What Makes A Dad Great?

number1dadThe primary task of any great dad is to love his wife

| by Sheila Wray Gregoire

The primary task of any great dad is to love his wife.

With Father’s Day upon us, it is time for that annual tradition when Christians everywhere gather together to talk about men’s many parental failures.

“Shape up, men!” churches collectively shout. And we stress daddy-daughter dates, coaching Little League and taking the kids to the park. We admonish dads to be more involved, to understand their kids’ love languages, to change diapers and bond and even play Barbies.

If I were a man, I think I’d prefer Mother’s Day. All you have to do is come up with flowers and chocolates and a hand-drawn card from the kids, and you’re good to go.

No one can be a perfect dad, and perhaps we put too much emphasis on all the perfect-dad-activities and forget the vast benefits that dads can give to a family simply by showing up. By sitting at the dinner table, by saying grace, by attending a softball game, by tucking in a child good night, by supplying the paycheque that lets the family stay put, you make a tremendous difference. You give stability.

The common critique against dads is that they put other things before their kids—and by other things, people usually mean video games or work or sports or hobbies. With women, the problem is often inverted.

I’ve recently been involved in some nasty spats on my blog because I suggested that it wasn’t good for a marriage for women to let older babies and toddlers sleep in bed with their parents indefinitely, because that can wreck the parents’ sex lives. Many women took real offense. They’re moms now, and the men should realize that sacrifice is necessary!

But sacrificing your marriage for the sake of the kids is awfully short-sighted, because the best thing you can do for your kids is to have a great marriage. Children’s number one need is for that secure foundation. Kids learn about God’s goodness, about commitment, about love and sexuality from their parents’ marriage.

When the marriage is healthy, somehow everything else fits into place.

While I’ve been preaching this lesson for years, lately it struck home when I realized how much I had bungled my own priorities. It occurred during those turbulent puberty years at our home. Teenage girls and their fathers don’t always mix well, and this oil-and-water phenomenon was raging under our roof. I felt my husband wasn’t showing enough sympathy to our daughter as she entered her insecure, hormonal years.

He, on the other hand, felt that said daughter was becoming a tad manipulative.

Watching my baby feel misunderstood broke my heart, and so after conflicts with her dad, I would tiptoe into her bedroom, hug her, and tell her that her daddy loved her, he just had a funny way of showing it.

As their relationship worsened, I started to realize that I had an awfully funny way of showing my daughter that I loved her, too. My method of choice was to ruin her relationship with her father.

After God gave me a kick you-know-where, I realized that what Rebecca needed most was not to be perfectly understood and accepted by her parents; it was to have the stability of two parents who would always be there together. After all, many of us grew up with parents who were too harsh, or too lax, or too sarcastic.

Some of us even had parents who deeply wounded us. But those of us who tend to bear the biggest scars are those whose parents divorced. In the end, stability matters more to a child than just about anything else.

When children know their moms and dads are always going to be there, then they don’t have to worry about their security. They’re free to play and explore and just be kids. When mom and dad split up, though, suddenly kids lose their bearings. Who is going to look after them? Where will they live? What are the rules, if I’m always shuffling back and forth?

Now Keith and I were in no danger of divorcing, though sleeping in the guest room occasionally wasn’t out of the question (especially if he snored too much). But we also weren’t presenting a united front. I was putting Rebecca before my husband, and as much as kids may play parents against one other, they don’t really like winning.

It’s like an actor working hard to land a role only to realize they are now the lifetime spokesperson for hemorrhoid cream. It seems exciting at the time, but the end result is more than just a pain in the butt.

So I sat down with Rebecca and apologized for fuelling her resentment of her dad. And once I got out of their way, they had a good talk and things greatly improved.

On this Father’s Day, you’ll likely hear sermons about caring for your kids’ hearts and providing leadership. These things are all important. But let’s not forget the most important: love your wife. That’s the primary task of any great dad.

Sheila’s book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, is in bookstores now! Find Sheila at http://facebook.com/sheila.gregoire.books

The article above was featured in the July 2012 issue of SEVEN magazine.