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When I was nine or ten years old, I built a fort out of tree limbs and debris. I leaned them up against the front of our house like some sort of natural shelter. I thought it was awesome. My dad, on the other hand, did not. It was an eye sore for the neighborhood, not something a home-owner wants to be known for.

He made me take it down, just as quick as it went up. In that moment he simple told me, “No, you can’t put this here.” But his “no” wasn’t forever. It also came with a promise.

HE ALSO TOLD ME, “YES, I WILL HELP YOU BUILD A REAL FORT.”

In my brain, that meant that day. But again, he said, “No, not now.” He was much too busy and I totally understand that. His office was at home and I was constantly trying to disrupt his workflow. He had tight deadlines and no guarantee of income. He had to work hard to keep the business and our family afloat. He continually, and gently, pushed me out of his office while he worked. Something I do now, everyday, with my own kids.

So his “no” was temporary. He would help me. But it would have to be on his time table.

Weeks went by, maybe even months and I continually asked him, “Can we build the fort today? Can we? Can we? Can we?” And eventually, after many attempts to get this project started, I almost gave up hope.

I needed someone to intercede on my behalf. Someone who also had the ear of my dad, someone who had a relationship with him that was all their own and could plead my case on my behalf.

I needed mom.

My mom marched into that office, after noticing my defeated plea, time and time again, she said, “You promised and you need to follow through.” And in that moment, the plan was birthed. My dad said, “Okay, this Saturday we’re going to start working on it.” I was thrilled. This was going to be fun.

Early that Saturday morning, we went to get the supplies: wood, nails, shingles, windows, hinges, siding, electrical boxes… this wasn’t what I was expecting. This was shaping up to be something far better!

We worked all day, several days, and by the end I had a majestic fort. It was beautiful. I don’t know the exact dimensions, but I think it was probably in the neighborhood of 100 sq ft, complete with electricity, bunkbeds and trap-door for entry. Basically a tiny house on stilts.

This was epic.

  • If he hadn’t squashed my little fort dream…
  • If he hadn’t promised me a new one…
  • If I hadn’t persisted in that promise, continually asking for fulfillment…
  • If my mom hadn’t interceded on my behalf…
  • And if he wasn’t a man of his word…

…I WOULD OF BEEN STUCK WITH THAT LITTLE JUNKY FORT.

But that little junky fort was the prelude to something amazing.

YOUR EARLY UNDERSTANDING OF GOD IS TYPICALLY SHAPED BY THE BEHAVIOR OF YOUR FATHER.

If you had an absent father, a missing father, or a work-a-holic father… you tend to view God in the same light. And the same things can be true of your mother, but for whatever reason, dads tend to have a bigger impact on your impression of God than moms.

I AM GRATEFUL THAT MY DAD SHOWED ME THAT A FATHER CAN BE TRUSTED.

But at some point,every father, no matter how great, fails. They are not perfect. They say the wrong thing. Their busyness or frustration bubbles up into words that cut like a knife and can’t be unsaid. So, as we mature, we must realize, whatever good our fathers showed us was from God and whatever deficit they created in our hearts was not because of God, but prideful-sinful-human nature.

God can be trusted, no matter what.

If you have a father-wound, as we all do to some degree, I want to challenge you to let that go, to forgive. If you have been struggling with the idea of a perfect-heavenly father because of your experience with your earthly father… choose to trust. He can be trusted.

HE MAY BE SAYING “NO” TO YOUR JUNKY-FORT-DREAMS NOW, BUT HE’S GOT SOMETHING FAR BETTER IN MIND.

  • Be patient.
  • Keep asking.
  • Don’t lose hope.
  • Get someone else to intercede in prayer for you.

And believe this promise:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 NIV

meaningful conversation picture
Have you ever tried to have a meaningful conversation with your kids only to discover that they answer every single question with the same word and that word is poop? Me too. I can not count how many times my son has answered a serious question with poop. And then we busts up with laughter. Now, the jr higher in me loves it. Inside, there’s a piece of me that cracks up, almost every time. But I don’t want that to be his legacy… poop.

The other day was a crazy day. The kids were rambunctious and louder than usual all day. I could hear the insanity through my office door. After I finished working, I knew I needed to separate the kids for an hour or two. So I decided to take Josiah on his first Life Lessons with Dad date. We kissed mom goodbye and off we went. While we were out we talked. Normally, the experts say, for boys especially, you need to be doing something to bond. But I found that undivided attention is really what he needed. I discovered some of his fears, his dreams, his hopes, and I was able to talk to him about a few important things.

So here they are…

5 Steps to Having a Meaningful Conversation with Your Four-Year-Old [or any kid at any age, really]

  • Take them out for “a treat”
    Take them somewhere they don’t usually go and buy them a treat to eat. Get them out of their normal environment where they are less familiar. Depending on your kids, this may help keep them close and attentive to your voice. Kids are excited when you take them somewhere new, so each time you go out try to make it new in some way.
  • Take them alone and turn off your cell phone
    This needs to be a one-on-one endeavor because they need to feel your undivided attention. Look them in they eyes as you talk and take notes when they give an interesting answer. Trust me, you’re going to want to take notes to remember the gems that come out of this conversation.
  • Start by building them up
    Kids needs to hear that you love them, multiple times a day. They also need to hear that you’re proud of them everyday. They need the reassurance. I’ve also found that my son, especially, needs reassurance that I love him after he gets in trouble. So build, build, build. Check out these secrets I tell my kids every night before bed for more on this topic.
  • Ask open-ended questions and follow up with specifics
    This may sound intense, but it’s not. It’s just on purpose. Sometimes we confuse having a conversation that actually means something with intensity. Open-ended questions means they interpret it the way they want to and they tell you what they really want to or need to tell you. It’s very important that you don’t lead their answers. I see parents do this all the time when we want them to answer a specific way… and that’s fine for other contexts. But for this environment, for this special conversation, you are really looking for what’s going on inside of your child. [below are the questions and format I used for this conversation]
  • Tell them the things you hope to teach them and pray together
    At the end of your time, tell them the three things you want to teach them. This is for you to decide. Then pray with them. Put your hand on their head or shoulder and pray, out loud (not loudly, just out loud), in public. You’re teaching them something in that moment. Check out these 5 things Christian parents should pray over their kids daily.

Here’s the sample outline for my recent “meaningful conversation” or what I told him was Life Lessons with Dad:

  1. I’m proud of you for…
  2. Is there anything that’s bothering you?
  3. What are your hopes and dreams? What do you want to do with your life?
  4. Is there anything else I should know?
  5. I want you to know and learn…
  6. Pray

Again, it might seem intense for a four-year-old, but he ate it up. Why? Because I was giving him complete attention and listening to every word he said. He opened up and told me some things and I loved it.

Our plan now is to do this once a month. My wife will take Josiah out while I take Brynn, then two weeks later we’ll flip-flop. That ensures we stay in sync with what’s really going on with our kids hearts and it will help create unity in our house.

So there you have it 5 steps to a meaningful conversation with your kids, no matter the age.

If you’ll take it seriously, but have fun with it… so will they. How are you intentionally trying to have real and meaningful conversations with your toddler, pre-schooler, elementary aged, middle schooler, high schooler, college aged, extended adolescent, young adult and adult children?