My son Chance is now a teenager, which brings its own set of joys and challenges. A lot of things are changing — for him and for me. Some days we get along great, but of course we have our share of tension and disagreements. Some days he's a knucklehead, and I know I am, too, at times. So I need to be balanced as I relate to him.
On one side is the fun. To help maintain a strong relationship, I've started a regular routine on school days. He goes out in front of our house to wait for the bus; I grab a cup of coffee and join him for a few minutes while he's waiting. He's a captive audience then, and it's a great opportunity to check in, ask him a few questions and just be together.
Oh, yeah, I should probably mention … I do all this while still wearing my bathrobe.
So, as the minutes pass, he'll get this look on his face and just stare at me.
"What's wrong, Son?" I'll ask.
He'll say, "I'm waiting for you to go back in the house."
He never enjoys my mischievous smile at this point. "Dad," he'll say, "don't stand out here! The bus is coming around the corner in a few seconds."
It's probably Chance's biggest fear right now that I — his out-of touch father — would embarrass him more than I already have. If I ever stayed outside in my bathrobe when the bus pulled up — or maybe went to the curb and waved to all his classmates — his life would be over right then and there. So I always manage to be back in the house before the bus gets close.
But, don't you know, I like to have some fun with it. On my way back in the house, I'll flirt with that front door a little bit. "Hmm. You think they could see me if I stood here? How about here?"
He'll say, "Dad, don't!" But he knows I'm just having fun. And I know he'll find other ways to get back at me.
Isn't it part of a father's job to embarrass his kids? Did your father do that? Since we're going to be uncool for a few years in our kids' eyes, we may as well have a little fun with it, right? It's OK to pick them up from school in the oldest car we have, blasting classic rock or R&B out the windows, or start the wave at the next sports event. Maybe we could even wear our favorite Hawaiian shorts around their friends, or pull out the baby album when they bring a date home for dinner.
I do believe we need to have a lot of fun with our kids, and humor will actually help them develop higher creative and coping skills. There's even room for some good-natured teasing, as long as we're sensitive to the possibility of going too far and becoming mean-spirited.
That's the other side — the humility we need to show our kids. Not long ago, I was joking around with Chance and I did go too far. I said something in fun that I later realized had cut deeper. So I went back to him and said, "Son, Daddy has to ask for your forgiveness. The words I said to you this morning and how I said them were not right, and I'm sorry. I have to be more discerning and more sensitive to what you're going through."
As we relate to our children and coach them to be responsible, God-fearing adults, there's a lot of room for humor, energy and fun. Those activities bring more interest and excitement to life, and they provide great bonding opportunities. But we must balance this with self-control and humility. Balanced fathering should be our goal.
I believe that kind of balance is part of what Paul had in mind when he wrote in Ephesians 6:4, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord."
Dads who don't have fun with their kids will exasperate them. If my fathering is always about making sure my son behaves or performs to a certain standard, he'll be frustrated and want to give up. More than once there's been no patience or kindness in my voice when I've said to him, "Chance, why isn't your room clean?" Or, "Son, why do you continue to do that when I told you it needs to be done this way?"
I often stand in front of dads' groups and say things like, "Don't sweat the small stuff. There are more important things than a clean room." Then I'll forget my own advice when I get home. Sure, Chance has to get better at some things — but I should know better, too.
I guess it shows I'm doing OK when I tuck him into bed at night and he reaches out his arms and says, "Dad, I need a hug." There's nothing quite like it.
But then, don't you know, the next morning we'll be in front of our house, me in my bathrobe and Chance giving me that anxious look — with a hint of a smile behind it.
It's good to be a dad.