This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Mature Living magazine.
The time was too short and the days were never long enough for me as a young father of three little girls. It seems like it was six months ago when I wrote in a Christmas letter, “This year we will have three under 3.” But that was nearly 20 years ago, and those preschoolers are looking at college graduation. The days of reciting childhood blessings at the table are gone. The nights of leaning over cribs and asking God to replace night terrors with sweet dreams have ended. The days are different now, but my nights are still the same as they’ve always been since I became a father. When my head hits the pillow, I’m aware of the blessing of being a dad. And I want to be a blessing to my daughters.
I’ve found that blessing my adult children doesn’t have to be formal or planned out. My girls tell me two of the ways I bless them most are by listening and being their friend. I’m quick with answers they haven’t asked for and almost always feel a need to fix everything. But they remind me that they just need me to listen. They tell me I bless them when I listen — listen to their hearts, I would add. They also enjoy doing things together without an agenda. Once I drove 380 miles round trip to take my daughter to a movie. She was away at college and needed a friend. We didn’t talk much (after all, we were at a movie), but we spent time together. That’s the blessing of friendship.
There are times I know words aren’t enough, but I say them anyway. There’s no greater blessing than sincerely saying, “I love you,” as you look into your child’s eyes. Every child, adult, and adult child longs to be loved and to hear those words. “You make me so proud,” and “I love being your dad,” are words your child needs to hear. But “I love you” needs to be said most often, with sincerity, with eye contact, and maybe even a hug. These words of blessing aren’t spoken in response to anything that has been done, but just because.
“I am so sorry,” is the cry of a dad’s heart that his child needs to hear. I’ve said it many times, not as much as an apology — though admitting fault will bless your child — but in empathy. Many times the words come with tears. To hurt with your child, to share his or her burden can be a huge blessing in times of heartache. I always remind my children that there is nothing they will ever say, do, or become that will ever disappoint me. I just can’t come to a place where I say the words, “I’m disappointed in you.” Children always want to please their parents, no matter how long they’ve been on their own.
One-on-one time doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s transformational. We talk and listen to each other. I always ask, “Are you safe physically … emotionally … socially … spiritually?” If we’re together for any length of time, I usually ask if what they are involved in — academically, relationally, vocationally — is life-giving. There are more formal blessings I write down and hand deliver, or keystroke and send, or speak to them in the presence of others. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and the birth of their own children are opportunities to bless our children.
Ephesians 3:14-19 expresses my heart’s desire for my children: “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
David Bennett is editor of HomeLife and Open Windows. He met his wife, Kimberly, at 2:10 p.m. on his fifth day at LifeWay. David loves being the dad of three daughters: Mary Claire, Caroline, and Sarah Kate.