Our granddaughter Gracie is now 16 months of age and a delightful buzzsaw of activity. Her mother, Shalom, and I were riding along in the car with Gracie, headed toward their home, which is located off the highway behind their auto shop. When we topped the hill where we could see the distant lights glowing from their property, from the back seat of the car came a thrilled shout, “My home, my home, Daddy, see my daddy!” It only took three minutes to reach the drive, but it was three minutes of increasingly excited chatter about “Daddy.” As we drew near, we could tell by the light coming through the open garage door that Gracie’s daddy was still in the shop. There was no way we could bypass it and go to the house beyond as we had intended. As we drew near, we rolled the windows down to ease the decibel level in the car and to give Gracie the opportunity to announce her arrival. Gracie’s daddy didn’t disappoint her. While Shalom parked the car and attempted to unbuckle Gracie’s seat belt, her joyful shouts of “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” evoked a harmony from inside the shop, “Gracie, Gracie, Gracie!” And around the corner and out the big door he came running. You would think they had not seen each other in a year; it had been only a few hours. Here is child training at its best—life at its best.

My son-in-law can be a bonehead in a hundred different ways, but I will always love him because of moments like that. There is a connection between father and daughter that is all light and love. It generates hope and good-will all around. She knew he would come running to her, and she was right. He has earned her trust and admiration.

living virtuously

After observing this scene, I began to contemplate the different parent/child relationships that I have seen and to analyze the root and the fruit. Daddies are different from mothers in the way they relate to their children.

Consider for a moment the development process. Early in a child’s life there is a bond between mother and child that is generated by nature. These maternal and filial instincts are just as strong, if not stronger, in the lowest and dumbest animals. Little ones love Mama because she is the source of food, warmth, comfort, and security. Mama loves her infant because it is her animal nature to do so. Rare indeed is the mother—human or animal—with no maternal instincts. As children get older, say age three or four, and grow to be less dependent, mother’s maternal instincts diminish and are replaced by real love and respect. At least, that is the way it is supposed to happen. When hormones change and maternal instinct fades, the true heart of the mother is manifested. Is there a spirit of good-will and mutual respect, or is mother tense and distant, resenting the seemingly endless demands of parenting? The mother who is freed from the maternal-filial instinct will then relate to her child according to her heart. If she has not earned the admiration and respect of her child by then, their relationship will rapidly deteriorate. It happens at between two and four years old.

Discussing it with Mike, we came to the conclusion that mothers get a jump-start in relationships from nature, but fathers must earn love and respect from their children right from the start, and keep on earning it. Mothers, on the other hand, sometimes rely on the maternal-filial instincts, trusting that all is well, and they are shocked when hormones and nature will no longer carry the relationship.

We were talking about this in our office kitchen the other day, trying to determine how best to convey to our readers how to really love their children. The young married girl who does our cooking was busy in the background, but I could tell just by the way she moved that she was intently listening. I turned to her and asked, “So, your dad really loves you?” When she turned around to face us, I saw the same glowing look on her face that I had seen on Gracie’s face when she was calling out to her daddy. “There is nothing on earth as important to my dad as us kids. Yes, I always knew he loved me as much as any man could ever love his kids.”  Do you think this young woman ever caused her father grief in her growing-up years? No, she was always her daddy’s darling. It was his heart that kept her, not just good training, although I am sure that training was a great part of her upbringing. Parents will profess love for their children, but you can hear the “but” before they utter it. But “we are so busy . . . under so much pressure . . . and we just can’t take the noisy nonsense from our children.” For a child, love is not talk. It is not a theological doctrine. And it is not assumed, understood, or taken for granted. Love is visible, tangible; it is doing, not occasionally, but constantly—that is the only kind of love a child understands. If your love is not visible, it doesn’t exist. It is nothing more than an unapplied doctrine.

Mike and I struggle with how best to communicate to parents the things that are most important. How is it that one man loves his child as soon as the child is conceived and the other man sees his one-year-old son as a nuisance to endure? Is it because one man was raised by a loving, attentive dad, and the other man was raised either fatherless or by an uncaring stepfather? In other words, are we victims of our upbringing? Do lousy dads make lousy kids who become lousy dads who again produce lousy kids, generation after generation? Yes and no. Kids do have a strong tendency to grow up to be like their own dads. But we are all free to choose as we will, to make our own bed and lie in it, not in one made for us by our heritage. That is what Christ is all about. He frees us from ourselves, crucifies the old man and enables us to walk after the Spirit of God, daily transformed into the image of Christ, from “faith to faith,” from “glory to glory.”

strong in spirit

I want to blame it on inherited traits, but I know from 35 years of ministry that it is not so. We have worked with people, teaching them how to train their small children; we have watched these little ones grow up to become adults and have children of their own. We have struggled to help several generations to train and love their kids. We have been around long enough to know it is not genetics or family history or even a bad past that makes men and women not love their children; it is selfish hearts. I know the daddy of the young cook in the kitchen that spoke so passionately of her father’s love. I knew him when he was young. He had nothing but grief as a child. I know that after he had children his job in the Navy often took him from home for extended periods. Yet his children knew his love for them was great. His past never found its way into his children, for it died in him when he died in Christ and was raised to walk in newness of life.

I can tell you about another wonderful dad, who is downstairs packing and shipping your orders from NGJ. He never knew his father. This dad’s entire youth and early manhood was spent in prison, yet he pours his heart into his children. Again, genetics, history, and an ugly past have not followed him in his parenting. His children are a testimony to him and a praise to God.

I know another dad who is raising another man’s child. The only people who know the boy is not his child are people who knew them before the child was born. This dad is so loving and so caring that it never occurs to anyone that the boy is not his natural-born son. This man’s love is greater than most natural dads’, and is a living testimony of God’s love.

In contrast, we know a man who had a great father, yet he is a selfish, irritable dad. His children respect him because their good mama cultivates it in their hearts, but you will never see them light up for their dad the way Gracie does for hers. In fact, you will never see his children light up with shiny faces on any occasion. Their hearts just do not know the depth of loving security that Gracie takes for granted.

Love wears the garments of laughter, joy, thanksgiving, delighted eyes meeting delighted eyes. Love is driving down the road singing together because the children’s joy is more important than your own tranquility. Love is hugs, cooking together, taking time to build a tent over the furniture. Love is making the children a part of your life—a part of your daily routine. Love is an irresistible delight in the developing soul of another person.

When your heart is full of love, it shows. You can see it; you can hear it, perhaps even smell it. If you know you don’t have the love I have described, then ask God to change your heart. It is worth it to hear, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Luke 11:9).