I had just turned 22 when I married Jenifer. We were young, a bit naïve, and ready to take on the world together. Two years later, at the mature and wise old age of 24, I became a father. Too busy going to seminary, working at a church, and being a family man, I never had time for a quarter-life crisis.
Though we experienced plenty of challenges along the way, I wouldn’t change a thing about how things unfolded during those early years.
In spite of having lived a life void of any significant regrets, I wish I could go back in time and coach myself as a young dad. Back then, other men may have given me advice, but I don’t think I listened. However, if I traveled back in time to give a few life lessons to myself, I’m confident I would listen to me.
Here are ten things I would tell my young dad self…
1. Tackle the Less Desirable Parenting Tasks
You’re always going to have a tendency to run from the difficult and dirty parenting jobs. Let’s be honest, young Barrett…if they gave out cash awards for acting asleep when your babies cry in the middle of the night, you would be a rich man. But they don’t. Remember that a vital part of “laying down your life” for your wife is found in tackling the tough stuff. So change more diapers, clean up more vomit, and be more active in the discipline of your little ones.
2. Feeling Inadequate as a Father is a Very Good Thing
Every new dad feels overwhelmed with the burden and responsibility of fatherhood. Scary as this feeling may be, you can use this to your advantage. Any feeling of inadequacy that makes you more dependent upon Christ should be welcomed in your life. Nothing will do that for you like parenthood. Depend daily upon the indwelling Spirit of God to do stuff that you are entirely unable to do on your own.
3. Take More Pictures with Your Kids
You tendency is to handle the camera, and that’s okay. But 20 years later, you’re going to have photo albums full of vacations and special events where you’ll wonder if you were even there. Make sure someone else takes plenty of photos of you and your kids doing life together. You’ll thank me for this later.
4. Take Greater Advantage of Teachable Moments
That time when your kids most need to learn something for you will probably show up at the most inopportune moments. This is inevitable. Be willing to drop whatever you are doing when God makes their hearts open to your influence. The older they get, the more rare these moments are, so stay sharp. If you let Him, God will guide you in this.
5. Discipline Yourself to Be a Prayer Warrior
No further explanation is needed, young Barrett. The simple truth is that you need to pray for your kids more. When you do, God changes things; starting with you.
6. Love Your Kids’ Mom Better
Both you and Jenifer will be tempted to shift your lives to revolve around your children. Don’t do it, my friend. Don’t do it. The best way to love your kids is to love Jenifer really, really well. Do specific things, especially when your kids are young, to honor her, build her up, and make her feel very cherished and appreciated. She needs tangible acts of servant love as well as clear expressions of romantic love. Often. Consistently let her know that she still rocks your world.
7. Lecture Less and Listen More
As your kids get older, you will be tempted to teach them life lessons via the tried and true “parental lecture” method. Know this, it has been tried for generations but it has never been true. Your kids don’t hear your lectures. But you’ll discover that if you truly listen to them that they will listen to you. You have plenty of wisdom to give them, but a one-sided lecture is rarely effective.
8. The Older You Get, The Less Cool You Become
Let’s be honest, young Barrett, you were never that cool in the first place. Once your kids start entering adolescence, what little cool you thought you had will be long gone. Before you know it, you’ll be thinking that your blue socks look pretty good with your flip flops. If you’re not sure whether or not you are still cool, just ask your young teenagers. Be prepared for bad news. But don’t despair because…
9. Being Cool Pales in Comparison to Being Available
It will be okay that your teenagers no longer see you as cool. Why? Because you will work hard to foster a love relationship with them and they will give you high marks in “availability.” If they know that you love them unconditionally and that you will always be there for them, they will overlook the uncool thing. What they need is a father who is present, so ask God to help you to be mindful of their need for you.
10. The Days are Long but the Years are Short
Others will tell you this, but you’re not going to believe them, so PLEASE listen to me, you twenty-something knucklehead. Your kids will grow up faster than you will ever imagine. The time between your first child’s birth and your first child giving birth will happen in the proverbial blink of an eye. Be deliberate to make the most of every day. Ask God to help you to cherish every precious moment in the journey. Make your years as a father count because you don’t get a second chance. God can and will extend His grace for your screw-ups, but it’s far better to get things right the first time around.
So those are a few things that I would tell my young dad self. If anyone owns a DeLorean and has access to a “Flux Capacitor” and some enriched plutonium, please get in touch with me. There’s a conversation back in 1992 that I would love to have with a guy who has a lot to learn.