My youngest child, our son, turned 4 years old recently. I’m amazed at how much he mimics those around him. At this stage of development, he is easily influenced. He watches me, his mother, his sisters, his preschool teacher, and his peers very closely. He repeats what he sees in movies and on TV shows—even hilariously shouting at the top of his lungs, “I’m living alone! I’m living alone!” at a family gathering after watching Home Alone over the holidays.
It has me thinking. These next few years could be very important to shaping the kind of person he will become. Right now, he’s an innocent 4-year-old. He’s smart, loving, and very friendly. He’s determined and wants to help on all kinds of projects. Last weekend he picked up a large shovel and started scooping debris into a wheelbarrow as we tore down an old structure at a family member’s residence. “I can do it all by myself,” he shouted as I tried to help him.
As a father, I want to be proactive and intentional in shaping my son into a respectful person and faithful follower of Christ. So I listed the top five most important things I hope my son will learn as he grows up.
Embrace the grind and lead the way.
I pray my son knows the value of a hard day’s work and taking on the responsibility of leadership. Be someone whom others turn to for answers. Be the first to show up and the last to leave when needed. He should know that nothing will just be handed to him. I tell this to his older sisters, too: I’ll always be there to help them and provide them with what they need. Yet, if I feel they can do something on their own without my help, then I challenge them to do it. With me acting as a safety net, it’s my hope that he builds confidence to step out and try new things. Especially hard things. In everything he does, he should try his best and see it through to the very end.
See the big picture. Don’t worry about the small stuff.
Even the Bible indicates that we can’t add a single moment to our lives by worrying. Especially in an age of social media, I witness people losing their minds over small things. Just like a couple of toddlers fighting over a toy, people find new things every day about which to worry and get upset. I pray my son can stay focused on accomplishing his goals and maintaining peace even in contentious moments. May he not get distracted by nay-sayers and haters of all kinds. Those individuals and distractions are only bumps in the road, and not mountains to block your way.
Your time and energy are valuable. Ask yourself, “Is this a big issue or a small issue?” Then respond appropriately. Make sure your strength of character is never questioned based on your actions.
Understand the impact you can have on others.
This is a big one. If my son learns only one thing from me over my lifetime, I hope it’s this. No matter what, treat others with respect. Show love, kindness, and grace in all situations. Even when someone yells at you, even if they hurt you, even if they seemingly don’t deserve it, respond (don’t react) in a way that reflects God’s love. This doesn’t mean you should back down when provoked, but handle tough people and situations diplomatically.
When it comes to your personal friends and family, lift them up. Show them and tell them how much you care. Be present. Show up to celebrations joyfully. Be supportive when they’re feeling down. Get involved in things they enjoy. There are few things better than seeing faces light up when you enter the room. Be the reason people smile.
When you’re older and go on your first date, and every subsequent date after that, treat that person with a high level of respect. Make them feel special, cared for, and safe at all times. Also know that you are worthy of the same in return.
Overall, invest in relationships. Money and things will come and go, but people and relationships should be treasured above all that.
Let faith guide your decisions.
My son has already started to display an understanding of faith and prayer. It’s a good start, but as he matures, I will continue to instill in him the importance of having a strong relationship with Christ. For we can plan and plan all we want, but God will decide our steps. I hope my son understands the importance of giving up control and not forcing his own plans into action. There are times we must step back, intentionally pray, and invite God to take the wheel. The outcome may surprise you in the best way possible!
Be the kind of friend who offers a favor and expects nothing in return.
One thing about being a dad is that you can continually learn from other dads and people around you. For me, this lesson is a takeaway from a good friend of mine. He’s a guy who will do absolutely anything for you and ask for nothing. He’s been a great help to me over the years, whether offering his truck to haul something, meeting up for a beer when I needed a break, and generally lending a helping hand at a moment’s notice. I’ve always admired that quality in my friend and I’ve since tried to model that for my kids. I hope my son sees this and grows into someone who actively seeks to help and serve others, with no regard for what he gets out of it.
This isn’t all that I’ll teach my son. There’s nothing written here about how to change a tire, how to catch and clean a fish, or how to launch a tin can 30 feet into the air with a single firecracker.
However, these core lessons will provide a foundation for growing into a strong young man with a kind heart. Even when he faces hard times and tough choices, maybe these values will provide some direction and instruction along the winding road of life. Perhaps someday he’ll have a son of his own whom he can influence in a similar, positive manner.
The gifts we give to our children now can be handed down for generations, impacting the lives of countless others along the way. As a father, I think about that a lot. That’s an important and powerful responsibility.