Mission Lab 2018

To my three adult children on Father’s Day

June 5th, 2017 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor in Chief / comments

Dear Kids, 

I invoke “gray privilege” on this occasion—the first Father’s Day when all of you are parents—to offer unsolicited advice and to call you (aged 27 to 34) “kids.” It is an unmixed joy to observe you doing the needful things for small dependent people who bear your name. I’m proud and grateful that you are, one and all, employed, married, reproducing and following Christ. Let me tell you what’s on the agenda for the next 20 years. 

The culture will scoff at what you do. I’ve read some shockingly stupid opinions, from people who were paid to express them, on the bondage of marriage and the uselessness of parenthood. These columns seem to cluster hatefully around Mother’s Day. A society that values the futile journey toward self-discovery above all things will never understand generous love. You’ve signed up to grow in love, patience and sacrifice while you disciple your children. One day you’ll look back and see that they, and you, are grown up in eternally important ways. 

Those you love are inside your guard. It’s a risk to love someone unconditionally. They know your soft spots, and their welfare becomes a question that disturbs your sleep and even grieves you at times. In a little over a decade, the number of people for whom I feel most spiritually (and otherwise) responsible has grown from four to 12. That’s a lot of people with access to all that I can give. That’s the risk of love, and it teaches us all a bit more about the love of God expressed ultimately in Christ. 

It’s “all about the kids,” kind of. There are some things children need that trump many other priorities. People who can’t feed themselves or otherwise provide necessities sometimes jump to the front of the line—above hobbies, sleep, personal goals, careers and wealth. For some of us, that provision is an instinct, but for all of us it is a commitment. 

It’s not “all about the kids.” Listen. This is big. If you’ve ever heard an airline briefing, you’ve noticed that we’re told to put on our own oxygen masks before putting masks on dependent children. Why do that? Clearly, unconscious adults can provide no help to anyone else. That’s true generally. It’s critical that parents provide a dependable foundation for everything a family requires. Mom and Dad’s marriage is that foundation. After our individual obedience to God, nothing is more important than this primary of all human institutions, which has implications for parenthood. After they have what they need (see above), the kids are not a higher priority than the relationship between their parents. That’s a false dichotomy. Keeping a strong marriage until the day we die is very much in the best interest of our children. This is not an argument for neglect or “us time” when we should be doing something else. It is an argument that Dad should never stop being attentive to the one for whom he has forsaken all others. It means that his buddies or TV programs take a seat further back than ever before. For Mom, it means Dad is still her beloved even when he grows less handsome and huggable than the babies. As they get older, children notice how Mom and Dad get along. And they will file it under “how men and women behave.” Teach that lesson intentionally, constantly, wholeheartedly.  

If it doesn’t mark you, you may not be doing it right. Fathers and mothers are by definition generous with their families. It’s strangely easier to say, “I’d enter a burning building for my family,” than to actually stay up late, work longer hours and pray fervently for the good of those entrusted to us. Maybe we’d all look younger, be richer and achieve more in our careers if we didn’t have kids, but that boat has now sailed and those “might have beens” are no longer ours. If stretch marks, baggy eyes, gray hair and “dad bod” really come with this parental role, they have their own glory, unattainable along any other course. 

You alone will answer for this stewardship. Teachers and pastors and grandparents have their own part to play, but you are the teachers and your own children are the disciples. Hold the rest of us accountable for what we teach your children. Guard them from fools, regardless of the role they occupy. Know in detail what others are telling your kids. Close some doors; turn off some devices. 

I could go on (you know that) but these seem prominent among the things I have learned in 34 years. You doubtless know and believe much of this already. I needed reminders along the way; maybe you will too. Mom and I are here for that.  

Happy Father’s Day, and a belated happy Mother’s Day, to us all,