Learning to Be a Good Dad

Learning to Be a Good Dad

In Articles, Family, Father by J.R. Hudberg

As we begin, two things need to be said:

First, perhaps like many dads, I feel woefully underqualified to write an article on this topic. This article’s original theme was “What it Takes to be a Good Dad.” The personally painful truth is that I simply cannot write that article.

However, I can write one about learning to be a good dad.

That’s what we are all hopefully doing anyway—continually learning to be better dads than we were yesterday. Some days feel like a solid effort; others, I repent and pray that God will protect my sons from any hurt stemming from my long journey toward sanctification.

Second, we will look at the dad in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This parable is not about being a good dad, but parables are, by nature, related to real life, and there are observations we can make as we look at the father (who represents God) that we can learn from.

Before you continue, take a few minutes to read the parable from Luke 15:11-32.

There are three things we can imitate from the father in this story. I have been wrestling with these things, asking God to help me be a better father—a dad who represents our Heavenly Father well.

1. Listen to Your Kids

At different points in the story, we feel bad for the father. Neither of his sons seems content with the life he has provided for them.

The younger son is a user; he takes what he can get from his dad (Luke 15:12). The older son, though seemingly responsible, is likewise only concerned about what is good for him (Luke 15:28-30). Each son expresses selfish behavior.

But look at how the father responds. He is not dismissive. He is not angry. He allows each son to express himself and responds differently to each one. He listens to the hearts (good or bad) of his sons and respects their thoughts and feelings. His personalized treatment of each son suggests a listening approach to his parenting that recognizes the uniqueness of each son.

We hear this most clearly in his response to the older son. When the older son complains about his treatment, the father reminds him that everything the father has is the elder son’s. The father could have seemingly used this same tactic to respond to the younger son earlier in the story. Perhaps he understood that children need to be parented in ways that are effective for them individually, so he responded to each differently as he listened to them.

Listening to our children does not mean we give them everything they ask for. Listening does require patience to let our children express themselves.

It is easy to jump to the end of the conversation when we think we know where it is going or to offer advice before the child has shared everything. When we listen, we discover more of who they are and are given more insight into how to parent them best. Whether they are five, fifteen, or twenty-five, listening to our children never becomes less important.

2. Be Patient

This may be the hardest one for me. This is the one fruit whose harvest seems exceedingly sparse in my life. And, unfortunately, it is likely the fruit my sons are hungriest for.

In the parable, we see the father’s patience in the intimation that he is watching the road for his youngest son. The fact that the father sees the son while he is still a long way off (v.20) suggests that looking down the road was not an unusual behavior. I imagine that it was the gait and posture that the father recognized long before he could see his son’s face; I know I would recognize my sons’ walks from farther away than I could identify their features.

The father in the parable did not know when or even if his youngest would come home. He certainly hoped his son would return, but he could not see the future. He did not know how his son’s story would end, so he waited, patiently, watching the road for any sign that his son’s life had taken a turn.

In the same way, we do not know the end of our children’s story. But we need to be patient as it plays out from page to page. This is especially true if we find ourselves waiting for our own wayward child to return home, either physically or spiritually. But it is equally true in smaller ways. Our children need time to develop and to learn different lessons to become the people God made them to be. Our job as dads is not to rush their growth or force them into a certain mould or onto a path of our choosing, but to patiently wait and encourage them as they continue to discover who God has made them to be.

3. Celebrate

The return of the prodigal was an obvious time to raise the roof! What a joyous occasion for the family (most of them anyway—I shudder to think how that brotherly relationship played out in the days that followed).

Far too often, we do not celebrate good things that happen to our children. Perhaps it is because we expect them to do well, and when they do, it is just what “should” happen.

This is a tragedy. We can and should appropriately celebrate our children. This can be anything from a compliment to a full party. This doesn’t suggest that we overblow things, but we need to recognize our children’s accomplishments. The moments in their lives that are significant to them may not always seem worthy of a celebration, but that may be putting a grown-up lens on the situation.

Celebrate the important moments in your children’s lives. Let them know you are paying attention to what is significant to them.

Again, this parable is not about parenting. But nonetheless, the father in the story provides us with behaviours to emulate as we learn to be good dads.

J.R. Hudberg
J.R. Hudberg is a writer and executive editor for Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI, where he lives with his wife and their two sons. He has written Encounters with Jesus and Journey through Amos.
J.R. Hudberg
J.R. Hudberg is a writer and executive editor for Our Daily Bread Ministries in Grand Rapids, MI, where he lives with his wife and their two sons. He has written Encounters with Jesus and Journey through Amos.