Situational Engagement as a Father
"Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad, and that's why I call you dad because you are so special to me. You taught me the game and you taught me how to play it right." — Wade Boggs
"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." — Ephesians 6:4
Fathering, the Great Adventure
Becoming a father is one of the greatest adventures. It's a moment our identity and title forever change. Some of us are thrust into it, and others of us planned it, either way, it's an adventure. Throughout scripture, we see many different types of fathers. Men who left a legacy of their fatherhood and the positive or negative wake it left behind. Take for example King Saul in whom we see the Abusive Father, who had moments of embittered anger toward his son Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30). In King David, we see the Absent Father who is engaged but absorbed in his ventures and therefore misses opportunities with his children. In High Priest Eli we note the Abandoned Father who abdicates his leadership and fails to address his sons need for correction and direction (1 Samuel 2:22). In Abraham, we see the image of the Appointed Father who would become the father of incredible faith that would become the model man, leader, and husband (Genesis 18:19). In Noah, we see the Adventurous Father who in spite of challenges and obstacles plows through hardship and leads his family to safety and victory (Genesis 7:13-14). And we even have the Audacious Step-Father in Joseph who is a vision discovers his calling and becomes the human caretaker for the God of the Universe, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:20). Regardless we feel the wake of our earthly father, and our children will experience ours. The question remains, how can we be the best father to the children God has given us?
If you take the time as a father to observe your children for any amount of time you will discover that they are each unique and respond to life in unique ways. You will notice how they respond to crises, how they make decisions, what entertains them, and the friendships they build. At each stage of development through infancy, childhood, teen, and the young adult years you are going to witness varying levels of competence and confidence that require you to parent them differently. The key is understanding how to engage them individually, situationally, and strategically so that you can give them great advice and be the best dad. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Three keys to being a strategic father
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One | Each child is individually different
Every child in our home is going to be different and needs a different kind of love, coaching, directing, and challenging. Some kids need to be pushed. Some need to be loved. Some need to be disciplined — yes we had one we disciplined more than others. Maybe you were that guy. Regardless, God creates each one different and yet still in his image. These young image bearers, therefore, are going to have different personalities, gifts, talents, temperaments, styles, and relationships through life. Given the fact that they are going to go through rapid change through their youth they are also going to experience certain stimuli, pressures, and physical changes that will be overwhelming for them — and you too. And while you are going to want each of your children to act the same, grow the same, mature the same, and believe the same; they won't. Often we fail to remember this, and thus our expectations of them are unreal which adds undue pressure to them and you. The hope you should have is one of change. For as soon as you get familiar with one challenge in a child's life, be prepared for the change that might individually unravel you.
Two | Each child is situationally different
From one child to the next children are going to be situationally a little different. Some of our children will learn faster, and other slower. Some will be ultra-responsible, and others won't. Some will be orderly, and others a little messy. Some will be smarter, and others not so much. Some will have physical ability, and others will be a little bit clutzy. Therefore, each child is going to be situationally different. We must also prepare for this. It can be a bit irritating when this happens, but again this is God's design. Which leads to the third and critical point.
Three | Therefore each child needs a strategic fathering approach
As fathers, our end goal is to move our child from dependence to independence. Or maybe it's better said we want them to move from dependence on their earthly father to interdependence on their heavenly father. Keeping this in mind we need to embrace a strategy that supports this process. But we also need one that incorporates individual and situational differences. And here's a strategy that can help. Consider your role and engagement with each child and situation through the lens of one of four roles: director, coach, supporter, and an observer.
Every situation and child is going to at one time or another need one of these four fathering approaches. They are merely involvement levels moving from very involved to less involved. First, a father who is a director is one who tells it like it is. He is one who commands, directs, and determines the direction. There are times we are called to direct as men, leaders, husbands, and fathers. We are not directing all the time, but there are certain times it's demanded. There are times we should not be silent but for concern of injury, spiritual issues, or even in the sight of future danger we may need to direct. Second, there are times as a father we need to coach. A coach is one who teaches, observes and redirects. This is common sense to those who coach for you set a game plan, train to that plan, watch it unfold, redirect as needed to gain a win for the team. You need to demonstrate how the parts connect to whole at each step so they can obtain a complete understanding of both success and their role in the process. Third, is the father who is a supporter. Strategically this is a father who is progressively less involved. He may offer verbal, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual support but is circumstantially unengaged. And fourth, is the observer. This father is more like a cheerleader in the stands and is mostly unengaged viewing the child from afar. Each of these strategies must be deployed at a different time, in different situations, with individual children. And this is what makes being a father hard, is that it requires us to be on our best game at home and be the father that is needed at the moment with our children in the right way — with a goal of moving them from dependence to independence to interdependence on God.
Frankly, one of these styles is the default for us. For example, some of us are directors all the time. But this is never good for winning our children over. The worst thing you can do to a child is come on full force in director style when they need a coach, or maybe some fatherly support. I guess you could phrase it situational engagement because sometimes we're called to use different fatherly approaches depending on the circumstances strategically. So you can be a director, but you can also be a coach. Or you can be an observer or a supporter which all depends on the readiness of your children and their competence and confidence in the tasks and issues before them. We may begin with being a director, but we hope that we will move to be a supporter of one small step at a time. Frankly, sometimes we need to increase our engagement and other times we need to decrease it. Either way, using these approaches for strategic engagement and knowing how to use them over time will help you to be the father your children need at the time that will build competence and confidence. Remember being strategic means being open to a changing and moving dynamically. And it's not as complicated as it may initially sound because once you start practicing it, it's going to become second nature to you.
Vince Miller is a speaker, author, and mentor to men. He is an authentic and transparent leader who loves to communicate to audiences on the topics of mentorship, fathering, leadership and manhood. He has authored 16 books and small group curriculum for men and is the primary content creator of all Resolute materials. Contact Vince Miller here. His newest book is Thirty Virtues That Build A Man.