The Present Dad
Dr. Doug Posey
Dr. John Trent leads a ministry called Strong Families. He has written volumes on issues of family and parenting. In a magazine article, Dr. Trent related the following story:
“Not long ago, my family and I had the privilege of going on a cruise. As I sat on the deck drinking coffee, I overheard a heartbreaking conversation between a 10-year-old boy and his mother.
‘But why, Mom?’ the boy asked, oblivious to those around him. ‘Why did he even bother to come?’
I could see his mother struggle to frame her answer. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘he's here. And he paid for all of us to go on this trip.’
‘He's not here!’ her son shouted. ‘He's been on the phone or on his computer the whole time!’
And then came the shot to the heart: ‘Doesn't he want to be with me?’
You can't get much closer, physically, than spending seven days in a tiny cabin on a cruise ship. But what broke this boy's heart was seeing double—having a dad physically present but emotionally and relationally absent.
It was to me. I'm amazed at how quickly my children are growing up. As I think back, I'm ashamed at how many times I've looked past Kari to catch a meaningless play in some game, or hurried through a bedtime story with Laura so I could get back to the computer to finish a project.”
─ John Trent, "A Father's Heart," Christian Parenting Today (Nov./Dec. 1999)
How true. It reminds me of a poignant lesson I once learned from a documentary on elephants. What!? Seriously, elephants. It illustrated the importance of the presence of dads.
Driven by greed, poachers had killed off all of the adult male elephants in a certain region of Africa in order to harvest and sell their ivory. As the baby elephants that were left behind became teens, the behavior of the males became erratic, violent and unlike anything the human observers had ever seen in elephants. It was becoming an unmanageable problem.
Then, by chance, they had introduced some older adult males into that same region. In a short period of time, the elder pachyderms had taken control and the young adult elephants began to behave. The presence of male adults made the difference. The biologists discovered that without the influence of these adults there was an imbalance amongst the elephants that led to the unacceptable behavior.
Prior to the readjustment in the elephant population, the young elephants were reminiscent of young, human street gangs. It’s no coincidence that most gang members have no relationship with their fathers. Many turn to gangs as an unhealthy substitute. The presence of a dad or healthy father-figure is crucial.
John Trent is right. It is amazing how fast kids grow up. Dads, there’s no guarantee as to how long we’ll have to influence their lives. We only have a brief window in which to give our kids the gift of time. No amount of gifts can compare to the present of truly being present.
I’m thankful for my dad, who was always glad to spend time with me and my other three siblings. I don’t remember him and my mom ever missing a basketball game or a sermon of mine. They both gave the gift of presence. Dad and I met nearly every Friday morning for breakfast during his late years. I miss those times, but the impression they made on me lives on.
Too many families today are effectively fatherless simply because the father isn’t present even when he’s home. Dads, put down the phone. Turn off the TV. Shut down the computer. Lay the newspaper aside, and look your kids in the eyes. Talk to them. Let them know you’re there—really there.
“Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention to know understanding.” –PROVERBS 4:1