Pastor John K. Jenkins Sr.
April 7, 2011
During the course of my 50 years of life, I have had many experiences. Like most of you, I have had my share of ups and downs. I am thankful for many things, but the thing that I am extremely thankful for is the relationship that God has given me with my father. Few words can express the importance of a father being involved and connected in the life of his child. The many ills troubling our communities can often be traced to the absence of fathers.
A father’s involvement in the lives of his children is so important to God that He addresses it in the Bible’s last verse of the Old Testament. Malachi 4:6 says, “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse." These prophetic words from the prophet Malachi declare that God will move on the hearts of fathers toward their children and the heart of children toward their fathers. Failure to adhere to this spiritual truth promises to bring a curse upon the earth. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, the basis of overflowing prisons, the high rate of high school drop outs, the overwhelming number of teenage pregnancies and other challenges facing our communities can be attributed to absentee fathers.1
The Department of Justice asserts many young men have become incarcerated because they became involved in activities that were fueled by becoming connected with gangs where they desired to be accepted and affirmed. They were often looking for the love and value that should have come from their fathers. A disproportionate number of young men in prison will testify to this fact. Likewise, many young ladies have been bruised emotionally because they surrendered their love and passion in an effort to be loved and accepted by those who used them to satisfy their lustful desires. These young ladies often are in search for the love and acceptance of their fathers.
What can fathers and men of our communities do to address and change this tragic pattern that repeats itself over and over again? There are two simple actions I believe fathers can do to contribute significantly to these challenges and bring change.
Every child yearns for their father to take the time and effort to “see” them. It is a basic act, but critically important to the development of a child’s psyche and self-esteem. When a father takes the time out of his schedule and responsibilities to visualize the child participating and doing something important to the child, it communicates love and acceptance in a way that is impossible for any other person to replicate.
Some of the most vivid memories in my life come from times when my father simply showed up to “see me.” I felt a sense of pride and importance knowing that “my daddy is here.” When I graduated from the 6th grade, the memory that stands out to me was my father’s presence. When I received a merit badge as a scout, I remember that my father was there. These moments have become branded in my heart and memory. I don’t know words in the human language that can adequately express the feelings and strength I gained from my father’s presence. Knowing that he saw me participate, get my award or play the game was so fulfilling. Even if I was not the best at what I was doing or won the game or played well, something about him being there made me a winner.
Likewise, I can remember times when he was not there. The reasons for his absences were irrelevant to me. He could have been traveling, working, sick or any other number of things that were justifiable reasons. However, it did not matter to me. I just remember that he didn’t see me. When I played football, basketball or even involvement in other activities important to me, I remember the times that “he missed it.” I, like all children, wanted my father to be at every single event in my life. But the truth is that he could not possibly be at “everything.” It is unfortunately the other edge of the two-edged sword of visualization. Seeing and not seeing carries pleasure and pain.
You might be wondering, “So what does a father do?” I suggest that fathers do two things in relationship to this dilemma. First, spend the time allowing your child to give you the blow-by- blow description of the events when you were unable to be present. As soon as you are practically able, whether in person, on the phone or by pen, have your child give you the details of the events, their feelings, their fears, their thoughts and any other components that will help you get the picture of their experience. Ask them questions to bring out the experience. I believe the process of your child sharing their thoughts, feelings and moments will assist them in sensing that daddy “saw” even when he didn’t “see.”
Secondly, I suggest that a father highlight the moments when he is able to see and keep images in the heart and mind of his child. Photo and video technology is perfect for capturing special moments. Scattered throughout my home and in my children’s room are pictures. Pictures of them playing sports, attending affairs, performing and taking vacations and others activities are powerful. Memories are even more significant when daddy is in the picture. If I had it to do over again, that is certainly one of the areas that I would do more. While I have taken significant photos with my children at Disney World, on a ride, with Mickey or Minnie Mouse or photos at home during Christmas, I would beef up my photo and video skills and do significantly more. These images help a child reflect and remember daddy’s presence. Nothing can take the place of being able to reflect upon those times and moments.
Whatever it takes, if it is in your power to visualize your child doing or performing, make it happen! The timeframe in their lives when you can do this important act is limited. We don’t have eternity to see them so we must take advantage of the window of opportunity when it is available. And it can only be done by you! Others can come and watch, but only daddy can “see.” Whether it’s playing a game, receiving an award or recognition, performing in a play or in a band, singing a song, reciting a poem, dancing or graduating, they desperately need for you to see them do it!
My children came up with an unflattering name for me. It was “Dream Killer.” They concluded it was better not to tell me their hopes and dreams because I would inevitably shoot it down. You see, when they shared their dreams or visions, I would give them a multitude of reasons as to why it would not work. My normal temperament always directs me to see the challenges of a project rather than the opportunities. I did not realize the impact of shooting down their dreams and dashing their hopes. The reality of this image of me was the center of one of our family discussions. They were all too happy to point out how I had shot down their dreams. It culminated with a short skit that they performed at a public gathering. The skit consisted of each of them holding a toy rifle, and one by one they shared one of their dreams. And then after one would share their dream, they simultaneously tossed the dream in the air. Like skeet, they aimed and shot it down. Sound effects included! While we laughed, it made me see how the words I spoke to my children had dashed their hopes and aspirations for their lives. From that point, I determined from their dialog how I would be a dream fulfiller instead of a dream killer.
Today, my focus is looking for ways to encourage my children with their dreams and desires. Every child has a dream. They may not discuss it, but deep in every child’s heart is a dream about something. Recently, my youngest daughter, who loves to read, asked me if I would help her publish a book. In her 12-year-old mind, she has concluded that she can write an interesting story and wanted to know if her daddy would help make it happen. My natural normal temperament would be to tell her all the reasons that it could not happen. Since I now understand the need to validate her dream, I am more encouraging and will help make it happen. We have periodic discussions about how her book is coming along, what it is about and how it will conclude. I have learned this is one of the most powerful things a father can do with his child. Help them dream. Validate their hopes. Give validity to their thoughts. Yes, a father can help a child fulfill their dreams or he can shoot them down.
There are many ways that fathers shoot down their children’s dreams. Silence, disinterest, a lack of dialog and suggestions and other methods can all be actions which destroy a child’s passion to pursue a dream in their heart. There are enough discouragers and naysayers in the world that our children don’t need the discouragement coming from a place or a person who should be a source of strength.
Ultimately, a father can put some wind beneath his child’s wings by engaging in discussion about their dreams. Help them figure out what steps they need to take to achieve their dream. It’s called validation. Giving credence, affirming their desire and speaking life to their hopes validates a child’s thoughts, hopes and dreams.
Finally, the question must be asked, “Why do fathers not perform well in these two basic areas?” Why are far too many fathers absent from seeing their children? Why are fathers not speaking words of affirmation and validation to their seed? With all the statistics and facts about the importance of a father being engaged in their child’s life, why do many fathers shy away from this key and significant role?
One may conclude many men have never seen these acts of visualization or validation modeled or demonstrated before them from their fathers. Having been fatherless themselves, they are untrained and unlearned in what a good father looks like and what he should be doing. They didn’t have their fathers see them participate in activities or speak words of validation regarding their dreams and aspirations. What some men experienced as children are absent or disconnected fathers. They have not had the powerful imagery of a dad playing catch with them, attending that special event, cheering a son from the stands or affirming their future aspirations. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to do that which you have not been taught or what you have not seen modeled. Too many men consequently fall in this category.
The lack of a positive role model has been further complicated by the challenge of men who strive to be significant at the expense of their marriages and their children. Many men, it seems, are driven to succeed and accomplish their goals in life. They want to climb the ladder of success, win in the game of life, make a lot of money, gain fame and recognition or reach the goals that they have established for themselves. How tragic to be a success in your career, but a failure as a father! What does it gain a man to be known by thousands, yet unrecognized by his children? Is there real fulfillment when you have earned a lot of money, bought a lot of toys but left a trail of pain and agony in the journey because you never had time for your children? The hearts of so many children have been wounded, sometimes almost beyond repair, because their fathers were nowhere to be found to see or affirm them. The long-term impact can have devastating effects on children behaviorally, socially, emotionally and even intellectually.
The other issue that keeps men out of the lives of seeing and supporting their children is “baby momma drama.” That’s right. Drama with the baby’s momma! The relationship with the woman that they once had pleasure and delight with has changed into a hostile and difficult relationship. Unfortunately, some mothers use their child as a weapon against the father. Perhaps because the father is not doing what the mother wants him to do or because of anger that the relationship has soured, many mothers deny the father access and involvement in the child’s life. Likewise, some fathers have refused to support their child or the mother because the mother is not doing what the father wants done. A child should never be used as an instrument to bring emotional damage or pain to another adult. Moreover, a child should never be denied access to a parent for the purpose of causing pain to others.
Fathers, whatever it takes, whatever you have to do, get and stay connected in the life of your child. Figure out a way to rearrange your schedule, make that phone call, attend that event, take that picture, listen to the story, affirm their dream and make them feel special and loved. Your child is in desperate need of your love, attention and concern. Nobody can fulfill the unique assignment that God gave you as a father except you!