The more I look into fatherhood, the more I am passionate about it. The research is undeniable: an engaged and demonstrative father is pivotal for the healthy growth of a person. Moreover, the way I father will leave an imprint on my child's perception of the character of God! Now I know that I am not perfect, and that I make mistakes along the way. But of importance is that I keep learning along the way.
And I'm not even a biological dad yet! Even so, God has got me on a journey of being a father-figure. So even though I'm simply another man on his journey, I hope the following tips on being an engaged and demonstrative dad will spark of ideas for your journey.
1. Get some basic understanding of the development of a person.
Don't need to be too in-depth, but understanding things like what a teenager tends to go through and why they seem more distant can be helpful. Finding articles or books about what a person needs during different stages of life can help you set your expectations and provide the care and love they need in that moment.
More recently, technology is bringing about change at a much more rapid rate. Parenting styles that might have worked when you were a child could be ineffective in today's world. Trying to understand the current culture and how your child is influenced by it can be helpful.
2. Seek to understand first, every time.
Especially as your child gets older, they want to be understood. Being understood is important because it says, "Your perspective is valuable and deserving to be heard."
I was at a cafe a while ago, and one of the owners was serving what seemed to be her father and his friend. They were talking about how the business was going, and this friend potentially had some experience in running a small business. So he asked how she was marketing her new cafe. She said "Through Facebook." His answer was classic. He said, "You don't have 'face' and you're using Facebook?", demonstrating that his opinion was more important that hers. She laughed politely but you could see she wanted out of that conversation.
We cannot engage if we are more concerned with fixing things or getting our opinion out. Whenever I have put understanding first, there is nearly always something new I learn about the person, which helps me to love them more. Honestly, I struggle with this one the most. It doesn't feel natural for me to sit, listen and not offer an opinion all the time! But if I want to engage better, it is necessary.
3. Watch how you treat the people around you.
Your behaviour speaks volumes about your values. These values are often what your children recognise. For example, men, how you treat your wife will speak volumes of how women are meant to be treated as wives. This has serious connotations for your children's future relationships, both boys and girls. Boys learn how to respect a woman through your actions. Girls learn their value from how your treat your wife. Being a demonstrative dad means being aware of what you are demonstrating through your actions.
4. Never assume that the value you place on your child is known. Demonstrate it.
Demonstrate your love in as many ways as possible. Learn the 5 love languages and use them.
A while ago a fellow pastor put up a picture of him having a date with his daughters. He wrote, "How I date my daughters will determine what type of men they will marry! No need for a shotgun if I just be a good dad and love them in such a way that their standard of a man and how they should be treated is high." This is not just a cool thought. It is backed by science. A father's involvement impacts the relationships and sexual promiscuity of a daughter. Why? Because if a daughter does not understand her worth while growing up, she will settle for something less. She won't be able to differentiate between true, sacrificial love and the love our world often puts on offer; a love that isn't really love because it is about taking rather than giving.
(Note: we use the term "dating" here as spending quality time alone with your daughter. There is no romantic connotation here. Use whichever works for your context, as long as it is clear.)
Communicating with your children is going to take a bit of work. It isn't always comfortable, but it is necessary. I've written about communicating love to daughters already. For sons, take the conversation beyond sport or games, or whatever you're comfortable with. Talk to them about their values and morals. As I mentioned in my Father's Day message, King David failed to have those crucial conversations with his sons. Talk to them about who they can be and how they can get there. I find boys thrive on this kind of affirmation.
Dads, you are meant to be the safest place in the world for your child to learn that they are loved and significant despite making mistakes, despite failing from time to time. Never give them the perspective that they have to earn love. God never demanded that from us. Let us not demand it from our children. You also play a massive part in developing their moral compass and empathy. It's time to engage and be demonstrative!