FIRST-PERSON: The 12 lessons of fatherhood, part two (7-12)
Lesson 7: Communicate the blessing with words and touch.
Even if our children know we love them and that we are proud of them, they need to hear it. They need to feel with our hugs. When they are young, the physical interaction with children is critical. When they are older, we must still keep hugging them.
Lesson 8: Talk to your children.
I love it. I absolutely love it. My sons still want to talk to me. My boys can call my cell phone at almost any time. They know that I am the president of this big company, but they know they can get in touch with me quickly. Most of the time I will answer their calls on the spot. Otherwise, I get back to them quickly. I am honored beyond measure that those boys still want to talk to me.
I think I instilled this desire early in their lives. I let them know that there was no such thing as a stupid question and that there were no subjects that were out of bounds. We really had some interesting discussions. Some of them were theological. Some of them were blunt talks about the "facts of life." Others were about sports, girls, politics, morals, clothes, careers, hobbies, places to live, places to go and the list goes on.
Lesson 9: Fun and humor is healthy.
The Rainer house was a fun place to be. I think that's why we became a hangout on the east side of town. All three of my boys have a great sense of humor.
Our three sons like to joke with one another. They especially enjoy making fun of their old man. Because they had to endure hundreds of my sermons and speeches, they frequently would imitate my mannerisms and frequently repeated phrases. Their mother enjoyed popping paper bags behind them when they were not aware she was in the room.
Lesson 10: Admit your mistakes.
Art and his brothers have taught me much as they have raised their dad. My natural and sinful tendency was to speak quickly and harshly when one of the boys was out of line. I blew it many times as a father. But my boys have taught me to think before I speak and to be willing to ask for forgiveness when I was wrong. They have indeed raised Dad well.
Lesson 11: Know when to let go, know when to hold.
Indeed, there were not many things that I did not share with my sons. And there were not many emotions I left unchecked.
On the one hand, this transparency is good. My boys knew where I stood on almost all issues. They knew they could get clear and non-evasive answers from me. And they knew how I felt at almost all times. There was no doubt how Dad was feeling in the Rainer home.
On the other hand, I was often transparent to a fault. Kids need to be kids, and they do not need to be exposed to every feeling and concern parents have. I needed to protect them from the harsh world more than I did, instead of letting them hear almost every fear and problem with which I struggled.
Some parents never let their children see the real mom and dad. And some parents let their kids see too much. I was guilty of the latter.
Lesson 12: There is nothing more important than a child's eternity.
"Lord, please look over our sons. Keep them in Your protective and loving hands. Help us to be the type of parents that show Your love. And we pray for the salvation of our sons. We ask that they hear clearly one day the gospel message, and that they accept and follow Your Son Jesus."
Those words, or words similar to those, were prayed by Nellie Jo and me on a regular basis. We do want the best for our sons in this life. But this life is so incredibly brief. Our most fervent prayer was for each of the boys to become a Christian so that their eternities would be secure.
God has answered our prayers. Very few dads have had the incredible privilege to do what I did. I baptized each of my sons after they became followers of Christ. Those were moments that I cherished, moments that moved me to tears.
Though I was imperfect, I tried to model Christ to my sons. I wanted them to see Him in both my words and actions. I wanted them to have the freedom to talk with me about anything, especially spiritual matters.
God answered our prayers. The most important gift a child can receive is the gift of salvation in Christ. And I thank God that He used Nellie Jo and me as His instruments in their eternities.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, www.ThomRainer.com. It was adapted from the book "Raising Dad" (B&H Publishing Group, 2007). Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).