tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wood: Make all the time you can for your children, while there’s still time

I had an opportunity to interview Steve Wood recently for Family Foundations, the membership magazine of the Couple to Couple League ( Steve has built a name for himself as a former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism. He heads the Family Life Center International, based in Greenville, S.C., and frequently speaks at Christian men’s conferences. Steve is one of the originators of St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, Inc., an international network of Christian men. Wood is the author of several books, including the just published “Legacy – Handbook for Fathers.” Following are excerpts from our conversation:

How does a father parent differently to a daughter than to a son?

Certain things take on added importance with a daughter. For example, keeping your marriage together is critical for a boy or a daughter, but a daughter will always carry the image of the man either being faithful or unfaithful to her mother. And if she can’t trust the first man in her life to stick around, she will find a lifelong challenge trusting any man to commit to her for life.

In a similar fashion, it is important for fathers to spend generous amounts of time with their children. But with daughters, I have found, the time window of opportunity for doing that is far shorter. For instance, I could wake up my teenage sons this Saturday and say, ‘Who wants to go to Home Depot?’ and they would jump out of bed and join me. When my daughters were young, I could say to them, ‘Who wants to go to Home Depot?’ and they would all jump in the car with me. But if I say to my teenage daughters, ‘Would you like to go with your brothers and me to Home Depot?’ they would look at me with a funny look on their face because their interests have changed. There is a very natural separation that will happen more acutely with daughters. So if fathers are going to impact their daughters, they better not lose the opportunity of doing that in childhood.

How does a father weigh the role of disciplinarian and friend to a son or daughter?

Well, isn’t that what the Christian life is? Balance? Think of our Heavenly Father; some people want to make Him only a judge, and not a merciful father. He is both. The reason He is good at either one is that He is good at both.

I believe that a highly religious father commitment to disciplining his children needs to know how to have fun. One of my favorite examples is Saint Thomas More. Here is a man who wore a hair shirt. He got up in the middle of the night to study his faith, died a martyr and everything else. A lot of people don’t know that St. Thomas More kept a monkey in his home simply for the pure entertainment of his family. As the monkey did silly things, they could all sit there, as a highly religious family, and laugh. If dad can’t lighten up, and I am talking about the religious dads, it is a huge mistake to be so serious about your faith that you just can’t have some wild and crazy fun. A dad needs to do both.

Do you have any thoughts for fathers who find themselves in disagreement with their wife about how to raise their child, or about how to deal with a particular issued involving their child? The father has a headship role in the family. If he finds himself in disagreement with his wife should he assert his headship even if it means going against his wife?

I greatly prefer that both parents make a lifelong journey of learning about their faith, about marriage and about parenting. And rather than having two, opposite, inflexible opinions, ideally husband and wife grow together. So if my wife is reading an interesting article on discipline that she thinks has certain insights and a certain balance that might be needed in our family, I would like to look it over. And if I find something that really seems to strike home, then I ask her to listen to that. Rather than having entrenched opposite positions, you try to grow together, and the earlier you begin this process the better.

What is the most important thing a man can do to become an even better father?

I am going to mention what I believe is perhaps the most neglected thing – that’s a man being a man. That’s doing the things you love and making your children a part of that.

For instance, so many men feel that they love their sports life, their outdoor life, and they also love their children, their family life. But they keep these things as distinct spheres. I believe that men can and should pursue their sports and hobbies, their outdoor life, but do so in a way that whatever you love, you incorporate those you love in those activities. By doing so, you are building an incredibly strong relational bridge between you and your children because you are sharing something you really love with your children. A father who does that is setting himself up to be the best religious educator in the world because the strength of the faith conveyed by any religious teacher is directly dependent upon their relationship between the teacher and the student. And if a father builds these relationships in a special way –- by fishing, hunting, kayaking, backpacking, bicycling, whatever it is with your children –- then you do a little bit of religious instruction and it goes a long, long way, and it doesn’t pass away during the adolescent challenges.

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