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Seeing as Father’s Day is just around the corner, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on what being a father means to me. I have two boys who are everything boys should be: rambunctious, curious, determined, feisty, brave, whimsical, loving, tender, and foolhardy, often all at the same time!

They do boy things: play sports, wrestle each other (and me!), squabble, brawl, fish, splash in the tub, eat ants (yup!), beg for dessert, play pretend knights, dress up as superheroes, make s’mores, crawl into my bed at three in the morning, chase bubbles and plant pumpkin seeds after Halloween.

They are wonderfully and fearfully made: one likes to read for hours while the other can draw imaginary castles, they have their dad’s goofiness and their mom’s sass, they are natural-born leaders and hate to lose at anything.

In short, they are as special as any two boys can be.

And that is why I see fatherhood as an intentional charge to keep. These are boys who will one day grow into men, men who will have to be wise, virtuous, disciplined, and discerning if they are to avoid falling prey to their own shortcomings; men who will have to do the very difficult work of saying no to those things that everyone else says yes to and yes to the things that most say no to; men with the courage to walk humbly, act justly and love mercy.

To see this vision out requires a dedicated intentionality: one that does not hew to the cultural sirens offering momentary pleasure and fleeting gratification at the expense of longterm regret, brokenness and destruction.

And so, on this Father’s Day, I offer these reflections on how I hope to achieve a future for my boys that entails blessing, sacrifice and wholeness:

1. Embrace Discipline. For most people, the idea of discipline begins and ends with punishment, typically after nerves are frayed and tempers are hot. The true idea of discipline, however, comes from the Latin root word for disciple; that is, discipline is not about punishing an act but about shaping a person. True discipline is about correcting a behavior that misses the mark of virtue, wisdom, selflessness, etc. For me (though I fail too often), I want the discipline of my boys to be about helping shape them into whole men, which is why I try, after each time they get in trouble, to remind them that they are good boys, and that I love them and still believe in them.

2. Engage in risky behavior. For so long, I believed that my role as their father was to protect them from dangers. However, after many visits to the ER for burned hands, split open scalps, and broken collarbones, I have come to believe that I cannot protect them from dangers. Life is dangerous. It is full of things I wish they never have to encounter. There are people and circumstances and situations that threaten them that I may not be able to control. Therefore, I have come to believe that my role is not to protect them, but to prepare them. That is why I take them with me when we go to feed the homeless in Florence, Italy or to walk the streets of downtown OKC through what was once “crack alley.” There is a certain strength I want them to have that can only come from engaging in the broken areas of life. If I want them to have the resolve and desire to push back darkness, I cannot be afraid to walk with them through the dark places.

3. Break bread, often. A former student of mine has done tremendous work in the area of bringing families back to the dinner table to share meals together (check out her blog, The Share Better Stories Project, for more info). What our grandparents knew naturally, we seem to have forgotten: discipleship is best done around the table. For this reason, even though my boys are active athletes and love to play sports, my wife and I have made a conscious decision to limit the number of team sports they play so that we can try to have as many home cooked meals together as possible (it also helps that my wife is a great cook!). This is time reserved for talking, sharing, planning, praying, and just basic modeling. We laugh, sing (mostly me!), dance (mostly the boys) and do goofy stuff we would never do in public, plus, the research on family meal time makes it clear that sharing meals together regularly increases positive adolescent behavior, leads to greater academic achievement and improves psychological well-being.

4. Create temples. In a previous post, I alluded to our nighttime routine, but I will outline it here again: every night (without fail), the boys take their baths, we brush our teeth, and then we gather together on the couch in the living room for story time (3-4 books, now read by my 7-year-old to his younger brother). After books, we go to one of the boys’ bedrooms for songs, 10-15 minutes of singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” / “You Are My Sunshine” / “Down By the Station” etc. Then we end the evening in prayer for each other, for family and for the day to come. This is sacred, holy time. Like evening vespers, this time brings our day to a close, ushers in the divine, and seals the day with a prayer and a kiss. It is the work that best shapes out of the raw and early lumber of their young lives the active presence of the living Church in their midst.

5. Express vulnerability. I have often heard it said that the most important words a child can hear beyond “I love you” are “I’m sorry.” I stumbled onto this practice quite by accident with my first son when I lost my temper and flared out at him. After watching his little face quiver and break out into a sob, I knew I stood on the threshold of either standing by my angry outburst, or kneeling down, holding him close, leaning in and crying with him, saying, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” That moment sealed us. From then on, when I have blown it, I want my boys (and my wife) to hear those words, “I’m sorry.” It shows them that: a) I am human and make mistakes, and b) when mistakes are made, the quickest way to wholeness is through repentance. I believe it takes a strong person to express vulnerability, and I believe my children are better for seeing me do so.

Therefore, as we make our way towards Father’s Day, I am reminded that these two precious little guys are my charge to keep. My deep and fervent prayer is for the strength, wisdom, courage and discipline required to bind upon their little hearts words of grace, shalom, and agape.