(Editor’s Note: The following selections come from Patrick Morley’s Man Alive, Multnomah Publishers, 2012. They appear here with the author and publisher’s permission. More information and a free download at Man in the Mirror.)
Men, let’s kick-off Father’s Day with some practical ideas to be a great father. Nothing is more precious to a man than his children. If your children are doing well, all your other problems will fit into a thimble.
Raising godly kids today takes intentionality – the right amount of structure, time, prayers, encouragement, and affection. My own children are grown now. I did a lot of things wrong, but here are ten practical love-in-action things I did right for you to consider. Remember, love is what love does.
Lead Your Children in Family Devotions
Three or four days a week during the school year, we had a 15-minute family devotion. I usually started with a life situation – something in the neighborhood, from the newspaper, or a school situation. Then I read a Scripture passage that applied. We finished with each of us saying a short prayer. To make the prayers more than “Let us have a good day,” we also prayed for someone in need each time.
Establish Work Boundaries
To make family my priority, I set up some rules: leave work no later than 6:00 p.m., don’t take work home, and don’t work weekends. During my evening commute, I’d let my mind process what I’d been doing during the workday – until I drove over a creek about a mile from our home. Then I would put everything into a mental briefcase and toss it into the creek. That gave me a couple of minutes to prepare to greet my family.
If you want to lead a balanced life, decide how many hours you want to work and stick to your guns. Put work appointments on your calendar in pencil, but put your family commitments in pen. Love is time, and time is love.
Spend Time with and Date Your Children
When our kids were young, we played board games after dinner. I endured endless, mind-numbing repetitions of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders – games that require the IQ of a goldfish. I drove them to school during the week and stayed home with them every Saturday morning while Patsy ran errands. I cherished this time with them. Once they became teenagers, I started taking one child out every Tuesday for a dinner date and something fun, like ice cream, go-carts, or the mall. Looking back, those were the best, and almost only, one-on-one times we had. If you’re not intentional about this, a whole year can go by without you sharing a single deep conversation with your kids.
Pray for and Encourage Your Children with Words Every Day
I realized that my wife and I were probably the only ones who would intentionally be praying for our kids every day. So I made up a list of things to pray over – their salvation, growth, integrity, work ethic, protection, future mates, and so on. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all the specifics we prayed for are today a reality.
I also made it a goal to tell each of my children daily, “I love you and I’m proud of you” – words I didn’t hear growing up, which still affects me today. There’s biblical precedent for this: At both the baptism of Jesus and the transfiguration, God spoke and said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” In other words, “I love you and I’m proud of you.”
Attend as Many of Your Children’s Activities as Possible
Perhaps because of my own experience with my parents not attending my games, I decided from the start that I would never miss a recital or a game. And I never did. Fortunately, my work allowed that flexibility. One of my greatest joys came the day my son said, “Dad, I don’t know what I want to do, but whatever it is, I want a career that lets me attend my kids’ games like you attended mine.”
Eat Dinner Together
The dinner table can be the medium that allows families to transfer spiritual and moral values from one generation to the next. So we made eating dinner together a priority. We worked around school activities and didn’t answer the phone during dinner. That’s not likely to happen every night without fail, but at least don’t make choices that preclude it.
Expose Your Children to Ministry
We participated as a family in many of the ministry opportunities offered by our church. In fact, we selected ministries precisely because we could include our children, such as housing visiting missionaries and delivering Thanksgiving meals. When they were older, our kids went without us to youth camps and on mission trips, which helped them build confidence in their own faith.
Make Your Children Responsible to Attend Church
Just as it’s foolish to let your kids skip school, it’s foolish to let them skip church. When kids are young, they will freely go to church if you go. Once our kids were teens, though, we experienced resistance. They were “too tired to go to church” after being out on Saturday night. So rather than do battle every Sunday morning, we transferred responsibility for attending church to them. If they were too tired to attend church, they could sleep in and skip church, but then the following Saturday night they needed to stay home so they wouldn’t be so tired. Guess how many times that happened again?
Remember: You Hold an Awesome Power
Right now, your kids desperately need to know that someone loves them as they are. They yearn for someone who will overlook their faults, forgive their sins, and love them without reserve. They hunger for someone who delights in and believes in them. They thirst for someone who thinks they’re great – who thinks the best of their motives. Whether they can articulate it or not, they long for someone who will make them feel safe.
You are God’s designated solution. Are you willing to make the first move… and keep on making it?
Patrick Morley graduated with honors from the University of Central Florida, which selected him to receive its Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1984. He has earned a Ph.D. in Management and completed post-graduate studies at the Harvard Business School and Oxford University, and graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary. Author of the best-selling book The Man in the Mirror, Patrick has written 18 books and founded Man in the Mirror – a ministry for men. He lives in Winter Park, FL with his wife, Patsy. They have two married children and four grandchildren. Twitter: @patrickmorley