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Ahead of Father's Day, Mark Chester presents a new mantra for dads everywhere
When my children were little I would walk them to school, which often seemed to take an eternity. Before we even reached the end of our street Billy would have stopped to admire a snail, chase a bird and test the durability of a stick by bashing it against the ground. Further on, Meg would pause at an old tree stump, looking at its outcrop of fungus, which she called 'The Fairy Kingdom'. If I had let her she would have waited until she managed to catch a glimpse of one of the fairies! But I didn't have time for that; I needed to get them to school on time and then get myself to work. I had a million things spinning around inside my head - 'to do' lists, problems to solve, rehearsals of difficult conversations - so I was continually hurrying them up, pleading with them to get a move on.
Opposite the children's school we would stand on a paving stone, into which the local Council had etched the words 'stop look listen'. They were put there as guidance for the children to follow when crossing the road. But one day I looked down and realised they were also a message for me.
My life was full of rush and hurry and busyness, which often resulted in a tired, impatient, tetchy father. I began to feel that 'stop look listen' was a parenting strategy I needed to adopt. It became my mantra for a new approach to fatherhood.
It even prompted me to conduct an experiment. One day I walked around a beautiful lake in north Wales in the same way I thought Meg and Billy would do it: slowly, pausing, exploring, examining, hearing. I clambered into the middle of a waterfall and splashed in the water for a while. I marched through a giant puddle instead of going around it and discovered legions of tadpoles scuttling beneath the surface. I climbed over an old wooden stile which no longer had a purpose because the wall it had once crossed was no longer there. I saw footprints left by a previous walker and tried to continue on my way by only stepping inside them. Finally, I shared my lunch with a hungry looking dog, and I returned home with an unusually open heart and lightness of spirit. I think I was a better father in the days that followed.
I wonder if 'stop look listen' could be the answer to many of the challenges faced by modern fathers.
Life is filled with pressures. We commute long distances, and we work long hours. We need to provide. We go to the gym to keep our bodies toned. We play sport to meet up with mates and we volunteer at church to serve God and our community.
Of course, all these things are good, but sometimes we need to stop, just be with our children and see what happens. Live in the moment with no schedules, plans and pressures. It's remarkable how many great memories are made when we make space and live spontaneously for a few hours.
What do you spend most of your time looking at? I can pass hours gazing at a screen: a TV, a tablet, a phone. But how much am I missing by not watching my children? The smile goes unnoticed, the kind act is unacknowledged, the small achievement isn't celebrated.
One dad told me that his son had said to him: "You love your iPhone more than me, dad." With so many visual distractions it takes effort to look at our children, but as my friend Dirk often reminds me: watching them grow and develop is the greatest show on earth. I wouldn't want to miss it.
I don't know why, but it is so difficult to listen. Perhaps it feels a bit passive, not active enough. It doesn't seem to result in anything, especially when our children are chattering endlessly about what seem to be trivial matters. But by not listening, we risk missing the pearls in their conversation and we pass up the chance to bolster their self-esteem. An attentive ear shows them that they're interesting and valuable and loved.
So there it is - a strategy for crossing the road safely and a mantra for negotiating the trials and tribulations of modern fatherhood: Stop look listen. Why not give it a go this Father's Day? Enjoy the celebrations and have a great day
Mark Chester is the founder of Who Let The Dads Out?
Thoughts on the latest trends, topics, news and culture from a Christian perspective.