I’ve been on a Kenny Rogers binge since last Saturday. While I’m not a Kenny fan per se, the artist’s passing reminded me of all the Kenny Rogers I heard as a child. It seems like every time our family hopped in the family car, Kenny was performing on the radio, belting his gritty ballads in-between Stevie Wonder’s pop hits and Blondie’s thumping rock. At the height of his fame in middle age, Kenny was an “everyman,” who donned his big hair, burly beard, and plump midsection with no shame. The three-piece, polyester suits? Right out of my dad’s closet.
My remembrances of Kenny have also stoked a wave of nostalgia in my mind and soul. Nostalgia for simpler times when catching fireflies on the porch was the height of summer entertainment. Inevitably, the nostalgia has reminded me of all the fatherhood lessons I learned from the great men in my life. As I get older and continue to raise my rapidly growing children, I realize that much of what I know about fatherhood was modeled by my dad and maternal grandfather back in the days when Kenny was on the radio 24/7. While my grandfather is no longer with us, my father continues to step in at just the right time to offer some sage advice from his four decades of fatherhood. In these days of Covid-19, especially, I find myself reaching back from my fatherhood reservoir daily.
It’s Not About You
My grandfather and father served long careers in helping professions. Humble men, these two taught me that the world doesn’t revolve around the individual. “It’s not about you,” was a common refrain from both fathers in the moments I was demanding, unreasonable, or just downright selfish. I can’t count the times I’ve uttered this same refrain in the presence of my children. While humility is an important character trait every day of every year, it is especially important in times of crisis. We must teach our children the power of putting the needs of the community ahead of the wants of the individual. My kids, for example, want to have daily sleepovers with their friends while “brick and mortar” school is suspended. “The virus doesn’t make teenagers very sick, Dad.” My response? “You’re right, it’ll just make the older people in your family sick when they contract it from you.” It’s not about you.
Shame is the Ugliest Word in the Dictionary
My grandfather would lose his cool whenever he heard any one of his nine children say “Shame on you” to a child. Grandfather believed that the word shame attacked a child’s character and personhood, but did nothing to remedy the child’s negative behavior. Grandfather taught me to address sinful behavior in the self or the other directly instead of just attacking character. Because of the example of grandfather, our home is a “no shame” zone. The word is forbidden. Using the example Jesus provides in Matthew 18, we address unhealthy behaviors in a way that maintains relationships and provides ample opportunity to make things right.
You Could Design a Spacecraft but Wouldn’t Know How to Change Its Oil
My father is mechanically-inclined. When I was child, I marveled at my dad’s abilities. Indeed, most automotive repairs were done in the driveway, and most home repairs were competed without the assistance of a carpenter. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit dad’s inventory of handyman skills. In fact, dad would gently tease me about the strength of my intellect versus the deficits in my “knowhow.” Despite this disconnect, dad insisted that I be well-versed in the basics like changing tires, replacing light switches, and fixing plumbing issues.
All of our kids need to know the basics. Help your kids develop important daily living skills that will keep the car running, the house in good repair, and the finances in positive territory. Your sons and daughters don’t need to be master mechanics or accountants, but they need to have enough tools in the toolbox to get out of jams.
Your Reputation is Your Resume
My dad always told me that he hired police officers based on their reputations, not their resumes. Dad understood that all the officers he was interviewing for positions in his department had the qualifications to work in law enforcement; he was far more concerned about their temperament. Could they make quick and appropriate decisions? Were they in police work to serve or to exercise power? Did an officer bring prejudices to the job, or could she see the humanity of everyone encountered on the beat? Reputation revealed the answers to these questions, not the resume.
My children understand that reputation is hard earned and easily squandered. I ask my kids often, “Are you making a five-minute decision or a five-year decision?” As fathers, we must show our kids how to build a positive reputation informed by faith, work ethic, and the ability to learn from constructive-criticism. While we are all imperfect people, how we manage our imperfections – and learn from them – builds our reputation among others.
If there’s a silver lining to be found in this season of social distancing in suburbia, it’s our nostalgic return to patterns of family life that we left behind in the analogue age. Kids are playing outside again. Neighbors are chatting (from safe distances) in driveways with frequency and fervor. Back yard gardens have returned. In our house, we sang Kenny’s eighties hits last night as we readied the spaghetti. In no way does the nostalgia diminish the body blows the virus continues to inflict on our families and communities. It does, however, remind us that our connections to the earth and the other never really depended on social media and high-speed internet access in the first place. I, for one, feel a stronger connection with the great men of my life who passed on the values and patterns of living that I aspire to share with my children and their children.
Who taught you how to be a strong father? Share what was shared with you, dads.