Fast Lane Fathering


Running late for an appointment, I zoomed out into the fast lane. The utility poles flashing by seemed to count off the items on my to do list: hospital meetings, the church council, my all-consuming surgical practice, and details of our Christmas tree farm. Not to mention just a twist of fathering and being a part-time husband. And I'd almost forgotten it was Monday, time for my dinner date with my daughter Rosalyn.

Maybe I could just explain to her how busy I am. I mused, Really, today I just can't squeeze in a dinner conversation on casual topics like her life decisions. I know fathering is important, but growing up happens slowly; she'll still be there next week. Then I "heard" the disappointment in her voice should I call. Then she would charm me into taking her out to the "tablecloth" restaurant as we'd planned.

Pressure! I felt squeezed by my high-octane lifestyle. Every father has similar days. Good fathering is tough in life's continual traffic jam. And pity the single parents who have to fill dual roles.

But, nevertheless, one of our most critical roles is parenting. You may ask, Don't I get any credit for being a good provider? And what about my church, my wife, my neighbors?

Give them all the test of time. Look 50 years into the future and see what others will remember about you. For most of us, only the shadow we've cast on those we've influenced toward Christ and the impact on our children and grandchildren will remain. Regrettably, the things we've spent most of our energy on will have vanished like a jet's wispy vapor trail.

In Growing Wise in Family Life (Questar Pubs., 1988), Chuck Swindoll claims: "Masculinity is vanishing. Throughout the land, fathers have lost their way to true manhood and have thrown responsibility to the wind. Sex roles are blurring, masculine leadership is disappearing and--like dominoes--homes and marriages are collapsing."

What's gone wrong? Have we lost the desire or do we lack the skills to father in the fast lane? Many of us desire to be good fathers but need help and don't see good role models.

Certainly, children of even the best fathers rebel. We've all heard of tragic examples. But if your fast-lane lifestyle leaves your kids in a cloud of exhaust fumes, try these six fathering facilitators.

Begin with Planning

Fast-lane fathering requires a strategy. Instinct isn't enough. But is plotting our parenting a biblical concept? And could it actually improve our kids?

I believe Christians should be quick to adopt planning as an instrument of parenting. Why? Because God Himself is the greatest of all planners. He planned for our salvation with His heart-wrenching decision to sacrifice His only Son, revealing His plan through prophets many centuries in advance. And now He's preparing a place for us.

But basic to all planning is agreeing that fathering is an extremely high priority and takes time.

Find More Time for Fathering

Look for wasted time, such as most car commuting. If a job nearby would avoid a long daily commute, there's a golden opportunity to become a world class father.

Count the hours spent "mounted" like glass-eyed stuffed animals gawking at TV. Some of us have slipped into spectator sports addiction and regularly waste precious fathering time bowing to the goddess of TV. We unwittingly promote some millionaire's bottom line who has incorporated our macho fantasies into a business plan! Often just putting the TV on a diet would allow dad time to zoom to the top of his fathering class. It's a choice we make.

Look for creative opportunities to take kids with you on errands and trips. It's a triple win: Give mom a break; makes you feel like a real father; and the kids will love it. Some activities we enjoy may have to go--unless we can involve our kids.

Control your schedule better by sticking to your highest priorities. Other people's plans for our time may not match our highest priority. For example, if someone requests my time on the evening for my dinner with Rosalyn, except in a true emergency, my response could be, "I have an appointment with one of my most important concerns."

Partnership Meetings

Any team must plan and practice, and we fortunate fathers with parenting partners should allocate time to discuss each child. I even kept lists for each of our four children to use during "partnership meetings" as a prayer list, and for points to bring up during one-on-one times with them. For example:

Name of Child

Personal daily devotions. (Ask to share a recent one.)

Be an example to non-Christians in youth group.

What specific friends are you praying for?

Pray for God's wisdom in college choice and major.

Pray about his or her future mate.

Encourage keeping room neat--surprise visits.

Don't interrupt a conversation, especially of adults.

Table manners! Napkins on lap, elbows off the table,....

Stop picking on.....

Smother in love!!

Remember to compliment child about.....

The lists change and grow as the kids grow.

Dad Dates

Most doctors scribble a progress note on the patient's record each time they're seen. I'd suggest parenting notes on each child, not necessarily written. And it's biblical. Proverbs 27:23-24 urges us to give careful attention to the condition of our flocks and herds. And much more so for our children!

Unless I couldn't leave the hospital because of some critical patient or surgery, I dined with one of my kids every Monday evening after office hours, no matter how late. Monday tends to be a tough day for many of us, but I found that anticipating Monday evening dad-dates perked me up all day. In an atmosphere with nothing on my mind but my date with them, we covered the gamut of their lives. They shared about friends, exams, the courses they enjoyed the most, careers they were considering, and how their gifts seemed to fit. Although too often tone-deaf and insensitive, I tried to "hear" behind their words while taking their growing-up pulse. All the while I'd be looking for a smooth opening to discuss my "concerns' on their list. More than once I arrived at my Monday night rendezvous with my fathering gun loaded. But as we talked, I discerned their mood for in-depth sharing. So I silently slipped my agenda back into its holster and listened.

Some of my finest fathering hours were spent one-on-one with Roger, Rodney, Randy, and Rosalyn, observing one petal at a time slowly unfold as they bloomed into young adults.

Camping Capers

Another fine parenting classroom for fast-lane fathers is in the "stop" lane--camping away from the phone and other distractions even for 24 hours.

We tackled topics like how our Christian faith should enhance the quality of our work and sex education, including hosing off dirty words they'd learned on the school bus with a stream of wholesome medical facts.

I'm acutely aware that sexual discrimination is a no-no in the '90s. But to dig more deeply into the dirt that my three sons wallowed in each day on the school bus and at school, I chose to hang a "For Men Only" sign on our camping trailer for certain weekends. Meanwhile, Mom planned a special time with Rosalyn and covered the woman's perspective.

Daily Devotions

Seminars and spine-tingling special ministry events challenge us, but it's our daily lives that determine fathering results. During one of our "partnership" breaks, my wife, Ruth Ann, and I decided that convenient or not, we would have family devotions early every school-day morning. And as they grew, each child took turns leading the seven a.m. sessions. We tried to apply the biblical lesson to the day ahead, and to slip in a new vocabulary word. Although held at a tough time of the day--I'm not a morning person--looking back, those early morning devotions seem to be one of our most valuable decisions.

I'm not marketing "McFathering," a fast fathering franchise whereby busy fathers produce instant and consistently good kids in just a few seconds each day. Fathering that produces quality kids demands quality time, and there's no substitute. We can't fax ourselves. We can't use e-mail. We have to be there. But successful fast-lane fathers will creatively find and use time because they have to and because it's their highest priority. It's a choice we make.

Rosalyn and I did have dinner that Monday evening, and a good thing too, because I discovered she wasn't growing up so slowly. She wanted to talk to me about a boy named Keith. And too soon, she wouldn't be there next week!

Even if you're seldom seen in the fast lane, it'll all work for you too.