men don’t “cry” and we don’t “show” feelings is no debunked and still the sentiments linger on. What is the problem is men that I know get away with this behaviour because there is no one who will challenge them. Real great post.
I see the same thing Andrew. Our culture sometimes feeds our inclinations to avoid engaging our kids. Thanks for your comment.