When I was a young dad, I found myself listening to the way my son talks. I began to hear more of his mother’s warm, witty and very personable manner of speech. Patrick already had many of my wife’s physical features. But I guess I hadn’t thought about how truly verbal he is.
Rachel is an excellent talker, too. Although I’m known for my skills behind a lectern or pulpit, it’s really my wife who can turn a phrase. Many times I’ve wanted to record her speaking, because it’s more than what she says, it’s how she says it that really holds my attention.
Now I’m in my son’s room. It’s late and I’m getting ready to put him to bed. Patrick is looking at me, telling me a story in just the same way Rachel would. The same mannerisms. The same facial expressions. The same tone of voice.
I think to myself: How does he copy her so well? Is it in the genes or is it some environmental thing?
Just then Rachel comes into the bedroom and says to Patrick, “Okay, guy, it’s time for bed. Kiss Daddy good-night and get under the covers. I’ll be in to read to you from The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Then it hits me. Of course, she reads to him! It’s their bedtime ritual. And so, on a regular basis—whether Patrick is consciously aware of it or not—he is taking in everyword. Every idea. Every night. But just as importantly, he’s capturing her style and personality. Not just what she says but how she says it. Why, he’s imitating her—hook, line and sinker! I think to myself: This is good.
I remember that the Bible says we should keep in mind those who have spoken the Word of God to us and consider their manner or way of life and imitate it (see Hebrews 13:7). It also says that God’s Son is the express image of himself (see Hebrews 1:3). And now, before me, I have a son who—when telling a dramatic story—is the exact representation of his mother.
My point is this: As we prepare our sons for life, our job is as simple as it is challenging. At its most basic level, our job as fathers involves living in a way that makes a lasting impression on our sons, so that our best ways become their ways.
As I’m watching Patrick get ready for bed, I notice that he has my habit of talking too quickly. We call it “fast talk.” And sometimes he runs his thoughts together at such high speed I can’t comprehend a single word. Yes, he copies the good as well as the not so good!
Some of you may remember the public service announcement that ran on TV during the ’70s. In it we saw a little boy walking with his dad. The dad picks up a stone and throws it; the son picks up a stone and throws it. The dad washes his car with a hose; the son washes his car with a water pistol. The dad takes a pack of cigarettes out of his top pocket and, lighting one up, begins to smoke. The son reaches for the pack of cigarettes the father has laid on the ground, and the voice-over says, “Like father, like son—think about it.”
Very convincing. So much so that media experts tell us that cigarette purchases by men dropped significantly during the years that particular PSA ran. Now that’s the power of TV—and it’s the power of fatherhood.
Even so, we fathers forget that we are being watched. Studied, if you please, to see how things are done. When children are young they want so much to be like us. Do the things we do. Watch the same TV programs. See the same movies. Have the same heroes. Root for the same athletic teams. Wear the same clothes!
So much so, Madison Avenue has come out with Father & Son wear. Now a kid can put on the same designer clothing as dear ol’ dad. Like conjoined twins, we can even sport the same underwear—indistinguishable in color and style. No doubt this is great stuff. I only wish raising him right were as easy as dressing alike! But you and I know it isn’t that easy.
Rachel comes back in, and as I wander out of Patrick’s bedroom, I think: What kind of impact am I going to make on him? What will I have passed on to him when he walks out that door one day . . . all grown up, headed for college or his first job away from home? Maybe with a girl on his arm and marriage on his mind? What will I have taught him about life, love, work? I’ve had some pretty intense experiences on the job, like the time I worked for a guy who kept trying to test me to see if I’d go along with something immoral or unethical. I don’t know what his problem was, but it really got to me because he was supposed to be a Christian. Will Patrick be ready to work for some demon-boss? What about when some so-called buddies come along, offering a “joint” to smoke? Or a girl who would love to make him feel really nice?
We’ve got to be there for our sons. The world is impacting them and calling to them all the time. The day he leaves home will be the moment of truth, for me as well as for my son. Will he be ready to stand on his own two feet? Will he have sufficient moral courage to do what is right? Will he acknowledge God in all of his ways—in marriage, in home life, and on the job? The answers to these questions will be greatly affected by my intentional involvement in his life now . . . or my lack of involvement. With nothing left to chance, we can begin to influence, shape and guide them—helping to mold them into young men of strength and integrity.
In the pages to follow is my sincere effort to enter into a dialogue with you. I care deeply about the potential impact of such a book on your life, so much so that I asked men from all over America to pray for me as I wrote. I asked them to pray for God’s guidance. Because I know beyond any doubt that God wants each one of us to learn what a son needs from his dad.
Therefore, may God richly bless you as you read. Most importantly, may He help you to prepare your sons for life—“on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).