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Friday, February 8, 2013

How to Be A Better Dad

by Dustin (bio)

Gediminas Pranckevieius, My Little Friend, 2010
I teach early morning seminary, specifically the juniors and seniors. The other day was I talking with the other teacher who has the freshman/sophomore class about his lesson that morning. His lesson was on gifts, and he was showing me a book he had received for Christmas from his seven year-old daughter. It was a hardcover board book that she had designed from start to finish and it was called "Why I Love My Dad." He held up the book and went on to describe how he had set up a great class and what he did next. I tuned him out. I wanted to know what was in the book. I have a seven year-old daughter and so was curious what his daughter said she loved about him. Casually, I took the book from him and began reading it while he was talking. It rocked me.

As I skimmed through the book, each page had an elaborate, colorful drawing with colored pencils depicting this little girl and her daddy with some narrative. One page said, "I love my Dad because he cleans my room with me and shows me how to do a good job." The night before, I was standing in the game room upstairs, exasperated, griping at my kids, and telling my daughter that if I had to ask her again to please go clean her room I was going to drag her by her ankle to her room like a caveman after a hunt. Another page said, "I love my Dad because he comes to my school to eat lunch with me." I'm often too distracted by work or too unorganized to even consider this as an option. Plus it's a long twenty minute drive (said in my most whiny voice). "I love my Dad because he plays with me," "... because he takes me to his work," "... because he takes me to get a hamburger and talk." Wow. I gave him his book back and said "Man, I couldn't see my daughter saying any of that. She would probably say, 'I love my Dad because he gripes at me and tells me to clean up.'" Or because he chases me up the stairs and buries me in pillows when I'm at my most ticked. This was a sign to me that I had some work to do.

So I've spent the past week thinking about my daughter, praying about our relationship, and acknowledging that this Daddy stuff is just plain hard. It kicks my butt sometimes ... errr ... most of the time. I don't think enough of us Dads talk about it. I think some Dads feel a bit overwhelmed or hopeless or clueless and they slink to the background, deferring to Mothers for discipline, nurturing, and other tasks. I know I have at times. Fatherhood is tough.

Almost on cue, I saw this video today and it gave me the chills (and nothing gives me the chills, except maybe the aftermath of jalapeno pepperoni pizza, Rexburg, and when my kids wander the house sleepwalking after dark):

Wow. This video fulfills its intended purpose. Watching, I want to be a better father. I feel inspired to serve my family. I feel humbled and realize that I am so childlike in the worst way, not the scriptural way. I feel a call to action, that now is the time to make it happen. Now is the time to make a difference in my kids lives. And so I created this series of questions -- a checklist of sorts -- to center myself and become a better father.

First, I realized that it's about priorities. Am I more concerned about a clean room than I am about how I come across to my kids? Are their emotions secondary? Am I seeing them as mere objects who are either a) maliciously disobedient and out to get me or b) simple cogs in the wheel that makes our family run? Or am I seeing them as subjects -- humans with interests, and desires, and motivations, and challenges who simply get distracted and need help doing what to me seem like basic things? These concepts come from a groundbreaking book -- one of my favorites -- called Leadership and Self-Deception. Go buy it. It's a great investment. And ladies, if you're tired of your husband pretending he doesn't hear the baby crying buy him this book as a gift. It works.

Second, when I've got my mind right and my perspective realigned, the question is how can I work alongside my kids as a "gentle friend?" Wow. Gentle friend. Strong terminology from the video. I didn't catch it the first time I watched it but the second time it hit me in the face. My gentle friends don't pin me down to brush my teeth when I protest. They don't pester me about cleaning or bust my chops when I accidentally miss the toilet and pee on the bathroom floor (this is an allusion, of course). So how can I work with my kids instead of talking at them?

Lastly, am I showing more love and support than I am discipline? I believe it should be at least a 2:1 ratio, love to discipline. Am I looking them in their eyes, talking with them, learning from them, playing with them on their level? Or do they simply see me as the judge? The ruler? That crazy bald guy that always rides us for what we do wrong?

The undercurrent to this whole plan is time. Mark Cuban says that time is the one asset over which we don't have total control, but we can control how we use it. I can't help but think that my Father in heaven has been planting little seeds in my mind over the past three weeks, giving me hints to become a better father, since I randomly came across this quote on Sunday from Elder Uchtdorf and it stuck with me: "In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e."

Sure, there are other things I could be doing at any given time. Cleaning the house, home teaching, work, building a side business, relaxing after a hard day's work ... the list is endless. Many of those are legitimate uses of time. But when I think about what I most appreciate about my own Father in heaven, it's that he gives me 100% of his time. He's always there. What greater gift can I give my children?

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