Welcome words for most on Father’s Day, a birthday or even at Christmas, but aside from that, there are very few times when “SURPRISE” is a good way to start a sentence for a father of teens. It is too often followed with “I am… In the principal’s office, at the jail, at the mechanic’s shop, at the ER, at the bank or joining the Armed Forces.”
I remember springing a few of those on my mother in my teen years. Some of them really scared her, some made her furious, some allowed us to spend some “quality time” together. As I raise my teens, I have had my share of “Dad, I need you…” and the remainder of that sentence changed my mood, my attitude, the course of my day and in some cases the course of our lives.
“I love you Dad” were the last words I heard before the line went dead. I was in LA on a business trip, my family was living in Oklahoma, and mom had gone to work in Texas. (That was a long commute each day.) My youngest daughter, then 17 and I had argued about her rights, my parenting style, her desire for freedom and the like. When she said “I love you” and hung up without a goodbye, an ominous, helpless, hurtful feeling swept over me. 2,000 miles away, she was beyond my grip, beyond my grasp, beyond my control, she held all the cards. I arrived home from my trip and went straight to her room to find it in need of a vacuum and otherwise, spotless. Empty. Not a stick of furniture, not one stuffed animal, bath towel or pillow sham remained. Empty.
I felt like I was looking into the cocoon and not seeing the caterpillar that belonged there. “She’s not ready to fly,” I thought. This is a big scary world and I am not ready to let go of “Daddy’s Girl.” My world had changed.
“You’re gonna be a granpa!” Happy words for sure! When the call came at 3am that my oldest daughter had collapsed and her heart had stopped, we were sure we would be planning a final goodbye. She was only four months from her 18th birthday and way too young for this. We drove from Justin, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas to meet the helicopter. She was on life support for several days and left the hospital with a pace maker and a new course prescription for her life. No more basketball, no hurdles in track, no working as a X-Ray Tech at the hospital and NO KIDS. She is a bit hard headed. She will graduate from Nursing School very soon, she is a mother of two very lively little boys and she refuses to let little things like a heart problem slow her down.
My boys are still at home… for now. One turns 18 just after Father’s Day, the other in 18 months. I am not looking forward to being an empty nester. I relish the time I get to spend with my kids! (And all five grandsons now.) I know the days when I speak and they reply immediately will soon be over. Long gone will be the days when they trust that I know what I am talking about, even when I might be winging it. I will miss the morning runs with my athletes. I will miss coffee before an early morning speech or event. I will miss Buffalo Wild Wings at 2am after DJing a prom. I will miss hearing other adults mention how witty, wise and well behaved they are.
As my opportunity to influence them diminishes, I can hold firm to one thing. I know they know Jesus and should our days on earth be separate and short, our eternity will be in the same place. I hope I have been a good father. I pray that my love for them has been obvious, demonstrable and clearly articulated. But my peace in watching them grow up is knowing that it will never be a goodbye, only see you soon on the other side. That is the best Father’s Day gift I will ever receive.
Here are four simple ways you can consciously build a family faith legacy that will last longer than your days.
1. Remember why you chose your faith.
We all have reasoning behind the major decisions we make in life, like our spouse, our career and our faith. As you recall those reasons, share them with your children. Given the opportunity to understand, the chances are high, they will make the same choice. That explanation will allow them to make it a choice rather than something you force on them.
2. Let them choose how they will worship.
Religions, traditions, music styles and means of worship are as unique as personalities. Deciding for another person means not allowing them to exercise free will. However, if you truly believe your faith is trustworthy and your decisions wise and well founded, why would you not want your legacy to share the same joy and peace?
3. Celebrate their wise choices.
Sometimes the strongest word ever spoken is silence. In the same way, a quick celebration of wise choices is a powerful way to reinforce such behavior. When your teens express their faith and belief in a positive way, remind them you are proud of them.
4. Remember faith is often caught as much as taught.
If you demonstrate prayer, giving, volunteering your time for others’ benefit, reading, studying and meditating to enhance your faith relationship, your children will learn to do the same. How you respond to crisis, argument, stress and other challenges will speak much louder than your instructions as to how they should respond.
In the end, faith is a personal choice. Just like parenting there are numerous styles and approaches. My faith and my family are inseparable. We share our days, meal, blessing and troubles with the Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus. I encourage you to share your faith and model it to your teens as well. Have a blessed Father’s Day week.