I remember a sweet moment with my #2 earlier this year. I was tucking him in one night, readying myself for the barrage of “Mom, I have one more thing to say…” that inevitably forces me to give him a few more seconds. As I leaned in for one more hug in a vain attempt to preempt all his requests, I saw his little face scrunch up as a tear escaped each eyelid. I could tell it wasn’t that fussy “I don’t want to go to sleep!” complaint; it was a softer, breathy sob I heard. He’s a “bottler” like me, like his granddad too. He comes by it honestly, at least. There’s no telling how long he’d been chewing on whatever was bothering him; there’s no telling what had happened throughout the week to trigger such big feelings in his little five-year-old mind. “Oh, buddy. What’s wrong?” I asked.
Then it all came rushing out in one exaggerated breath: “I don’t want to grow up and be too big to sit in your lap and read by myself and get married and have to move to a new house. I need to stay with you always.”
“Oh, me too buddy, me too. I want to stay with you always!”
Feeling amused, even as I said it, I felt it for the lie that it was. I want to stay a part of his life always, yes, but I know I will not stay with him always. That is not what I am called to do. I’m supposed to raise him up and then send him on out. And that is why I take my job so seriously: I haven’t got much time to ready either of us for that huge step. What is it they always say to us weary-eyed moms of littles? The days are long, but the years are short.
Sons, you are so young now— 8, 6, and 2 years-old… but just in case I don’t squeeze it all in or life gets messy as it sometimes does or you just need proof on how long I’ve been praying for the men you will become: Sons, here’s what I want you know before you say “I do”…
1. Don’t let this go to your head, but your position as head of the family has power. Great power. A lot of men foolishly underestimate how delicate this impact is on the family, and sadly many families suffer because of it. We hope you’ll choose to be the head of the family from the Biblical perspective. Be the shepherd of your family, serve as the spiritual leader, set the precedent. Your actions, reactions, attitudes, and spiritual leadership will set the tone for everyone else. Even your intelligent, beautiful, intuitive, strong-minded wife will need you to fulfill this role. Love her as Christ loved the church. Treat her like she is a treasure. Be happy making each other happy. Be the boss at work, but a servant-leader when you come home at night. Come home every night you can. That beautiful lady who shares your bed and those little people who call you ‘Dad” need daily reminders that you value them.
I look at your daddy, and over time I’ve matured to realize how our Biblical roles as husband and wife are purposefully distinct. I have been designed to carry out certain facets of family life (I’m good with the little ones and don’t tell your father, but I MIGHT be better at assembling things that require tools. Not necessarily a weakness of his, just a strength of mine). Your good ole’ dad was created for a different role (say, being the “bread winner” and introducing you boys to superhero movies that are rated PG-13 when you’re barely in elementary school. See? We all have our roles). And while we thank God every day for His willingness to stand in the gaps when we feel our efforts are not enough, we see how beautifully intricate our places are designed to be and how a family lives in harmony when we live up to our God-given responsibilities.
2. We want grandkids! Now, sons, you know we’ll love you always and we’ll stand behind you well into adulthood. But hear me clearly: please, please, please, please, please, PUH-LEASE a thousand times over make sure there is a Mrs. before there is a Junior. Do. You. Hear. Me?
Whichever of you chooses to be a family man, value your role as another human’s father. When your kids are young, you’ll beg for more sleep, more quiet time, more energy. As they grow older, you’ll beg for more time, more wisdom, more influence. When they’re little, be patient in the day-to-day. It is inevitable that they will spill their drink at the dinner table every night for two consecutive years. They will whine or cry when they are tired or hungry. They will grumble when they don’t get what they want. It is okay. You did it too. Train your children to pick up after themselves and how to do it. Show them how to read other people and the value in meeting others’ needs. Teach them everything you’re good at; find someone else to teach them the things you can’t. Their well-being is more important than your own pride. Pray with them starting at an early age, and speak often about what God is doing in your own life. Build that relationship with them early.
Sometimes you’ll need to be a listening ear instead of a punitive voice. Sometimes you’ll fare better striking the fear of God in them. Approach every experience with a mindful heart; you’ll be able to trust your instinct to know when to meet them with a hug or a belt. And use the belt, sons. Never punish in anger, but do take the time to learn the appropriateness of a well-timed spanking.
Allow yourself to be the Fun Parent sometimes. Be the parent who says “yes” to activities that may be messy or inconvenient now but that will forge relationships and memories for later on. You’ll learn that you bond more easily with some of your children than others. That’s okay too; it’s natural. We all enjoy different things and find we have different things in common. That weird sci-fi novel your daughter is reading? Read the synopsis on Sparknotes, fake a conversation, and then take her to see the movie. At least you’ve made an intentional effort to spend quality time with her. Do that for each child, even if it’s just grabbing one to take with you to have the oil changed in your wife’s car (which I, as your mother, expect you to do for her. Not that she can’t, but because you can. Chivalry is not dead, sons).
3. Sons, your wife and your families will need you. Not to be perfect, not to earn a six-figure salary necessarily (Although that would be a good goal, wouldn’t it? The least you could do for your father and I is to eventually put us up in a nice old folks home). Your wife and your children don’t need you to hold a certain corporate title to be proud of you. They need someone who will provide for them, take care of them, guide them, set a positive tone at home, and be there. Always be there. Being the shepherd of your flock and the “yes” parent to your children is a choice. Look at the footsteps of the fathers in our families who have come before you. As you choose to place your shoe into the imprint of their step and say “I do,” you have many a resource available to you. Learn from them, let them encourage you, and see them for the great men that they are. Strive to be like them.