I am far from a perfect dad. And I always will be. But I’m a damn good dad, and my son will always feel bigger than anything life can throw at him. Why? Because I get it. I get the power a dad has in a child’s life, and in a child’s level of self-belief. I get that everything I ever do and ever say to my son will be absorbed, for good or for bad.
Dads. Do you not realize that your child needs to feel your skin on his? Do you not realize the incredible and powerful bond that skin on skin contact with your daughter will give you? Do you not understand the permanent mental connections that are made when you stroke your son’s bare back or rub your daughter’s bare tummy while you tell bedtime stories? And if any idiot says anything about that being inappropriate, you’re gonna get kicked in the face, first by me, and then by every other good dad out there. Touching your child is your duty as a father.
And if you are a mom who has watched your child’s father leave, my heart goes out to you. I also pray that you had no part in it. I pray that you didn’t make it impossible for him while he was there. I pray that you didn’t try and force him to live up to impossible expectations. And, I pray that if he is a good man and he wants to be there in his child’s life that you love your child enough to let him. Even if that seems impossible to you.
Dads. Do you honestly expect anybody to believe that you can’t find 20 minutes to step away from your computer or turn off the television to play with your child? It has to happen every single day. Do you not understand that children will hinge their entire facet of trust on whether or not their dad plays with them and how involved he is when he plays with them? Do you know the damage you do by not playing with your children every day?
Do we not see the influence we have when we say we believe in one thing, but our children see us living something else? Do we not realize how little we encourage our children to actually decide what they believe, declare what they believe, and then live by it? Whether it’s religion, politics, sports, or societal norms. It is not our place to tell our kids what to think. It is our place to teach our kids to think correctly. If we do this, we need have no fear of what they will decide for themselves and how strongly they’ll stand behind it. A man will follow his own convictions to his death, but he’ll only follow another man’s convictions until he steps in manure.
Dads. It’s time to tell our kids that we love them. Constantly. It’s time to show our kids that we love them. Constantly. It’s time to take joy in their twenty-thousand daily questions and their inability to do things as quickly as we’d like. It’s time to take joy in their quirks and their ticks. It’s time to take joy in their facial expressions and their mispronounced words. It’s time to take joy in everything that our kids are.
I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting. …It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand. '…a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.' So should a child’s. For myself, I will never talk down to, or draw down to, children.(from the author's acceptance speech for the Caldecott award)
Girls aside, the other thing I found in the last few years of being at school, was a quiet, but strong Christian faith – and this touched me profoundly, setting up a relationship or faith that has followed me ever since.I am so grateful for this. It has provided me with a real anchor to my life and has been the secret strength to so many great adventures since.But it came to me very simply one day at school, aged only sixteen.As a young kid, I had always found that a faith in God was so natural. It was a simple comfort to me: unquestioning and personal.But once I went to school and was forced to sit through somewhere in the region of nine hundred dry, Latin-liturgical, chapel services, listening to stereotypical churchy people droning on, I just thought that I had got the whole faith deal wrong.Maybe God wasn’t intimate and personal but was much more like chapel was … tedious, judgemental, boring and irrelevant.The irony was that if chapel was all of those things, a real faith is the opposite. But somehow, and without much thought, I had thrown the beautiful out with the boring. If church stinks, then faith must do, too.The precious, natural, instinctive faith I had known when I was younger was tossed out with this newly found delusion that because I was growing up, it was time to ‘believe’ like a grown-up.I mean, what does a child know about faith?It took a low point at school, when my godfather, Stephen, died, to shake me into searching a bit harder to re-find this faith I had once known.Life is like that. Sometimes it takes a jolt to make us sit and remember who and what we are really about.Stephen had been my father’s best friend in the world. And he was like a second father to me. He came on all our family holidays, and spent almost every weekend down with us in the Isle of Wight in the summer, sailing with Dad and me. He died very suddenly and without warning, of a heart attack in Johannesburg.I was devastated.I remember sitting up a tree one night at school on my own, and praying the simplest, most heartfelt prayer of my life.‘Please, God, comfort me.’Blow me down … He did.My journey ever since has been trying to make sure I don’t let life or vicars or church over-complicate that simple faith I had found. And the more of the Christian faith I discover, the more I realize that, at heart, it is simple. (What a relief it has been in later life to find that there are some great church communities out there, with honest, loving friendships that help me with all of this stuff.)To me, my Christian faith is all about being held, comforted, forgiven, strengthened and loved – yet somehow that message gets lost on most of us, and we tend only to remember the religious nutters or the God of endless school assemblies.This is no one’s fault, it is just life. Our job is to stay open and gentle, so we can hear the knocking on the door of our heart when it comes.The irony is that I never meet anyone who doesn’t want to be loved or held or forgiven. Yet I meet a lot of folk who hate religion. And I so sympathize. But so did Jesus. In fact, He didn’t just sympathize, He went much further. It seems more like this Jesus came to destroy religion and to bring life.This really is the heart of what I found as a young teenager: Christ comes to make us free, to bring us life in all its fullness. He is there to forgive us where we have messed up (and who hasn’t), and to be the backbone in our being.Faith in Christ has been the great empowering presence in my life, helping me walk strong when so often I feel so weak. It is no wonder I felt I had stumbled on something remarkable that night up that tree.I had found a calling for my life.