Do you remember the moment when you learned you were going to be a father? I do. My wife, Jill, and I had been married for a short time when she came to me with pure joy on her face. “I’m pregnant!” she exclaimed. Tears streamed down this tough old football player’s face—not so old back then—as we rejoiced together. While joy was my first thought, wondering how to be a good dad came in as a close second.
I thought about my birth father, Ed Tandy, who’d heard those same words from my mother, yet died when his Navy fighter jet crashed a month before I was born. He celebrated the news with my mom, just like Jill and I did, but he never had the chance to father me.
Many men struggle as fathers today, but not because we don’t love our children. We struggle because so many of us had no father in our own lives, or we were raised by dads who were never fathered themselves. You matter, Dad — to both God and your family. God wants to help you become the father your children need.
Your capacity to love your children increases the more you understand and embrace God’s love for you. The more love you receive from your heavenly Father, the more you will have to give as a man, husband and parent. This became my goal: to recognize that I was being fathered by God so that I could then parent my own children the same way.
7 Ways How to Be a Good Dad
So how do you raise your children to be everything God calls them to be? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Use Your Words To Encourage Your Children
The words you speak to and about your children can either build them up or tear them down. Think about all the things you said to your sons and daughters this past week. How many words were instructive or encouraging? How many of them were empowering words that started with: “Do you know what Dad loves about you?”
2. Model the Person You Want Your Kids To Become
Have you heard the saying “values are caught, not taught?” This means that children often pick up character values more from what they see us do than from what we tell them. This is especially true in fathering: Your children are always watching you. I’ve preached a lot of sermons to my kids through the years, yet the sermons that had the greatest impact were usually the ones I lived out in front of them. Our children learn by imitating us.
Jesus lived the message He preached. He didn’t instruct His followers to do something He wouldn’t do. In terms of parenting, the most powerful example you can give your children is being the man you are right now — the man Christ is shaping you to be.
3. Show Your Kids How To Spend Time With God
When my son Edward was about 3 years old, he came to my office door during my quiet time.
“What are you doing, Dad?” he asked.
“I’m spending time with God.”
Edward looked at me and asked, “Can I spend time with you and God too?” His question was both encouraging and instructive. I discovered how my private life affected my son. Like most boys, Edward started out wanting to be just like his dad.
I invited him into my office and handed him one of my Bibles. Edward watched me, and I started reading quietly. In that moment I was doing more to teach Edward about seeking the Lord than my best sermons ever did. If you can teach your children to embrace God’s Word, you can help pass that same legacy through them and into the lives of your grandchildren.
You might be thinking, “That sounds great, Ed, but my children are grown now and don’t even go to church anymore. What can I do?” Let me offer some encouragement: As long as you’re alive, it is never too late to be the father your kids need. You can still be a blessing to them no matter the state of your relationship. I’ve seen 90-year-old fathers reconnect with children who are now in their 60s, healing years of hurt and separation.
4. Be the Kind of Man You Want Your Daughter To Marry
The area where I needed God’s fathering help most of all was with my daughters. Jill and I have two amazing girls who are just like their mom, and they totally intimidated me as a father. I played in the NFL against the legendary Hall of Fame defensive tackle known as “Mean Joe” Greene, and he was a pushover compared to my daughters.
Jill saw how I was struggling with my girls, in part because I didn’t know how to give them the affection every daughter needs from her dad. So she asked me a question: “Would you like your daughters to one day choose great men to be their husbands?” Well, of course, that’s what I wanted, yet I thought my role was to be my daughters’ protector — to chase away the bad apples.
But Jill saw things differently. She encouraged me to become the type of man I’d want my daughters to marry — to be an example for them as they developed their own relationships and got married. A father wants a son-in-law who will honor and respect his daughter, so I learned how to love my daughters and show them the affection they need and deserve.
5. Become a Better Father
Much like your relationship with your wife, you don’t want bitterness or resentment to develop between you and your children. Many times they won’t be open with you if there is lingering unforgiveness. (Did you have parents who apologized after they hurt you? Most men I meet never had a father who learned to ask for forgiveness.)
After years of not knowing how to heal my relationship with my oldest daughter, Jessica, I began by saying, “I want to be a better father to you, and I need your help with two issues.”
Then I asked her these questions:
- “What are the things I’ve done that hurt you so I can ask your forgiveness?”
- “What are some things I could do to show you how much I love you?”
You can do the same with your daughter.
- What are the things I’ve done that hurt you? I want to know so I can ask for forgiveness. Whatever your daughter says in response to this question, don’t argue, disagree or make excuses. Your only goal in this moment is to hear her heart. Buckle up and listen, and then ask forgiveness for each of the things she tells you. It might take some time and a few attempts if you’ve never done this before, but it will transform the way you process the pain and hurt that every family has.
- What are some things I could do to show you how much I love you? As you open your heart to your daughter, she may begin to feel comfortable enough to open her heart to you, too. Write down what she says and put it in your planner or phone. But listening is only half the battle. You must follow through on what she says.
These questions helped unlock my relationships with all of my children, and they can unlock your family’s relationships, too.
6. Love Your Wife in Front of Your Kids
I didn’t have the greatest role models when it came to marriage. When I first married Jill, let’s just say that I needed a lot of work in understanding how to connect with my wife.
I came to understand the positive influence that my regular date nights with Jill had on all of our children. They taught my sons to pursue (and keep pursuing) the women God would lead them to one day. They watched me romance my wife throughout their younger years, and now I see them romancing their own wives. Those date nights also gave our daughters an example of what they should expect from future relationships.
7. Discover the Father You’ve Always Wanted
One Christmas as our family was handing out presents around the tree, I remember watching my children, who are now parents to my amazing grandkids. My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude as I thought back to more than 25 years earlier. That’s when I discovered the love and blessings of my heavenly Father — things I never received from my earthly dad.
With tears in my eyes, I prayed, “Father, thank You for becoming the Father I lost before I was born. Thank You for teaching me how to receive from You like Your Son, Jesus, did.”
In that moment, I knew that God wanted the same thing not just for me but for every father. Since then it has been my goal to tell men that God is the Father they have always wanted.