A Father is in Control but Not Controlling

In our class at the church house last week, we had a great discussion about parenting. One of the strengths of our little worship community is that there is an abundance of young parents in our similar stage of life as well as a great number of willing mentors who have been where we are now.  I learn so much from my peers about how to be a good father that I cannot imagine not having this resource available to me.  Anyway, the discussion came to a point where it was mentioned multiple times that the norm in our society is that there is a chronic lack of discipline within the family setting and that it has bled out and is now affecting society at large.

We’ve heard this before, right? There is a giant cross-section of people, in fact, most of a couple of generations, who will recount stories of their childhood where they will glowingly talk about how their parents wouldn’t hesitate to just beat the mess out of them. We’ll hear testimonies about how they never would have gotten away with things kids are allowed to get away with now because “Dad would have whipped my behind”. We hear these legends about how, as children, they were made to walk to a certain tree in the backyard and choose which branch Mom or Dad would use to work them over. These are stories of punishment that would be hastily labeled as abuse in our “modern sensibilities”. This is the kind of thing a lot of people mean when they bemoan the “lack of discipline” in families today.

And get this, I don’t think they’re wrong.

But I also don’t think they’re right.

The problem modern fathers face is not that we are no longer able to come off the top ropes  on our little ones, it is that it has become nearly impossible for us to exercise control of the family entrusted to our care. I think this is what folks are really saying when they refer to the widespread “lack of discipline”. Seeing a father in charge of his own family is such a foreign idea to us because we have been conditioned to think of dad as a buffoon to mock instead of an authoritative leader to respect. Every dad is assumed to be Homer Simpson and if he doesn’t fit the bumbling idiot role, well, then he must be a tyrant.

My contention is that a father can be, and must be, in control without being controlling. This is such an important point to me that it comprises an entire section of the book I’ve been writing.  I’d love for you guys to read the whole thing but I’ll give a little more detail here about what I think control looks like. And I think it will be a little different than what you expect.

Control

When we hear about someone being in control, the connotation automatically puts us in a defensive position. But, it should not. It should be the most natural thing in the world because when a father is in control, the whole family benefits.  It doesn’t mean he doesn’t fail.  It doesn’t mean his children don’t go crazy and do things that no sane person would do.  It certainly doesn’t mean things are easy.  It means he takes responsibility for the field placed before him.  It means that he understands that there is no one else to blame.  The buck cannot be passed and it stops with him as President Truman would say.  There are some characteristic markers of a father in control but not controlling.

1. Father being in control is never to the exclusion of his partner. It is to her exaltation.  There exists this understanding…this feeling…this underlying belief that for a dad to be in charge and in control of his family, mom has to take a subservient role.    Call it patriarchy or traditional male dominance or whatever label our sociologist friends want to try to stick on it, but the notion is pretty pervasive. The truth is that parental leadership is never a zero-sum game. When dad exerts control, it does not preclude Mom from the same. To the contrary,  when dad is in control, his partner’s authority and leadership is supported. When a father is in control, a mother finds herself cherished and supported in her mothering. If his children give her grief, it does not escape his ear and he responds swiftly. He fathers in defense of her authority and guarantees respect is given to her.

2. Father being in control is more about self-control than anything else. Anger and frustration are the twin monkeys constantly on the back of every father I know.  In every community where Dads seek advice from other Dads, how to deal with anger is always one of the most common asks. We deal with it and we know we deal with it. A father who is in control understands that control of himself comes first. For me, and I don’t think I’m alone, this will be a lifelong, minute by minute, hour by hour battle.  Every man learns his own tactics for self-control and that control is an imperative for stability in each Dad’s home. Listen, man, I know. The struggle to manage that temper is a Herculean task even on the calm days. But the reality is that my 8 year old can act like an 8 year old and I don’t have the luxury of responding like another 8 year old. Being a father means you lay siege to the anger and frustration, and you maintain control of yourself. Angry words from dad are some of the most poisonous and memorable darts to a daughter. A man who can’t exercise self control can never expect to wield control in his family because everyone in his family knows he can’t be trusted with the responsibility.

3. Father being in control fills the leadership vacuum and paves the way for the entire family to be happier and healthier.  There is a natural place of leadership in every home. When parents don’t fill that place of leadership, there is a vacuum left and children instinctively fill leadership vacuums. They just don’t know how not to. Have you ever known someone whose kid just owns them? Dad, if we aren’t willing to be in control, our kids will set themselves up on that throne…and kids make terrible kings. But they were never meant to fill that role and it is a burden too heavy for them. However, your shoulders were made for this weight. When dad is in control, he removes the burden of being in charge from his kids so they are free to actually be kids.

 

Dad being in control certainly does not mean he is never wrong or never makes mistakes. On the contrary, we are all just trying to be the best we can. A father in control says “I don’t have all the answers but go with me while we figure this thing out”. Take control. You’ve been great today. You can be great again tomorrow.

The Weight of Fatherhood

Mary Poppins will always be near the top of my favorites.  In recent years, the characters and interactions have taken on new meaning and I’ve been surprised at just how much I relate to George Banks.  He is rough around the edges (me) and a little chauvinistic (not me) but, whether he holds it well or bears it shakily, he carries the weight of fatherhood.  In what has become one of my favorite scenes in any film, Bert (Dick Van Dyke) shares a profound bit of truth with the children and speaks to the heart of a father.

 

Jane: Oh, Bert, we’re so frightened.

Bert: Now, now, don’t take on so. Bert will take care of you. Like I was your father. Now, who’s after you?

Jane: Father is.

Bert: What?

Michael: He brought us to see his bank.

Jane: I don’t know what we did, but it must have been something dreadful.

Michael: He sent the police after us, and the army, and everything.

Jane: Michael, don’t exaggerate.

Bert: Well now, there must be some mistake. Your dad’s a fine gentleman and he loves you.

Jane: I don’t think so. You should have seen the look on his face.

Michael: He doesn’t like us at all.

Bert: Well now, that don’t seem likely, does it?

Jane: It’s true.

Bert: Let’s sit down. You know, begging your pardon, but the one my heart goes out to is your father. There he is, in that cold heartless bank day after day, hammed in by mounds of cold heartless money. I don’t like to see any living thing caged up.

Jane: Father in a cage?

Bert: They makes cages of all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped, some of them, carpets and all.

Jane: Father’s not in trouble. We are.

Bert: Oh. Sure about that, are you? Look at it this way. You’ve got your mother to look after you and Mary Poppins and Constable Jones and me. Who looks after your father? Tell me that. When something terrible happens, what does he do? Fends for himself, he does. Who does he tell about it? No one. Don’t blab his troubles at home. He just pushes on at his job, uncomplaining and alone and silent.

Michael: He’s not very silent.

Jane: Michael, be quiet. Bert, do you think father really needs our help?

Bert: Well, it’s not my place to say. I only observe that a father can always do with a bit of help.

 

 

It is almost taboo in our culture for a man to even mention how difficult it can be to juggle all of his responsibilities. There is a great deal of silence surrounding a very real truth here and it is that modern fatherhood, a large part of the time, feels like a man bracing for the weight while a thousand strangers and a dozen loved ones take turns stacking another ten pounds on his quivering shoulders. Very little is ever said about it but the young Western father is immersed in stresses and pressures. He is encircled by the responsibilities and there is a constant weight he carries. If he wants to be engaged in all aspects of his life…if he wants to “man up” (as the ridiculously cavalier saying goes), the price of admission is a sore back and an ever increasing stack on his broad shoulders. Don’t misunderstand me, Mom’s job is very difficult as well. But that doesn’t negate the fact, or reduce in any way, the fundamental struggle of the father.  From a societal perspective, whenever there are negative sociological trends, the first explanation (whether true or not) is always a lack of fathers in the home.  In our justice system, mom gets preferential treatment every single time and the father is relegated to the margins as if the State deems dad a less suitable parent simply because of his gender.  The stay at home dad, even today, bears an enormous weight as he fights for legitimacy from a culture that still hasn’t gotten used to the idea. Regardless of his specific situation, there is a heavy weight every engaged father bears.

 

Every single measurable marker signals a declining trend in the overall health and well-being of this specific demographic.  Statistically, more and more fathers are feeling the strain from the weight.  The two most eye-popping trends are in the large scale abuse of prescription opiates and the staggering suicide rates among our demographic.  There are a thousand different variables that feed into these trends.  But, the undeniable reality across the board is that men in the years mostly associated with fathering are experiencing vast increases in various societal pressures.  He lives and operates under a great weight.

 

The good news is that the father was made and designed to specifically withstand this pressure and to stand up under the weight of it.  But, he was never designed to do it alone.  He is not a lone wolf.  He is not an island.  He is not the rugged individual.  A father needs help.  There are relationships he must foster and grow that will serve as pillars to brace him as he bears the weight of fatherhood.

 

Partner – Perhaps one of the most valuable byproducts of the committed covenant relationship for a dad is the constant unwavering support of his partner day after day.  When I say “support”, I do not mean agreement.  I am describing the very practical consistent aid in load bearing tasks.  My wife, the mother of these little She-Gables, not only mothers our daughters effectively, she also aids me in my fathering of them.  There are days when I am tired or I’ve had just a crappy day at work and I am…we’ll say “grumpy”.  In those moments, my partner is quick to lovingly address, in language and tone that she knows I will most likely accept, that shortfall and how my grumpiness could affect my daughters.  In very real ways, as I am bearing the weight of fatherhood, she upholds my arms, corrects my form, and eases the burden.  She is a great gift.

 

Friends – The vast majority of dads have a grand total of zero actual deep friends.  Look man, if your “friend” is not involved in your life enough to recognize when you’re being an idiot, and he cannot or will not step in and help you correct those things causing your idiotness, then brother, you have a drinking buddy.  You do not have a friend.  That previous statement should be staggering to you.  You are friendless.  Most of us don’t take the time to develop deep friendships with other dads because we either don’t know how, we don’t see the value in it, or we think we have it all figured out.  We are wrong and we only hurt ourselves.  Dads who have even one solid deep friend are able to withstand far more than the lone wolf dad.  One good friend can mean the difference between being a good father and being a statistic.  Get after it.  Press in to other dads.  Get involved in their lives.  We cannot afford to be friendless.

 

Mentors – Every year of fatherhood that goes by, I am amazed at how much smarter I am at the end of the year than I was at the beginning.  In fact, by the time my children leave my house, I’ll be the world’s most knowledgeable dad. (I’m going to put that on a coffee cup.) Good engaged fathers are learning new things every single day.  They can’t help it.  So, why on earth would we not want to tap into such an abundant resource?  A good mentor, in all aspects of life but especially with regard to fathering, can help guide you toward decisions and behaviors that will bear fruit in your children and steer you away from some of the more damaging ones.  Learning from him will lighten the weight of fatherhood because he can advise and keep you out of situations that could cause crushing heaviness.  Find him.  Boldly tell him you want him to mentor you.  Then, give him authority in your life.  Actually listen to him.

 

Dad, you were made to stand up under this weight but not by yourself.  Build your support.  You’ll be great but “a father can always do with a bit of help”.

3 Things No One Tells You About the Daddy Daughter Relationship

From the first pregnancy announcement where everything was pink, there were always multitudes of friends, acquaintances, complete strangers willing to give warnings or advice about your upon my daddy daughter relationship.  I think it is part of our culture’s way of saying “Congratulations”.  We like to offer these words of wisdom or funny anecdotes about needing to save your money or buying a shotgun.  It is our way.  But, there are things that no one tells you.

 

Except me.  I’ll tell you.  Here’s three that completely caught me off guard.

 

  1. Good fathers, and I mean the really good ones, are made in times of complete exhaustion.  I suppose this isn’t exclusive to girl dads but, in my experience and from what I’ve seen, there is an additional level of tenderness dads reach at their most exhausted points with daughters, above and beyond those with sons.  Brother, hear me; if you are doing it right, you will be constantly worn out.  This is not to say it won’t be fun.  But, you’ll be tired.  In this exhaustion exists the crucible that will build in you a strong and lasting confidence as well as a secure bond with your little girl.  In the end, it is a gift.  This place where you feel drained of every ounce of energy and patience is one of the great opportunities you have at leadership. When you are exhausted, when sleep evades you, when everyone in the house is sick, when you have nothing left to give…dig deep and stay the course.  Your daughter will see it.  Your wife will see it.  There is a beautiful security developed ninth these moments. KBO, brother.
  2.  You will feel her highs and lows even more profoundly than your own.  Her triumphs will make you soar and her failures will crush you. The most surprising thing for me in the daddy daughter relationship is the depth to which I experience things vicariously through her.  When she is hurt, I am hurt.  When she smiles, I smile.  Things that are interesting or frightening or fun to her are somehow interesting and frightening and fun to me. I have an inexplicable love for Walt Disney World and zoos and friggin picnics. In fact, there are many times that I feel feelings more deeply through her feeling feelings than I ever did feeling my own feelings.  At my core, my daughters have been a conduit for stretching my heart in previously unimaginable directions.  I simply had no idea how to feel so deeply.  But, now, my fatherly affection has seemingly fused their emotional complexity deep within me, like Adamantium.  There is something magical in this bond that makes every moment pregnant with purpose.  My life is fuller, my heart is bigger, my eyes are more open, and my priorities are more focused because of this inseparability.  I don’t know how long this will last but I will not waste it.
  3. Daughters crave Daddy.  Look, I loved my dad.  I sought his favor from the time my brain could make decisions.  But, that innate seeking for my father’s love, affection, attention, and approval is microscopic when compared to the magnitude of your daughter’s almost ravenous desire to engage with you.  Regardless of the kind of father you turn out to be, your actions will have monumental impact on every stage and in every relationship and at every level of your daughter’s whole life.  Fight it and argue all you want, but the reality of your influence on that girl is pretty clear.  If you walk up to any woman at any point in her life and say one word, “Daddy”, she’ll be flooded with memories and deep emotions. She’ll either be filled with regret or gratitude or maybe some complex mixture of the two but she will never be indifferent and she can’t help it.  Brother, she looks to you.  This is a mighty and terrible and wonderful weight on your shoulders.  Take great care.

Embrace fatherhood. You’ll be great.

 

“Who’s the boss?” – Why Daddy is In Charge

 

 

“Anything without a head is dead. Anything with two heads is a freak.”
-Adrian Rogers

When they arrived as babies, I never thought my kiddoes would ever be able to do anything for themselves. Ever. But, as they have started to grow and mature a little, I have learned that there are things with which my children came equipped; things that were built into their DNA.  No one had to teach them or train them in these things but their skills are off the charts. They are exceptional at things like making messes and giggling. They also have an uncanny ability to sniff out hypocrisy especially regarding their father and the reason he can have two pieces of candy and they can only have one. But the most encompassing of their pre-loaded traits is their dependence on a clear hierarchy of power in every setting.

My children always, by their words and by their behavior, demand to know who is in charge. It is baked into their psyche. At all times, whether conscious of it or not, they are seeking out confirmation that there is someone leading. When they sense that there is a leadership vacuum, they will, by instinct, fill the void and take over. They cannot help it. They seem to be wired for this. In fact, my kids (and my assumption is that this is universal to all children) are always pushing the limits to gauge whether or not someone is in charge. They “test the fences” like Velociraptors trying to find a weakness. This does not carry any malice, it’s just what kids do.

The problems arise when the ones who are supposed to be, are not willing to be in charge for whatever reason. At this point, children always commandeer and occupy the leadership role. As soon as they sense an empty throne, they fill it, immediately. But they are simply not equipped for it and I would argue that they don’t want it and are relieved when they don’t have to do it.  We all know what it looks like when the kid is in charge.  It seems the grocery store is the most common place kids assert their kingship; a tantrum grows louder and louder until Mom/Dad gives in and buys whatever trinket the kid king demands of her subject parent. We see it all the time.  In fact, if we’re honest, we have all felt those times when our kids just seem to own us.  It is a dreadful and helpless feeling of failure.

As Dad, one of the chief responsibilities I have is to provide a familial framework of understanding, love, and safety, where every member of my family knows exactly who is in charge and which direction we are going.  The most convicting and devastatingly accurate complaint about modern men is that we grown men so often act just like little boys.  We are selfish, passive, and scared. (God help us). Being Dad is a hard road but it works best when he takes the reigns of leadership.

In our house, it looks like this at a high level.  Mom and Dad sit down together and set the vision.  We outline rules, boundaries, and limitations.  We enforce these things together.  Daily, we will run up against a situation or 3 and I will ask one or all of the She-Gables, “Who is in charge?” and the response will be “Daddy is”.  Other times, their desire to do something will clash with what they have just been told to do.  They will say, “But, I want to do this…” and my response “Well, what did Daddy say?”  What I want them to see from me, and what I want them to feel in this family is a constant understanding that Mommy and Daddy are in charge so they don’t have to be. I want that idea ringing in their ears.

This understanding provides a home environment marked by a few things:

  • When Daddy is in charge, they can relax.  Kids arrive with the imbedded desire to be in charge, but they don’t come equipped to handle the pressures of being in charge.  The framework of stability gives them freedom to be children.  As they grow and mature, they are handed small pieces of additional responsibility and they are able to learn how to be an adult without the harsh consequences of “on the job training”.  Let them be kids.  Train them to be adults.
  • When Daddy is in charge, they have a healthy view of authority.  Rebellion and resistance to authority are part of the air we breathe (at least here in America).  We are ever cognizant of “the man” and so on and so forth.  But with kids, a healthy view of authority is imperative.  Starting at a young age, authority figures are a large part of their lives.  I want the She-Gables to have a complimentary relationship with the authority figures in their lives, not a combative one.  If I show them at home what authority should look like, they will more easily find it in their teachers, and in their coaches, and in their bosses, and in their civic leaders. Beyond that, they will be able to exercise authority when it becomes their time.
  • When Daddy is in charge, his faults and mistakes are amplified.  This is a great and wonderful and terrible thing! The reality with which all families must come to terms, is that we are all capable of monumental failure.  All men fail.  All women fail.  We make great mistakes and we make a mess of things.  The great trouble comes when we think we can hide from our mistakes. Here’s a truth: the most free a man will ever be is when his mistakes and failures are exposed and his family loves him anyway.  When that happens, he can soar.  He can ask for forgiveness.  He can strive to do and be better.  He can lead.

So, who is in charge?