In preparing to speak at a conference about dads, lads and the Church I asked my 14 year old son, Billy, for his thoughts about the subject. We had a long chat, which for a teenage boy means about five minutes!
Right at the end of our discussion I asked him to tell me why he was a Christian. His answer was the most profound moment of the whole conversation. 'Because you are,' he said. He often doesn’t seem to listen to a word I say, but he is clearly taking in more than I think.
When we strip our faith back to its basics, its starting point is a belief in God, and most of us have chosen to believe in God because we respect and admire someone else who does. We, as fathers, have a great opportunity to pass our faith onto the next generation - our children - and that is more likely to happen if we form strong relationships with them. How do we do that? Here are a few ideas:
1. Believe in the King. This might seem a bit of a simplistic thing to say to a Christian father, but I don't just mean believe in God; I mean really believe in God. Be determined to believe in God. We need to show our children that when we are wracked with fear or doubt or desperation, when all else fails and we hit rock bottom, we will still not abandon our journey with our Father in heaven.
2. Eat bacon (or a suitable alternative). The bacon butty feels like 'dad' food so I am using 'bacon' as a euphemism for all food, and what I'm trying to say here is don't eat alone. Share mealtimes with your children, even when they're babies. The meal table is often where news is reported, thoughts are revealed, feelings are expressed and stories are told. We communicate on a much deeper level when eating together, so try to do it every day.
3. Make them heroes. One of the things I did when my children were little was tell them stories in which they were the heroes. They loved it. I hope the stories helped develop their imaginations, encouraged their creative side and built-up their self-esteem. The 'Rita the Greeter' tales (it needs too much explanation to go into detail!) have certainly given us a shared memory which makes us laugh together years later.
4. Put your hands together. I don't mean in applause, but in prayer. And forming a habit of prayer is good. Perhaps morning, mealtimes and night is a useful pattern. Say a prayer with your children at the start and end of each day, and thank God before each meal. Hopefully, they will follow your example.
5. Find some mates. Meet up with other dads, sometimes with the children and sometimes without - and talk about being a dad. We all need a bit of support, an opportunity to let off steam and people who are similar to us to have fun with. When you are restored and revived by these sorts of friendships, you will have more to give to building your relationship with your child. Why not join a Who Let The Dads Out? group at your local church. It's a chance to mix with others who are in the same boat as you and learn more together about loving your children and raising them in the faith.
Mark Chester is writer, speaker and one of the founders of Who Let The Dads Out?, a Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) programme.
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