'Daddy, I love your …'
"So Dad, what do you want for Father's Day?"
This annual question from my five kids is a fact of life, just as inevitable as the $15 billion our kids and spouses will shell out this year to mark our big day with ties, cards, tools and brunches. (Guys, FYI for budgetary purposes: That's $135 per household.)
"A simple and sincere 'thank you' from his family is all that many dads want this Father's Day," notes sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, speaking for many of us. "It matters a lot for dads, especially in a society where fathers are often belittled or minimized in the popular culture, to have their sacrifices and love recognized and appreciated."
As I realize just how few Father's Days remain before my kids enter the world, I can't help but personalize my kids' question: "What do I want -- for my kids -- this Father's Day?"
After all, I've got enough ties. Reflecting on past Father's Days, I've come up with seven things I actually want: seven truths that I want to prayerfully recommit to giving my kids this day -- and always.
-- Bedtime blessings
My teenage daughter and firstborn recently gave me a little "What I Love About Dad" booklet. "When I was little, I loved to ..." one page began, and my daughter completed the sentence with the words, "be rocked to sleep by you."
Her bedtime memories date to the pre-Wi-Fi era, when we dads were less distracted and better at holding our precious children for long periods of time. This Father's Day, let's renew the bedrock of fatherhood by giving our kids our loving touch, bedtime rituals and our father's blessing before they drift off to sleep.
In an "All About My Dad" card my 7-year-old son gave me recently, he scrawled, "I love when my dad resels (sp) with me." My dad wrestled me, and now I'm getting pummeled on a regular basis.
Recent studies show that kids who roughhouse with their dads are more self-confident and self-controlled. Especially in our digital age, rough-and-tumble play needs to be part of our job description as dads. Happy wrestling, Dad!
-- Kissing mommy
It's just a fact: Whenever I demonstrate my love for my wife with a special touch or focused attention, the kids immediately perk up, and at least one of them sprints toward us to hug our legs or leap into our laps.
"The best thing parents can do for their children is to love one another," notes one social worker on the proven long-term benefits kids experience, including healthy self-esteem. So, let's celebrate Father's Day in style, with public affection for our beautiful better halves.
"We always have the best time when we ..." my daughter's booklet began, and she wrote, "go on drives together." Referring to our drives when it's just the two of us -- with no texting, screens or other interruptions -- she reminds me of that endangered gift that I owe each of my children year-round: my presence and undivided attention, which can only be rooted, of course, in daily attentiveness to God in prayer.
This Father's Day, let's give thanks to our heavenly Father, the source of the best gifts that we impart to our children.
-- Smile lines
"Daddy, I love your …" my daughter's booklet began, and she wrote, "smile lines." "Rejoice always," St. Paul wrote, and hopefully the faces our kids behold reflect the joy of our deep and growing faith within.
"Smile!" summarizes one social science study, "it makes everyone in the room feel better because they, consciously or unconsciously, are smiling with you." So, this Father's Day, let's kick back, relax and enjoy our yearslong project of developing good smile lines.
"I love getting your advice on …" the booklet began, which my daughter completed, "how to shake hands and make eye contact in a way that will get me a job." Yes! I read her words with a surge of indescribable pride.
Let's go easy on the kids on Father's Day, but starting the next day, it's back to coaching them 24/7 to prepare for effective, godly interactions in the world.
-- Calling forth the best
"It means so much that you show me how to ..." my daughter's booklet began, and she wrote, "be the best person that I can be." Few joys can compare with a dad's experience of nurturing and calling forth a gift or talent in his child.
The blessing of fatherhood gives us a front-row seat to two miracles: first, our child's birth; and second, the development of their utterly unique spiritual, intellectual and physical gifts. A happy Father's Day -- and life -- indeed!
"So Dad, what do you want for Father's Day?" I know my kids will ask.
I'll smile and I'm not sure what I'll say. But my heart will answer with the words of Jesus that dads will fittingly hear in the Gospel reading on Father's Day: "Everything that the Father has is mine." In Christ, I'm a dad who already has everything. All I want is to give thanks.
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(Johnson is director of evangelization for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. He and his wife, Ever, founded Trinity House Cafe in Leesburg, Virginia, online at www.trinityhousecafe.com.)