When I became a Christian, I described my newfound faith and all the things the staff leaders of Cru, a Christian group on campus, did for me and other students. I told my father about it, but he was skeptical. He told me they were probably a radical group disguised as Christians to lead astray unsuspecting students, and he wanted to meet these people.
So one Sunday, he and I headed to the church they attended. I doubt my dad had ever been in a Protestant church. But being in unfamiliar territory was of little concern to him, as long as he could actually see what I was doing and with whom.
After the service, my dad met the Cru staff and many of my fellow student friends. He liked them.
Afterward he said to me, “You can do anything you want with them. I trust you.”
That time with my father was one of the neatest experiences we ever had together. He cared enough about whom I was hanging with and what I was doing to check it out. Basically, he was saying, I love you too much not to care about your life.
“I wish my dad cared . . .”
The presence and involvement of a father is unlike anything else in the universe. That’s because dads mimic what our heavenly Father does for us, His children — He protects, shelters, comforts and loves. As dads our presence and words hold great power in the lives of our teens.
I saw that power at work the day I went with my daughter into a very hip, fashionable store for teens. She wanted to buy a shirt. It wasn’t my kind of shop, but I wanted to show I cared about her so I went where she wanted to go.
As I entered the store, however, I stopped. Adorning the walls were pictures of half-naked young women (probably not much older than my daughter) lying on top of equally undressed young men.
After my daughter picked the shirt she wanted, we took it to the counter to pay. A young man and young woman were waiting to handle the sale. They were probably around 19 years old. As the young man rang up our purchase, I informed him that I was offended by the displays on the walls.
“Please pass my comments on to the manager,” I insisted.
Of course, I didn’t stop there, even though my daughter, embarrassed by my approach, was turning red.
“How do you feel about working in this environment, particularly working alongside a young lady?” I asked him. He sheepishly looked down, not knowing how to respond, I suppose.
Then I asked the young lady, “How do you feel about all this? Are you offended, even a little? Does this promote the wholesome way in which you’d like to be perceived by the young man working alongside you?”
At that point, my daughter blurted out loud, “Dad, they don’t care!”
As if on cue, the young man said, “I wish my father cared as much."
That was his exact quote. I’ll never forget it.I wish my father cared as much. Those words resonated in my heart. I suspect that rarely did this young man see evidence of a father standing up for what he believed would protect his child.
Love them enough to speak truth
I know I embarrassed my daughter that day at the mall. But just as my father had done for me, I loved my child too much not to check things out and speak truth into situations. And later as she processed what happened, she told me how grateful she was to have a father who cared enough to be there and say something.
In Deuteronomy 11:18-19, Moses commanded fathers: “Lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
It’s not enough to bring children into the world and care for their physical and emotional needs. There is a spiritual need all children have that must be addressed, and God asks us as fathers to meet that need.
All fathers are teachers. Some are absent. Some are reluctant. But children will learn something from us. A father teaches through his actions, his love and his communication about character and truth in everyday experiences. The question is what do we want them to learn? A dad’s presence and words are as important to teens today as they were in earlier times.
Every experience is an opportunity to teach. Being there is half the battle as a father — being someone who exhibits strength, not measured by how much you can lift, but by how much you can share.
Our children are watching and listening to see how we will act and what we’ll say. May they hear others say about us, “I wish my father cared as much.”Joe Battaglia is executive producer of the nationally syndicated radio program “Keep the Faith” and coauthor of That’s My Dad!