Story by David Barnett
One evening a couple years ago, we were getting ready for supper. While Dana, my wife, was putting the food on the table, I asked my three children what they wanted to drink.
“You can have milk, juice, or water,” I said.
Michael and Manda, my two youngest, both said they wanted milk. Matthew, my oldest who was almost 5 years old at the time, asked me, “What are you having, Daddy?”
“Well, I’ll probably have water,” I answered.
“I’ll have water, too,” Matthew decided.
I got the milks for Michael and Manda, then decided that milk sounded pretty good. “I’m having milk, too,”I announced, and poured out another glass for myself.
“Then I’ll have milk, too,” Matthew informed me.
“Changed your mind? Okay, I’ll get you milk, too.”
During the meal, I asked my wife to pass me the corn. “I’ll have some, too, Daddy,” Matthew told me.
I was starting to notice a trend.
“Matthew,” I said, “if I went outside and ate some dirt for dessert, would you want some, too?”
He giggled. “Yes,” he said.
“If I ate a bug, would you eat one, too?” I questioned.
More giggles. “Ew. A bug?” he questioned, wrinkling his face.
“Yep. A great big fat juicy one. Would you eat one if I ate one?”
“Yes,” he said, laughing.
“Why would you eat dirt or a bug if I ate one, Matthew? Don’t you think that would taste yucky? Why would you eat it just because I did?” I asked him.
“‘Cause you’re my Daddy!” he said proudly.
I don’t remember the rest of the dinner conversation. I’m pretty sure my wife tried to turn the conversation away from dirt and bugs at the dinner table. But Matthew’s words stuck with me, and I thought about it the rest of the evening.
“‘Cause you’re my Daddy.”
I think it was then that I truly recognized the awesome responsibility I had in raising my children. Until that point, I had tried to be a good father. I tried to teach my kids to be good kids. But at that moment, I realized exactly how much of an impact I was having.
My children, whether I notice it or not, are watching my and Dana’s every move. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words,” and I think this holds double for children. For at least the first few years, everything they learn about life, how to act, how to treat other people, they learn by watching Mommy and Daddy.
If Daddy treats Mommy with love and kindness and respect, they will treat her the same way.
If Daddy is friendly to people he meets, they will learn to be friendly, too.
If Daddy reads his Bible and prays frequently, they will learn the importance of God in their lives.
If Daddy is always honest, they will learn the value of telling the truth.
Of course, the opposite is also true.
If Daddy and Mommy aren’t nice to each other and argue a lot, the children will treat their parents and siblings the same way, and they will learn how to argue and backtalk.
If Daddy is grouchy, and curses at the driver in front of him on the way to the store, they will learn to curse and put down other people.
If Daddy tells Mommy to tell the person who telephoned that he’s not home, they will learn that it is okay to lie.
If Daddy goes to church occasionally, but doesn’t live a Christian life, they will learn how to be hypocrites.
With each of our children, I realize that I only have a few years before there will be other influences in their lives, competing with me in how and what my children learn. Some of these influences will be positive, and some will not. And some will be stronger influences than I am.
Soon, Matthew, Manda, and Michael will be spending more time with schoolmates and friends than with Mommy and Daddy. They’ll be learning how to act from the older kids down the street. They’ll be seeing things on TV that we may not be able to control, such as watching movies at a friend’s house.
They’ll be exposed to the “real world”.
It’s our job, as parents, to do our best to prepare them for the real world, and to teach them how to act and to treat others. We have to teach them how to make good decisions when faced with choices. We have to teach them how to distinguish right from wrong. We have to teach them discipline, positive attitude, friendship, love, and prayer.
And we have to show them by our example. It’s not enough just to tell them. We have to show them. We have to live the way we want them to learn to live.
They’ll do what we do. They’ll act how we act. They’ll say the things we say. They’ll treat people the way we treat people. They’ll pray and worship the way we do.
Matthew, at least for now, will try to be like me. That will change as he gets older and new role models enter his life. But in the meantime, I’m it. I’m the role model. And that’s a huge responsibility. And one I take very seriously.
‘Cause I’m his Daddy.