The Art of Dadliness: What my foster daughters taught me about being a father

On Dec. 13, 2013, Greene County Children’s Division woke my wife and me out of our lazy, Saturday-morning slumber and asked if we would like to provide foster care for two children.

For months, we had prepared for this very moment—attending intensive training, completing multipage questionnaires, getting fingerprinted and finally receiving our foster care license. Our 5-year-old son was excited too. As an only child, he could not wait to meet his live-in playmates. We had even purchased a bunk bed for his room, expecting that we would be providing care for a similarly aged boy.

Greene County offered us two girls. Sisters. Ages 19 months and 2 months.

Like any sensible, middle-aged man—I was 44 at the time—looking at the prospect of diapers, bottles and princess dresses, I told the social worker no, hung up the phone and started to go back to sleep.

Then the voice of God, which sounded suspiciously like the voice of my wife, suggested that perhaps I should call back and say yes. Obedient servant that I am, I did. Several hours later, we found ourselves in a Sam’s Club parking lot buckling someone else’s daughters into the backseat of my car as snow fell to the ground.

Fast forward 18 months. The sun is shining, the air is warm and muggy, and I am weeks away from buckling “my” girls into the backseat of my car for the very last time. Their parents have completed their treatment plans and shown Children’s Division they can provide care for their daughters. I am proud of the incredible progress the parents have made. Even though they have expressed a desire to keep in touch with us, I know that reunification will change my relationship to my little princesses forever.

As I look back on our time together, I realize my girls have taught me a lot about the art of dadliness—the mindset and skillset of being a father. As Father’s Day approaches, let me share what I have learned.

Time Flies. Make the Most of It.
Our last day with the girls is scheduled for July 27. If my calculations are correct, on that date, they will have been with us for 590 days. That amounts to 14,160 hours, which is equal to 849,600 minutes, which divides up into 50,976,000 seconds. Those are big numbers, but they represent fleeting opportunities. And they fly quickly.

Even though our son will stay with us a lot longer, time with him is short too. Eighteen months with them is a compressed version of 18 years with him. When he takes the car out for his first drive alone, or heads off to college, or moves to another city for a job, or marries and starts a family of his own—will I look back on our time together with satisfaction at moments captured or with regret over opportunities lost? There’s only one way to find out: Carpe diem, “Seize the day!”—every minute and second of it.

Memories Matter. Make the Best of Them.
During their time with us, the girls have celebrated two Christmases and two birthdays. They have received numerous gifts of toys and clothes, WubbaNubbas and blankets. Those are not the things they will remember. Toys break. Children outgrow them. What matters are the memories we made together.

As a father, it is tempting—and easy—to substitute presents for presence. That temptation should be avoided. What kids want most is you, not the stuff you can give them. They want your undivided attention, the feeling that they matter to you, whatever you happen to be doing together. So put down that smart phone! Turn off the TV! Go outside and play! Read them a book! Give them a hug! Tell them, “I love you.” Then, do it again.

Admittedly, this can be difficult. Having kids means you often have to sacrifice your wants for their needs. But here is the key thing to remember: What you want changes. As you make memories with your kids, you begin to want memories more than stuff.

Mothers Matter. Love Them More.
Someone said, “The greatest gift a father gives his children is to love their mother.”

One night, I came home from work. As I walked through the door, with dogs barking and kids screaming, my wife took one look at me and said, “Your turn.” And it was. She had worked hard all day, even though she was sick and the kids were crazy. She deserved a break. Dads, your wife needs your help.

More than help, however, she needs your love. Long after our foster girls have left the home, long after our son has started his own family, my wife and I will still be together. The relationship you build in the parenting years will make or break the empty-nest years. It is easy to put off romance when you start multiplying kids in the home. Dads, don’t let that happen. As I like to young men getting married, “A happy wife is a happy life.”

God Loves. Share His Story Often.
Finally, make sure to put God’s love at the center of your dadliness. It is not for nothing that Jesus describes God as Father (Luke 11:11-13, NIV).  He is not an abusive or absentee dad, of course—two kinds of fathers that are far too prevalent in our society. He is the loving Father whose good news story your children need to hear early, often, and most of all.

Since my son was little, I have prayed the same prayer for him every night. I pray a similar prayer for my girls—though with a bit more urgency since their time with me is short. It goes like this: “Heavenly Father, thank you for my son! Thank you that he is a happy, healthy boy. I pray that you would help him have a good night’s sleep with no bad dreams so that he can be rested and ready to have a good day tomorrow. Thank you that I get to be his daddy! And I pray that he would learn to love and follow Jesus from an early age.”

More than praying this prayer, more than reading the Bible and taking them to church, I try to live a godly life for my son, daughters and wife to see, hear and experience. In a real way, I am their first Gospel. Make sure your dadliness is a story they want to read!

Not long ago, I was sitting in the play area at the local mall watching my son and the girls scamper about, when I overheard another father tell his wife that the noise of children playing bothered him so badly that he needed to walk away for time by himself. I wanted to stand up, grab the man’s T-shirt, and yell, “Man up, Dad!” God created you for this, and He has given you every skill you need to get it done. So, do it. Just do it!



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