My daughter loves superheroes, not unlike 3/4 of the other small children in the country. She loves watching Batman cartoons, along with the Avengers, Superman, Wonder Woman, and almost anyone else who wears a cape and fights bad guys. As a dad, I love that she is excited by characters that fight against injustice and stand for right. I want my kids to embody these qualities in their lives. I pray that they become people of integrity – who courageously live their lives based on their beliefs. I want my son and daughter to do great things and live their lives in ways that inspire others to greatness. Truth be told, I doubt my kids will ever fight villains, but as we grow up and put more simplified versions of the world away, we come to recognize that real heroes often do far more ordinary things – everyday – for the duration of their lives.
I have spoken to people who indicate that they would selflessly do great things if the opportunity arose, but act selfishly in many other aspects of life. They say things like: I would give money to the poor – if I had more money than I could ever spend. The basic gist being that heroic action would be on the agenda if the opportunity ever arises. I have conversed with countless individuals in orange jumpsuits living behind locked doors who swear that they would sacrifice their lives for their families. My response has always been the same: “You say you would give your life for your family, but you refuse to live the same life for them.” Many of them sadly acknowledge that they had wound up incarcerated because they were busy doing what they considered to be important, while leaving family to fend for themselves. A proper hero in a family doesn’t engage in one-time heroic acts. Rather, he is a father who leads spiritually, works hard every day, acts lovingly toward his wife, and spends time talking to, teaching, and loving his children. This manner of hero is far more important because he is making the next generation of heroes. There is a basic truth about children that most parents recognize, but is often not regarded with the appropriate gravity. That truth is that children learn a great deal through observation and imitation. This is most obvious when you look at children and see their parents in facial expressions or mannerisms. They learn these things by mirroring their parents. Children learn values, beliefs, communication patterns, behavioral tendencies, etc. by observing and imitating those they spend the most time with. This is particularly important of the father, who plays a unique and nearly irreplaceable role in the family. Raising a superhero doesn’t start with some crazy trick or technique. Rather, it begins with a great deal of mundane, repetitive modeling of behaviors that are in keeping with the core values that constitute a hero. There are several areas where this is particularly important.
- Spirituality- The father’s participation and leadership in family spiritual life is vital because of the father’s enormous influence on the family. Consistent religious practice that is discussed openly with the family is central to raising children that live out those beliefs. This component of life is particularly important because religious beliefs serve as a philosophical foundation for all other values, beliefs, and practices. Further, it is the aspect of life that is concerned with eternal, transcendent matters. I know many men who contend that they hold deep religious convictions in their hearts and minds, but spend little time demonstrating them outwardly or intentionally teaching their children to do so. This results in children who never learn the value or priority of concern for eternal issues.
- Relationally- One of the surest ways to encourage healthy relationships in your children’s future is by engaging in healthy, emotionally-open relationships with them. Daughters learn how to be loved through their connection to their dads. A young lady who grows up thirsting for her father’s affection, but never having the need properly met, will seek to meet that need in their future romantic relationships. The problem is that it is impossible for a husband to emotionally replace a father. This can also result in a daughter pursuing relationships with emotionally distant men, then trying to win their love. For young men, lack of emotional connection with and approval from their father can often result in them seeking to demonstrate their manhood through other means, like achieving success in life, attempts at manliness through physical dominance, etc. It is a vacuum that can alter a young man’s perception of their own manhood for life.
- Communication- The style of communication employed by the adults in a household will shape the ways their children will communicate. Direct, firm, honest, loving communication will tend to result in children who grow up to communicate in the same manner. Families who communicate in cutting or sarcastic remarks will produce adults who communicate the same way. Families who respond to any slight or offense with yelling or volatile emotional displays will train children to do likewise. Many couples do not consider what they are training their kids to do when they argue. Raising a child with healthy communication skills is largely a matter of modeling healthy communication.
- Values- A father who models a strong value system for their children through intentionally living out his work ethic, will tend to result in kids who take pride in their work. A father who puts effort forth to teach his children to stand up for the helpless and does so in his daily activity, will raise children who believe that protecting the helpless is important. Parents who read, and read to their children, will tend to raise kids who read. Kids learn the values that their parents model and teach.
- Time- The master key to the whole effort of raising a real world hero is time spent. The positive influence a parent wields in their child’s life is directly proportional to the time they spend investing in them. Parents, and fathers in particular, who spend time playing, talking, praying, eating, or engaged in any other activity with their kids will more effectively shape their lives.
These are just a few of the many areas it is important to focus effort on in the pursuit of positively impacting the lives of your children. The important concept to understand, which underlies every aspect of this list, is that you have to be the person you want your children to strive to become.