Practical Ways a Father Can Have a Lasting Legacy

Standard

Let’s do a bit of an exercise. At first, it’ll seem a bit morbid, but hang with me because I think it’s eye-opening.

This exercise isn’t something I came up with, it’s been around for a while. It’s called The Eulogy Exercise. It comes from the book by Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey walks the reader through this hypothetical scenario:

Imagine you are going to a funeral. 

You pull up to the parking lot where the funeral location is (a church building or a funeral home ). You park, get out of the car, walk into the building as other people who are dressed up are walking in. You smell fresh cut flowers as you enter into the lobby. There’s a fresh aroma sprayed all over the room. You take a free mint offered. 

You look around and you begin to recognize people. And not just acquaintances, but close friends and family members who are also at the funeral. 

It’s visitation hours, so people are in line to walk by the casket of the deceased to pay their respects. You get up to the casket and when you look down, it’s you that is laying there, dead.

You are attending your own funeral. 

The date on the program isn’t 50 years from now. This funeral, your funeral, is just three years from today.

You go into the sanctuary where people are sitting awaiting for the ceremony to begin and as you look on the program, there are going to be four people who will be speaking at your funeral.

Four people will be sharing about you and how you lived your life. 

Person #1: A family member

The first person that is going to speak at your funeral is a family member. It could be a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling. It will be a family member who knew you very well. 

Person #2: A close friend

The second person that is going to speak is going to be one of your close friends. Maybe a childhood friend or a friend from high school, a college roommate, a friend from the neighborhood. They’ve spent time with you and know you. They’ve been through the ups and downs with you. 

Person #3: Someone from work

The third person speaking will be someone from your job, or if still in school, a teacher or a coach. It’s someone who sees you during the week. They’ve seen how you celebrate and encourage others. They see how you handle stress.

Person #4: Someone from church

The fourth person to speak is someone from your church, if you have a church family. They see how much you choose to attend. They see how you serve. They’ve watched how you worship. 

Four people.
A family member.
A close friend.
A co-worker.
Someone who was in the same church as you. 

And the big question is: What would you like each of these people to say about you?

This is the point of the exercise: Covey coined it as this: Beginning with the end in mind. 

If we think of what we would want those in our daily lives to say about us when we return to dust, we then can look at how we are living in the present to go after that desired legacy. 

Here are some practical steps every dad can take to cement a life-changing, positive legacy with his children: 

Smile in photos taken with the family. 

What is it with dads not smiling in family photos? Dad looks grumpy with his wife. He looks serious with his kids. How he feels towards his loved one is not how he shows it in pictures. Sure he loves them, but in pictures it doesn’t seem that way. 

I don’t care if dad was in the military, or still thinks he’s taking a football team picture, or if he thinks he has bad teeth or if his favorite team just lost or if he’s had a bad day – smile. 

Send the message from your heart of love towards these people to your mouth when pictures are being taken. 

Because, when dad dies, his kids will only have pictures to look at to remember him. If those pictures look like dad was serious or harsh because he didn’t smile, that’s the legacy he’s going to write long after he’s gone. 

Have evenings of focused one-on-one time.

Life is full. Life is packed. Kids grow fast. When the child gets off the bus or when dad gets home from work, there isn’t much time together. 

What a dad can do is carve out intentional, one-on-one time with the child. 

Whether it’s father-son or daddy-daughter, nights out or date nights need to be set and kept. 

Every year, 12 times a year, once a month, I take each of my children out separately. Just me and them. Sometimes it’s dinner when we get dressed up and all fancy. Sometimes it’s ice cream. Sometimes you go bowling with them. Sometimes I surprise them at their school and have lunch with them. Sometimes it’s a long walk so we can talk and catch up on their view of the family, of God, of life, of their emotions. 

When I am just with them, we’ll laugh and talk about our day, but, there are also some heart-to-heart questions that I ask. 

How are you feeling being a part of this family?
Do you feel included?
Do you feel heard?
How is school going?
Is there anything challenging happening?
Are there any frustrations in your life right now that I can offer some advise on or pray about? 

And you let them talk. And after you are gone, dad, they’ll remember the time spent and the wisdom shared. Your legacy will live on. 

As best as possible at night, ignore screens until the kids are asleep. 

If children are great at one thing, they are great at exaggerating. Children naturally use words like always and never. 

So, if dad is on his phone for work or for fun, when a child wants to talk to dad or play with dad, all it takes is two instances where the kid sees dad looking at a phone and then the child thinks, Dad never plays with me (even when he does), or, Dad is always on his phone (even though he’s not).

Perception is reality to them. 

My family and I attended a volleyball game at a junior high school a few months ago. Some friends of ours were playing in and attending the game. We were there to cheer them on. 

Two rows in front of my wife and I was a father of a child playing in the volleyball game. And for the majority of the game, he was watching on his phone his favorite college football team play their game. 

And I saw his daughter look at him multiple times as he was looking at a screen. She saw that he would rather watch strangers play a game than his daughter play in hers. 

Dad, be present. 

Yes there is work. Yes there are emails. Yes there are fun things to watch on TV. Yes we have the habit of checking social media every five minutes. Those can all wait (they might be highjacking your legacy at home). 

From the time you get home to the time they are finally asleep, try to look at them, not a screen. 

Treat his wife with kindness and respect. 

The way dad consistently treats his wife shows any son he has how to treat women and any daughter he has how to be treated by a man. You’ve heard that. 

But, in addition, when there is unrest in the home, the children internalize it. They invite the stress of a marriage into their life and it goes with them into their school, activities and relationships. 

It’s when dad yells at his wife. It’s when dad puts down his wife. It’s when dad is giving the cold shoulder to his wife. It’s when dad would rather have nights out with his buddies than take his wife out. The children see this. They feel it. They think it’s normal even though they don’t like it. 

Dad needs to serve his wife. He needs to uplift her with words of encouragement. He needs to thank her in front of the children for all she does in the family and in the home. He needs to come alongside her when she makes decisions for the children. He needs to take her out on dates and text her romantic stuff during the day because a happy wife and mother also has a key impact on the children. Dad can help with that. 

[Sidenote: If dad is divorced/unmarried to the child’s mother, he must not speak ill of her. Even if she takes the low road when speaking of him. Without her, dad doesn’t have the joy of loving his children, so even when difficult, uplift the child’s mother.]

Put God first in his life and in the home’s life. 

After dad has died, it leaves a hole in the heart of a child that never fully heals. It is difficult to lose a parent. You think about it every day. You miss them every day. For me, with a father gone for over 6 years, the only thing that has gotten me through it is leaning on God, my heavenly Father. 

I have that relationship with God because my father did first. My father wasn’t the person of love he was because of his self-effort. He was loving toward me because of God changing his heart and working through him to effectively serve and graciously care for us kids. 

God is first in our household. I am not the leader of our home. God is. I am not the decision-maker of our home. God is. When we are hurt, we pray. When we are stressed, we open the Bible and write verses on our bathroom mirrors to calm our anxiety. When we are afraid, we remind each other to trust God. 

Our schedule doesn’t get in the way of family dinners where we pray and talk about what we’re grateful to God about. Our hobbies do not get in the way of worship on Sunday mornings. As a family, we actively serve in the church we are involved in. Our children know that my wife and I read our Bibles each morning. 

After dad is gone, his legacy of how he leaned on God daily in his life will be the driving force they need to press on into the life God has in store for them without dad. 

Smile in photos taken with the family.
Have evenings of focused one-on-one time.
As best as possible, no screens until the kids are asleep.
Treat his wife with kindness and respect.
Put God first in his life and in the home’s life. 

Doing these things consistently, by beginning with the end in mind, allows dad’s legacy to be a positive one that outlives his physical life into generations of his family. 

Thanks for reading. You are loved. 

Z

What Every Parent Should Be Downloading Into Their Child (1,900 words of parenting advice)

Standard

Back in the day when I was a pre-teen, I used to make mixtapes. Those born in 1990 or later probably don’t know what a mixtape is. A mixtape is a cassette tape (Google it) with favorite songs inserted on it to listen to. It’s an archaic Pandora playlist. It took tremendous patience and focus to make the perfect mixtape.

I would lay on my bedroom floor, next to something called a boombox (a radio that played music through speakers), I’d have my radio playing and I would wait for some of my favorite songs to come on so I could record them onto this tape. 

You had to be coordinated. You had to hit play and record at the same time, and you didn’t want the DJ’s voice on the tape, just the song. 

I had all kinds of mixtapes. I had love song mixtapes I’d give to girls I had a crush on. I’d leave the mixtape in their school locker with a creepy, cheesy note attached. For sports, I had mixtapes that would insert into my Dad’s yellow Sony Walkman to pump me up. On my sports mixtape to get me stoked I had “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, “Jump” by Van Halen, “Momma Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J and anything Michael Jackson.

I know that mixtapes are a thing of the past. With technology today, you can download any song that’s ever been recorded and you can make all kinds of playlists on your smartphone. And whether you like to listen to it while you’re in the car, or while at work or school, or exercising, or just chill’n with friends, it can’t be taken for granted what those who came before endured through in the mixtape years. 

Today my young child can grab my phone, open up my music, download new songs she  likes, delete songs she doesn’t like (my favorite songs) and make a playlist. In seconds she can do it. 

As a parent, I realize that my children are being lied to wherever they go. They are downloading lies other influences are pushing on them, and if unchecked, they will start to believe those lies as truth. One of my roles as a guide for them is to delete the lies that they download each day and replace it with truth. 

Mom, dad, grandparents, aunt, uncle, youth leader, teacher, influencers of young children and grown children, here’s what will happen if we don’t get proactive in deleting the lies this culture is pressing down on our children:  

They will be mugged by the mirror. 

We’re in the selfie generation. The reason everyone is taking selfies is to show others how they look. And maybe each time you look in the mirror, each time you take a picture of yourself, you’re asking the fairy tale question, Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? The more we invest in how we look, the more we believe the lie that we are worth the amount of how beautiful others say we are. 

In her book, I Want to be Her, author Michelle Graham writes this: “There’s nothing quite like a glance at a Victoria’s Secret catalog to invoke a flood of insecurities and feelings of disappointment.”

Graham goes onto say: 

If Barbie were a real human being, her proportions would make her anywhere from 6 feet 10 inches to 7 feet 5 inches tall. In order to achieve her perfect figure, she would need to have two ribs removed along with several major organs. Barbie has no hormonal cycle to affect her complexion and no metabolism to struggle with. This is the image that has been marketed to young girls all over the world as an inspiration to womanhood. And we eat it up. Barbie has become a $1.5 billion dollar a year industry. Don’t worry, I’m not on a Barbie-burning crusade. And I’m certainly no expert on the psychological effects of Barbie on young children. But I do know that at a very young age I bought into the idea that unless my Barbie was physically perfect, she wasn’t as good as the other Barbies on the block. In fact she embarrassed me. As I grew into adulthood, I left my Barbie behind. Unfortunately I struggled with the belief that unless I am physically perfect (a perfection that is unattainable and unrealistic) – I’m somehow not as valuable as everybody else. Barbie moved out, but Victoria moved in.”

A recent study shows that 70% of teenage girls and women feel depressed, sad or guilty when they look through a fashion magazine for more than 3 minutes.

Americans spend 20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics and 74 billion dollars a year on diet foods.

Just flip the remote control and the TV will tell you that outer appearance is what’s most important. It’s why you post more pictures of yourself online than you do Bible verses.

Because I’m a father of girls, I have a passion for all young girls to find their purpose in God and not in what others think of them. Girls, you may not know this, but an average woman in our culture is 5 foot 4 and weighs 170 pounds. An average model on the runway 5 foot 11 and they weigh 108 pounds and their body mass index is borderline malnutrition. 

Because of photoshop and airbrushing, what we look at in magazines and on the big screen is a fake. It’s not real. It’s all a lie. Delete the lie that external beauty is all there is.

Let’s download the truth that God loves you no matter what you look like. God created you the way He wanted to and to get where God wants you to go to love on who God wants you to love on (which includes yourself). You’re beautiful.

If they listen to the wrong voice, not only will they be mugged by the mirror, but: 

They will be pick-pocketed by the past. 

Your child failed the test. They stole what they shouldn’t of. They drank. They smoked. They lied to their parents. They feel responsible for their parent’s broken marriage. They succumb to sex, hurtful language, gossip, back-stabbing, anger etc. Even my own past tries to walk into each present day I have in an attempt to steal the future God has in store. 

But if you download the love of God into your child’s daily life, how much He loves you and them no matter what’s been done against Him and against others, then they’ll come to realize that our past does not define your present or your future.

You are not what you have done. Whatever it is that haunts you, whatever secret things you’ve done that no one else knows, that your close friends, your youth leaders, your parents, your siblings have no idea – and if you’ve been listening to the wrong voice about what you’ve done – then you’ve probably bought into the lie that God couldn’t love you, or God couldn’t forgive you. 

The one true God doesn’t only forgive people, He frees them. I don’t want the joy and energy and faith that my kids have as a child to be pick-pocketed by reminders of their past mistakes. Author Joanna Weaver writes:

“My deepest fear is waking up twenty years from now still the same person I am today. With the same annoying habits and petty attitudes; with the same besetting sins and false beliefs. I can’t imagine anything more terrible than getting to the end of my life only to discover that God had so much more in mind for me – more freedom, more joy, more peace, more true effectiveness. And I had missed it all, simply because I refused to believe it.” 

Don’t be mugged by the mirror and think external looks is all there is.
Don’t be pick-pocketed by the past and lose your joy in Christ. 

A third lie our children and us will download if not exposed to the truth: 

They will be robbed by relationships. 

Relationships are hard work, right? They can wear you out, make you tired. 

As if I didn’t already date myself with all the talk about mixtapes, let me talk about a woman named Louise Ciccone. Maybe you know her as Madonna. She’s sold over 300 million albums of her music worldwide. She’s worth an estimated 500 million dollars. TIME Magazine listed her as one of the 25 most powerful and influential women of the last 100 years. 

When she was a little girl, her mom died. Her dad quickly remarried and she didn’t forgive him for that. She severed all ties with him as her father and ran away. And I think the reason why Madonna, still in her 50’s, has always jumped from one man to the next is because she was robbed of a relationship she didn’t have with her father when she was young. 

After a concert in Detroit, in an interview with Vanity Fair a few years back, Madonna said: I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feelings of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. Again and again I go through this vicious cycle. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.

Life doesn’t have to be that way. 

If the statistics are right, many of our teens are being robbed by a relationship with a parent. Mom and Dad haven’t or aren’t doing something for them that parents are supposed to do. I don’t know what is more tragic than a parent who doesn’t love their kid in a way God loves them, and I don’t want to downplay this possibility,  so if you’re from a broken home, if you’re in a tough home, and maybe there have been hurtful things said back and forth and maybe you’ve been more of a parent than your mom or dad has been to you. And maybe you’re angry over that.

If bitterness is a prison, forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door.

Forgive your mom. Forgive your dad. Forgive your child. Forgive your sibling. Forgive your church. Forgive your friends. Forgive your enemy. Tell them, to their face, or in a hand-written note, that you forgive them. And then trust God going forward when reminders of those painful moments start to resurface. 

All of this to say: I guess before we teach our children about external looks not providing true identity, before we teach our children that in Christ our past mistakes cannot depress us today and before we teach our children that forgiveness is what gives life to relationships and bitterness is what kills them – we have to model it to them. We have to delete the lies of our culture and download the liberating truth of God’s Word. 

Put your heart right. Reach out to God and face the world again. Then all your trouble will fade from your memory, like floods that pass and are remembered no more. Job 11:13 

Thanks for reading. No matter your looks, your past or your status of relationships today, you are loved. 

Z