The Intentional Dad
About the Guest
What is the main responsibility of a father? Is it to provide? Encourage? Arbitrate? Media veteran John Fuller asks fathers to consider what they'd like their son or daughter to be at 20 years of age and then encourages them to intentionally devise a plan for helping their children to get there.
What is the main responsibility of a father?
The Intentional Dad
Bob: You’ve heard the phrase “helicopter parents.” Those are the moms and dads who seem to hover around their child at all times—making sure that nothing goes wrong, that the child is always doing what he or she ought to be doing. John Fuller can relate to that a little bit.
John: I think, as a new dad, I wanted it all to be right. So, when my three-year-old had to be reminded for the fourth time that he shouldn’t do something, I jumped on him. I think that’s a very common thing for a new dad. That’s not appropriate. One of the things that I have learned is to look more at the character because these little things, the externals, they’ll come and go; but I want to see heart here. I want to see a character that reflects Christ.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 4th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. John Fuller joins us today with some wise counsel for dads who are becoming dads for the first time. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m just curious if you were sitting down with a young man, and he said, “Dennis, I just learned my wife’s expecting—going to be a dad for the first time.” You were to say to him, “Well, listen, I just have one piece of advice for you as you get ready to be a dad for the first time.” Do you know how you would complete that sentence?
Dennis: I know what my first response would be.
Dennis: I’d say, “Find a man who is a lap or two ahead of you in the race of life and develop a relationship with him. Say, ‘You know, as I start this thing out for the next three or four years—and we can make it a one-year renewable term, if you want to do that; so it’s not permanent—would you mind mentoring me on what it means to be a father, to be the husband of your wife who’s now a mother, and how you begin to shape this thing called fatherhood?’”
You’re not going to get the right messages from the culture. You need somebody who has been there and someone who is anchored in the Scriptures to do that. We have a gentleman who is with us today, a friend, John Fuller, co-host of Focus on the Family. We’re just thrilled to have you on the broadcast, John. It is good to have you on our home turf here.
John: It is fun to be here with you guys. I wish we had a couple of days to sit off mike and chat because I love and appreciate you both. You both have spoken into my life over the years in some pretty significant ways—real honor to be here.
Dennis: John has just finished a book called First Time Dad. He is the father to six. I just have to ask you, John, because I really wanted to know more about this relationship as I was reading your book, “What do you remember most about your dad? What do you appreciate most about him?”
John: I have a good dad. Growing up, he worked hard, usually, six days a week (although that sixth day was often a half day). He pulled me into his work world. I have memories of going—he was a manager at a paper mill. So, I’d go with him and sit at his desk, kind of look around, see him interacting with people. He was dedicated to us.
As a young kid, I think eight years old, I tried out for little league. I didn’t have the tools to make it. My dad noticed that there were other dads hurting for their kids, who didn’t make little league. So, he and another guy started something called the Independent League in our little community for guys who weren’t good enough for little league but wanted to play.
So, they set up this league where—
Dennis: I love it!
John: —every kid was guaranteed—
Dennis: I love it.
John: —three innings of play.
Dennis: That’s great.
John: It turned out—I think it is still going today. He was devoted to helping me in some areas where I needed to grow. So, a good dad, fun. We had a lot of laughs—great sense of humor. I picked up on that. To this day, some of the richest times in my own family, are those moments where we’re all together at the table laughing.
Bob: I’m sure, when you became a first-time dad, instinctively you drew on some of what he had modeled for you. I’m thinking about my own experience of becoming a first-time dad and thinking—I came in (we talked about this already this week)—I came in pretty confidently thinking, “Yes. I can handle this. I’ve got this down.”
Dennis: Were you pretty cocky?
Bob: What I was not was all that purposeful or intentional. If I were sitting down with a guy who had just come to me and said, “I’m about to be a first-time dad, what one piece of advice would you give me?” I’m curious how you would answer that question, too; but I’d say to the guy, “Think about what you’d like your new son or daughter to be like at age 18 or 20. That’s not going to happen just by accident, just naturally.
“If you’re not purposeful and intentional—if you don’t have some strategies in place as a dad to figure out how we get from here to there—how we make sure that the child at 18 is thinking and feeling these ways—then it probably won’t happen. You need to have some intentionality and some strategy.”
That, I don’t think I had. I just thought, “As long as I’m around, I’m fun, and we have a good relationship”—
Dennis: And we have a Christian home.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: It’s going to be—
Bob: It’ll all turn out okay.
Dennis: —like osmosis. They are going to absorb it.
Bob: If I were going back and starting again, I’d have a little more of a business plan in mind for how the child is going to get from here to there. You know?
Dennis: How would you answer the question, John?
John: You kind of stole my answer there, Bob. I would have something similar to that. I think I’d capture it with the word perspective. As—particularly, in this season of life—we have three teenage girls. They give me a hard time because I often follow that little statement up with a, “Pray for me,” because I have three teenage girls. (Laughter)
I need a man cave or something; but I often tell them, “No, no. I talk good about you.” I really do love having those girls. They are wonderful, but if you don’t have perspective and that new child—when that two-year-old looks at you and says, “No”—if you don’t have a perspective that, “Oh, this is going to be a long haul now,” that first “No,” is going to go on for 12, 15 years, or longer. If you don’t have that perspective, it’s going to be a really difficult slog.
I like what you said there about intentionality because we do need to have some strategies. I think a lot of guys just show up and think, “That’s it. I just have to be there, occasionally.”
I think perspective, at least right now, is helping me particularly with the teen years because if you get lost on those little things and you’re not looking down the road to the day, “Now, they are leaving soon,” you might make some mistakes. So, perspective; I like intentionality.
Dennis, I think you captured the heart of what I wanted with this book, which was some friendly mentoring through a book that says, “Here is how you navigate some of these years. Here’s how you get ready for some of what’s coming up. Here are some of the joys and challenges of being a dad.”
Dennis: When you’re done, John, when you’re all the way at the end of being done as a parent, how do you want your kids to describe your intentionality that we’re talking about here? You are a man of perspective. You’re a student of the Bible. You interview—help interview people, experts, on a daily radio program—so, you’re being mentored by—
John: All the time it seems.
Dennis: All the time. Yes. It’s like I’d go home from work some days, and I can’t believe that I get paid for this.
Dennis: Bob and I have just been two hours with someone who was teaching me how to teach the Christian life to people. Of course, we get to pass it on to our listeners. If you could fast forward all the way to the end, how do you want your children to have remembered you as a father?
John: I think it would be one of my kids—they’ve already given the handle that I like. It’s one of my three teenage daughters. We were—I cannot remember the circumstances—but she looked at me and said, “Oh, you’re the ‘Grace Guy.’ You’re the ‘Grace Guy.’”
I just thought—
John: The daughter saying this is a rather performance-oriented, rules-oriented kind of kid. For her to say that to me—just was powerful. I thought, “Oh, I want to be the ‘Grace Guy.’” I want to be the guy that represents God’s grace to my kids. I don’t want to be the guy that spent all of my time forming the rules and making sure they adhered to every little one. I want to get past that.
I want to look at the heart and to realize that, while you want adherence—eventually, you’ve got to loosen up. You’ve got to throw the kid the opportunity to make some choices, to make some mistakes. To demonstrate grace means we’re going to overlook the offense, and we’re going to just lavish love on you.
Now, that doesn’t mean there are no consequences; but I think for that child who said, “You’re the ‘Grace Guy,’” it is because I time and again would come to a point and say, “You know what you did was wrong, and there is a consequence; but you’re totally forgiven. I love you. I always will. Now, let’s forget it and move on.”
That might be better described as mercy by some, but for this child who always wanted to hit the rules—for the rest of the kids, too, I think they’ve seen that there’s a little more openness and a lot less concern on all the little rules. Those are important, but we’re less concerned with that and much more concerned with, “Who are you? Who are you inside? What’s your walk with God really like?” These little things, the externals, they’ll come and go; but I want to see heart here. I want to see a character that reflects Christ.
If I communicate that in a gracious way, I guess that would be how they’ve caught that.
Dennis: I think of First Corinthians 13, how you just described that kind of love that is written about by the Apostle Paul—love that is long-suffering, that believes the best, hopes the best, endures all things. That is so tough in the heat of the moment.
You described me as a younger father when I was very rules-oriented and really caught up in wanting the children to fulfill the letter of the law.
John: “We’re a Christian home; you’ve got to behave a certain way.”
Dennis: Yes. Sometimes parents can wrap their own ego around it and go, “Our kids are a reflection of us. Good grief! What are people going to think about us?”
Bob: Well, you’re on a national radio program talking about focusing on the family. (Laughter) I mean, that just adds another layer to it here; doesn’t it?
John: I joke with friends that I have a ministry to help them feel better about their families when my kids do certain things. It’s kind of like, “Your kid isn’t as bad as my kids. So, feel good about that; would you?” (Laughter)
Dennis: In a mentoring situation, what you’re talking about here is so important—is to take some of the conscientiousness and—it’s interesting. It’s a delicate balance here. You don’t want the dad to become so free, so without boundaries, that he says, “That’s alright.”
Dennis: “Anything goes.”
John: There are families where that happens. The mom is the one who is trying to tow the line with the rules. Of course, there is great tension in that family, in that marriage.
Dennis: In your relationship with Dena, who is the rule maker?
John: It depends. (Laughter) It depends on the age of the child and what the situation is. Dena—if Dena were here, she would say, “John is better with the teenagers. He’s better when the kids are older.” I think her sweet spot has been training those kids when they are younger. There is a natural problem that occurs when kids hit their teens, though, and that is mom’s want to continue “mommy-ing” often. Dad is getting ready to say, “Yes. You are on your own, baby. You’re going to be moving out here soon.”
I think I’ve been able to demonstrate to the kids what grace is and help them in that age range a little bit better than I did when I was younger.
Bob: Let me pick up on something you said because I felt it, too. When the kids were younger, it often felt like that was Mary Ann’s turf. She was more naturally inclined in that area. Still, as a dad, I recognized that I needed to press into that area and not just abandon and say, “I’ll wait to their teens, and then I’ll engage.”
So, it was the things like reading to them at night, at bedtime. It was the opportunities that I took to enter into their world, even though I didn’t necessarily feel all that well-equipped. It felt a little awkward to me, and it felt like it was more Mary Ann’s sweet spot.
A first-time dad can’t just tune out for the first ten years of a child’s life and then think, “Okay, now I’ll get involved;” right?
John: That is so well said, Bob. I remember a co-worker who was (to use Dennis’ words) a couple of laps in the race ahead of me. He looked at me one time and he said, “You know, kids are really just—they’re no good until you can talk to them at about nine or ten.” (Laughter) This is a Christian dad with four kids.
I’m happy to say I disregarded that advice and found ways to get on the floor, roll around, and wrestle with my kids when they were younger—to have fun at their level. That doesn’t come naturally. I get tired of playing Lego’s® for two hours—
John: —when the little boy doesn’t. I really don’t like, Bob, sitting down having tea parties with my little girls at the little thing with the dolls or the animals. I mean, that’s insufferable at times; but you’re point is so well-made. We have to do that as guys, particularly, when they are younger. That is such a crucial time for us, as dads, to plug-in.
So, yes, you’re going to be feeling awkward a lot; but it is absolutely worth it. Eventually, you’re going to like some of that. I mean, I miss the tea party days, okay? My girls don’t invite me to do that anymore. (Laughter)
We touched on that last time—the season is very short. So, when you have an opportunity—and I had to do this, by the way, writing this book—I had to say, “The book will wait. My kids want time with me.” So, make the choice to be there for them and to do something with them from day one.
I used to rock Dakota to bed every night to sleep. I’d sing Amazing Grace and some other songs. I loved those days. It was—that was not intuitive for me, but I came to love those days. Well, he’s 23 years old and doesn’t call me and ask me to sing him to sleep anymore at night. Those are rich moments.
I think, as dads, we have to recognize that we have great power in those younger years, in particular. We have to show up and do fathering well. We have to do so because we’re called to and because in a short time, those moments are gone.
Bob: Just a little glimmer of hope for you here. The other night I got to rock and sing to my grandson. So, those—
John: It’s coming. Yes.
Bob: —days are ahead.
John: That’s rich time; isn’t it?
Dennis: Well, there is a reason why Dakota doesn’t ask you to rock him. Isn’t he the one who is 6’8”? (Laughter)
Dennis: I mean, picture that in a rocking chair!
John: It just wouldn’t work. It would be very difficult.
Dennis: Just for a moment, I want you to tell us how you would apply—you’re
Mr. Grace, alright—you’re—
John: Yes. By the way, that’s just God’s work in my life; okay?
Dennis: I understand; I understand. I just want to hear—I want to hear how it occurred practically in the area of teenage girls and modest dress.
Now, it would never happen in your household; but if one of your daughters came down ready for church, or came down ready for school, wearing something that she’d worn her mother out at the mall about that—she’d been able to purchase and it wasn’t the right thing—it was immodest. How would Mr. Grace handle that moment?
John: You mean, how have I handled that moment? It hasn’t been church, but—
Dennis: I was giving you an out.
John: Yes. No, no, you—
Dennis: I was giving you an out there.
John: That’s a softball, Dennis, because we have been there. Despite my girls growing up in a Christian home, knowing about modesty—we’ve chosen to be rather direct with them. So, I might look and say, “You know, Sweetheart, if I’m in Sunday school class with you, I just want to tell you where my eyes are going to be during that time; okay? You’re not trying to draw attention to your body that way, but I’m just telling you that teenage guys are looking at you; and they’re paying attention.”
In fact, just a few weeks ago, my daughter was out. We were together. We got home and I said, “I don’t think you should wear those shorts anymore.” She said, “Oh, I didn’t think about it, Dad, but you are right. I was aware of myself as we started that hike—that outdoor hike. I knew I probably should have worn something a little more modest.”
So, we’ve just chosen to be very upfront with them about how guys are wired and to assume they’re not trying to be enticing; they are just following the pressures of the world and the dictates of the culture that says, “More skin is better.”
I don’t say, “You’ve got to change. You can’t go out looking that way. You look like some—” I don’t say that. I try to reason with them and help them understand why they need to reconsider what they’re doing there. Modesty is a tough one. I think every parent has to struggle with that at some point in time or another.
Dennis: There is no doubt about that. When the Apostle Paul greeted many of the churches that he wrote to, he would greet them with two words. Do you remember what they were?
Bob: Grace and peace.
John: Grace and peace.
Dennis: Grace and peace. I’ve been thinking about you being Mr. Grace. I’m thinking, “Man, that’s a great way to describe a parent.” Again, if it’s in proper balance with the truth and Christ lives in you—“and we beheld His glory,”—He has truth and grace as a part of who He is—then, we can demonstrate that grace to our kids. This culture—they need to know of God’s grace. They need to know about forgiveness because they are not going to do it all 100 percent right. They are going to need to know God’s forgiveness.
There is one last thing, though, John, I want you to do before we’re done here on FamilyLife Today. Before we do that, I want Bob to tell our listeners how the guys can get a copy of your book, First Time Dad—or the wives can buy it for them. This is going to be a needed bedside reading for a lot of fathers in the coming days.
Bob: In fact, if you know somebody who is about to become a first-time dad, this would be a great gift to give to him. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and find out how you can order a copy of John Fuller’s book, First Time Dad. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call us, if that is easier, 1-800-358-6329. That is
1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Get in touch with us and let us know that you’d like a copy of John Fuller’s book, First Time Dad, sent out to you.
I don’t know if your family does anything elaborate or special at Thanksgiving, but I hope during this season, as moms and dads, you take advantage of the natural opportunity we have to talk about thankfulness and gratitude—that character quality that is a biblical character quality—something that is a work of God in our own hearts.
Barbara Rainey wrote a devotional book a couple of years ago called Growing Together in Gratitude, where she took seven stories that emphasize the importance of cultivating a grateful heart. Her hope was that at the dinner table, the breakfast table, or when you do family devotions, you might read those stories out loud. This is a great time of year to make that an emphasis for your family.
We are making Barbara’s book available this month to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We depend on donations to cover more than 65 percent of our annual expenses—the costs associated with producing and syndicating this program—those are covered by folks like you who will, on occasion, get in touch with us and make a donation. So, if you can do that today, be sure to request a copy of Barbara’s book.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; click the button there that says, “I Care.” Everything is set up for you to make your donation and to receive Barbara’s book; or call
1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone. Just ask for a copy of the book on gratitude by Barbara Rainey.
Along with the book, we’re going to send you a couple of Thanksgiving prayer cards. We’ll send out our, “Thanks,” as well because we really do appreciate your partnership with us; and we’re grateful for your financial support of the ministry.
I just want to say that it has been a treat, I think, for both of us, Dennis, to have my friend and my colleague, John Fuller, joining us as a guest today on FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: Well, John is the author of a new book called First Time Dad: The Stuff You Really Need to Know. There is one last thing I wanted you to do here on the broadcast. As I was reading your book, I thought it would be poignant to have you give your dad a tribute. He is still alive.
John: He is.
Dennis: Maybe we’ll have him listen to our broadcast on this day. We’ve given a few guests over the years the opportunity here at the end of our broadcast to seat their father or their mother across the table from them. Bob and I leave the room. It’s just you and your dad—first person. Do you know how you would honor him with a tribute?
John: You know, Dad, you’ve demonstrated over the years your deep love for your kids. I know we wore you ragged sometimes, but you were there in a world where too many kids grow up with dad constantly after mom because she’s not measuring up. You demonstrated a love and commitment to Mom and to us kids that I still just thank God for.
You taught us so much—not formally, but so much informally, so many lessons along the way: fixing bikes together, playing baseball in the Independent League, just seeing you providing the kind of direction and leadership the family needed. Those are things I’ve tried to emulate. I’m grateful for your lessons. I’m grateful for your role modeling. I’m grateful for your love. Thank you. Thank you very much.
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