Dear Dads, Please Stay

Growing up in the 80’s MTV used to be music videos all day long. I have always had a fascination with music videos. I could watch them for hours the combination of music and story is utterly compelling to me. I haven’t watched that many recently but yesterday I stumbled upon Coldplay’s newest music video. I was sitting in the Airport in Dallas I nearly missed my flight home because the video was so emotionally compelling. It’s a single called Daddy from their forthcoming album and is probably the most moving music video I have ever seen.

The music video is shot in a stop-motion cartoon style and tells the story of a small girl whose dad has left her. It is utterly heartbreaking. I scrolled through the comments and wept because the song hits a nerve we don’t address often enough. Fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is an epidemic in our country we often don’t have the courage to discuss. Gun control is more politically satisfying yet every mass shooter with only one or two exceptions grew up without a dad. The chances of kids dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental illness skyrockets when dad isn’t there. We ignore it because it is too pervasive too painful, and we feel powerless to change it.

In two decades of pastoral ministry to kids and families, there are few things more painful I have had to do than to sit in a living room with a mom and her kids and tell them their dad is never coming home. The pain in their eyes is beyond description. The wake that event created in the lives of those kids is so pervasive that everything is marked by it.

Divorce is a painful reality that is often thrust upon women by men who leave. Dads who think they deserve something better than what life has given them. Divorce in scripture is not an unpardonable sin. It is, however, something that should be entered into rarely and after every path to reconciliation has been exhausted.

One of the biggest lies people believe is that kids are better off with parents divorcing rather than fighting. This is a lie adults tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Every kid I have ever talked to from divorced families cry themselves to sleep at night praying their dad will come home. No dad is always worse than an angry distant dad. If you are a dad who is divorced fight to be there for your kids. I know you want to move on but don’t leave your kids.

Dads hold your kids close. Put down your phone. Show up when they don’t ask you to be there. If they ask you to be there make sure you do your best to be present. Love your kids enough to show them a love that isn’t perfect but a love that perseveres a love that is faithful because God in Christ loved you when you were unfaithful. Model to your kids the love God has for them by imperfectly loving them the best you can and at the same time point them to a perfect father who is never far away. The gospel doesn’t demand perfection it models it and provides forgiveness. Something every dad needs to hear.

Dads the cards are stacked against you in many ways. I beg of you please stay. Please stay. Pray that God will help you to be faithful when you feel like running. When everything in your head is screaming run. Stay.

3 Ways to be a Better Dad

Today is the start of my twenty-third year of doing ministry for kids and youth in the same church. One of the things I have come to realize is the reality that no family is perfect that marriage is hard work and parenting does not always come easy. Kids today face greater challenges than kids did twenty years ago there has been extensive studies as to why that is a reality some credit technology, others environmental concerns what few people mention and I have found to be the most profound issues is the dissolution of the family. The family in America is under attack.

The breakdown in the family is now into multiple generations and so many dads I talk to want to be better dads they have no idea what that looks like. They only know how it feels to be on the receiving end of a father who failed them. They feel powerless and so they turn to pop culture that either tells them it’s hopeless and to live your life for your own happiness or the other side saying you need to take the power back. I think there is a better option for dads. Here are three ways to be a better dad.

1. Show up –
This one is difficult because when we feel that we are not wanted, needed, or respected the natural reflex is to run. You may have been on the receiving end of a dad who ran and are tempted to do the same. Don’t do it. Show up. Not to everything. Show up to the important things and the small things. I was recently talking to a woman whose dad recently passed she said that even though her mom and dad got divorced he always took them on vacations and was there for the small things like teaching her how to ride a bike. He showed up in the small things and important things.

So often dads are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. In my experience with families saying nothing and doing nothing is far worse than saying the wrong thing. Sending money and giving gifts don’t replace you and they don’t represent you. Show up. Step into the pain. Step into the awkard. When your kids have questions about life and sex and gender don’t send them to your wife step into the awkward and answer their questions as best as you can and point your kids to Jesus. Your kids want you dad, even when they say they don’t. Every little girl wants her dad to say she is beautiful and ever little boy wants to know his dad is proud of him. Dad only you can say those words to your kids. You want to be a better dad. Don’t text them those things show up in person and tell them yourself.

2. Shut up –
This one is hard. Because dads measure their effectiveness by how many things they can fix in a lifetime. Somethings can’t be fixed by actions some things are fixed by just showing up then shutting up. When your kids are frustrated or disappointed with you the temptation for you is to defend yourself. Instead of doing that shut up and listen. When your kids are at home come sit next to them ask them about their day and then shut up and listen. When your kids are crying because their heart is hurt don’t always try to fix everything just shut up and listen.

Kids like all of us sometimes just need to be herd. So listen, empathize, and affirm your kids. Tell them the truth. Don’t tell them they can do anything they put their minds to do tell them you are going to get through this together and stick with them. Remind them they need God’s help and after you have listened to them pray for them. If you want to be a better dad that isn’t always measured by number of problems solved it’s measured by how well you heard your child’s heart and how often you showed them God’s heart.

3. Give up –
There is something about powerlessness that we forget when we grow older. The more power we have the more control we maintain the less we can relate to a child and the harder it is to know God. I have seen people that speak powerfully to a stadium of adults but who are terrified in a room of 50 kids. Why because they have become more powerful and less dependent. They no longer relate to kids because they have forgotten how to be weak and what dependence looks like.

“You should have a fifty-year plan—a vision for growth over a long period of time as you embrace your weakness.”

J.I. Packer

We are drawn to power and strength we desire autonomy. One of the many idols in American culture is the self-made man. We think that if we achieve a certain level of success we will be happy. Packer is saying give up but don’t quit. He is saying slow growth is the best kind of growth. He is saying that weakness is the key to dependence and dependence is the key to growth. Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says it this way.

The child is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins is saying the same thing Jesus says “you want to be great remember what it was like to be dependent and overlooked?” Do that be depended and deflect glory to God. Matthew 18 Jesus described greatness not in terms of material success but in utter dependence. “You want to be great” Jesus said “become like a little child.” Dad, you want to be a better dad? Learn how to give up your power, give up your lust for success and learn to be as dependant on God as your newborn baby is dependant on you for everything.

Kids need fewer powerful parents and more dependent ones. You want to be a better dad? Show up, shut up and give up.