It was the 9th of May in the year 1993 when I became a dad for the first time. Derik, our oldest son, was the first to call me “Pappa”…
Jana came in 1996 and Andrea in 2000. I was “Pappa” for three beautiful children.
At first it was really easy - it felt natural to be a dad and I felt I was doing a great job. I was patient and I loved playing with my kids.
But with time the small jackals sneaked into the vineyard - in different shapes and sizes.
We raised our kids in a strong Christian environment. I was a pastor and a missionary. And I was in children’s ministry. Looking back, I realise how much pressure I placed on myself - being in these roles. How much pressure it was on us as parents. And how much pressure it brought unto our children.
There was this unspoken expectation to always do the right thing, say the right thing and create this ideal picture…
The pastor, the missionary, the children’s worker should…
Know how to discipline his children (the book of Proverbs is really clear about this)
Be in control of his family…
As Dad I also found myself in other roles…I was not only a father, I was also a husband. The reality of being parents often changes a relationship between spouses - somewhere between sleepless nights, endless diapers and energetic toddlers, the glamour begins to fade…
Trying to advance your career at the same time adds to the challenges - I was also the pastor, the missionary, the trainer of children’s workers and there were many voices calling for my attention.
And then it happens.
You but heads with your son.
You disappoint your daughter.
You loose connection with your wife.
A “story” develops in your mind and plays itself out - over and over again. A story of failure and disappointment and “not being good enough”
Maybe I’m not as great a dad as I thought I was…
You work hard to hide and suppress this story and try to ignore the shadows you have discovered inside
For me it played out as “withdrawing into my cave”
I would choose to stay quiet (for the sake of peace) and buried my feelings and needs in a very deep and dark place
Other times I tried to hide my fears and insecurities by taking control - somehow I had to prove that I am a good father and that I do live up to the expectations I felt from around and inside myself - anything to silence the voice that was saying “I am not good enough”
The painful truth is that these negative feelings and unresolved insecurities had a harmful impact on me and my loved ones - also on my children
It was not all terrible… I have to remind myself and be honest here…
Today I am thankful for the wonderful memories of beautiful moments - I am thankful that we all still love each other and that I have great relationships with my adult children
And the full story is that I had to live through a deeply personal crisis and allow it to be the turning point in my life. I had to face the disappointments and losses on my journey, I had to come to terms with my shadows and I had to find better ways to deal with what I saw when I looked inside.
Today I want to reflect on my journey as a father and I’d like to share the five things I’ve learned on the job:
Children is not only a gift we receive - they come as our teachers. The moment we acknowledge that, we can stop hiding from what gets exposed in us - we can embrace the opportunities to learn and to grow, we and our children.
As a dad, my role is not to control my children. Love does not control. My role is to create a safe space, a space of acceptance, a space that welcomes in and welcomes back, a space where there is equal room for mistakes and for forgiveness, for compassion and boundaries. A space for second chances…
The biggest gift a dad can give his children, is to be present for them. To be present with them and in front of them - to not still be at work or filled with thoughts about tomorrow while you try to play or listen to a story.
You will always be their dad - even though the roles change. To be in a healthy relationship with my adult children is one of the biggest joys of my life. I am so thankful that you do not loose the role of parent when they leave your house. If you can stay sensitive to the changes and willing to keep growing, the journey continues together.
As a father, you are mostly responsible for your own well-being, your own growth and meeting your own needs. The better you do in this area, the better everybody else will be and the more satisfying your relationships. Your children deserve a “healthy” father!
Today is Father’s Day.
And I am thankful for three wonderful children with whom I can still be on the journey of life - I love seeing them grow, learn and discover what life has in store for them.
Derik, Jana, Andrea - and now also Ken - you are a gift to me on my journey through life.
My fellow sojourners.
I am honoured to be called “Pappa”.