As the weekend draws closer, my sons start asking me a question while I’m putting them to bed. They don’t ask me every night, usually once or twice a week. When I answer, “No.” they always seem bummed. When I’m able to tell them, “Yes.” I’m met with a visible excitement. They like to ask, “Dad, are you going to stay with us tomorrow?”
If you have a child I’m sure you can relate. Their little worlds are so simple. They just want to eat (often), play, and spend time with us. My oldest son has a new favorite thing to do. just to be with Daddy. He gets out a hunting magazine or a National Geographic Kids, and “reads” it with me. We basically flip through the pages, and he asks me about each picture. We snuggle on the couch with the magazine, and I’ll hear “Look Dad!” dozens of times. On pages with only words I’ll usually hear him say, “Blah, boring,” as he reaches to turn the page.
It’s humbling. My sons are so happy just being with Dad, sitting on the couch and talking about pictures in a magazine. My 3 sons are looking at me to approve of and accept them. They just want my attention. They don’t care about cars, clothes, gadgets, stuff and status – not yet. Right now, they care about being with their Daddy. All they ask of me is simply, “stay with us.”
They know there are times when I can’t stay home. We talk about how Daddy goes to work and must be away for a while so that we can have our house, food, clothes, etc. As much as pre-K kids can, they seem to understand – but not approve. They accept the distance only because they have to.
Always asking if I’m going to be around, they make it clear how important my role as their father truly is. I sometimes arrive home in the evenings to fanfare that rivals an NFL touchdown. I am a dad with sons, and I’m responsible for that. Just as much as they need me to feed, clothe, and provide for them – they need me to be with them.
The responsibility of helping my children to grow up to be men is sometimes a heavy weight. There is a small window where I have this opportunity to reinforce their God-given desire to be with their father. I have only a few years to model how a father loves, supports, demands, challenges, teaches, empowers, instructs and … gulp … sacrifices for his children. I don’t want to blow it. I mean, I really don’t want to blow it.
I’ve heard it called – The Father Factor.
There is a simple truth that constantly lingers around the back of my mind. I first heard it put into words as I was starting college. It’s not complicated, makes all the sense in the world, and has been seared into my brain for over a decade now. From time to time, I’ll look at my sons begging for my attention or instruction, and I hear it echoed. It comes to mind so often because I’ve seen it proven true for myself and in the lives of many of my friends. It is simple, and obvious, and incredibly important.
Your view of God is directly impacted by your relationship with your earthly father.
The math goes something like this: Do you feel like God is a distant, unapproachable God? That might be because your earthly dad was that way. Does your image of God conger up ideas of rules, and laws, and harsh demands? That may be carried over from the way your father dealt with you, not the way God does. Do you have trouble talking with God? It’s probably because you never learned how to talk about stuff with dad. Do you believe that God isn’t there, or is uninterested if he is? Chances are you also had a dad who wasn’t there physically or emotionally. See how it works?
At some point we learn that there’s a God out there and he is a “Heavenly Father”. Immediately, all those connections are made whether we like it or not. Right now, I fill the role that will affect my sons’ relationship with their Creator later in life. It’s been called the “Father Factor.” I pray every night for the wisdom, patience, courage, and discipline to engage my sons as a good father. When they come see God as a “Father”, I hope our relationship has laid a good foundation for them. To do that, I’ve got to keep my prioroties straight.
Basically, I hunt less than I want to. If it was just about me, every weekend during hunting season would have me leaving after work on Friday, heading to the woods, and not returning until Sunday night. I can’t live that way right now and be a good husband/father to my family. At the same time, if I gave it all up to be around 24/7 and coddle my children, that would be just as much a disservice. Remember – this is all laying a groundwork for how my kids will see themselves and their God. If I make this life all about them – they’re going to expect God, and the world at large, to do the same.
Responsibility – Men Need Men.
Sometimes, I feel like an idiot for leaving the house at 4 am and spending Saturdays away from my family. It’s easy to miss the lessons that come from me leaving to hunt and just feel like a scrooge. I have to remind myself, there is more to this than me being away. I make some sacrifices, they make some sacrifices, and together we all accomplish a goal we want in the end. They see their father making hard decisions, but doing what’s good and leading the family with a purpose. I tell myself, being a responsible father does mean giving some things up, but we are gaining more.
We work hard as a family to make our time together count, especially during hunting seasons that pull me away on weekends. Making memories on weeknights is a priority when I know I’m headed out Saturday morning. We build forts, play games, and have “guys night” (a tradition where we send mom to get some alone time, and we all run around with our shirts off playing knights and dragons or pretending to hunt stuffed bears).
I try to be fun and engaged with my kids while I’m home, so that when I’m not it’s easier. When I come home, everyone gets involved processing the deer. We cut, grind, wrap, label, store, clean up, cook and eat as a family. Everyone has a role and a responsibility – mine is just the leaving before dawn part.
My boys will be men soon enough, and some of the lessons they need to learn come while I’m away rather than with them. By giving up a little bit of time some weekends, they are giving towards our goal of venison for the freezer. In a small way, my boys are already sacrificing for the good of the family (like they’ll do as dads one day.)
I’ve heard maturity defined as simply, the willingness to accept responsibility. I like that definition. We are plagued with a generation of adult men who are not mature. They neglect the responsibility of their families and live for themselves. This selfishness takes on many colors.
One man may take excessive time away from those who need him, in order to enjoy his hobbies or interests. That’s obviously selfish. Sometimes, it’s sneakier than that. I know guys who sacrifice everything for their kids. They work like dogs, buy their kids the best of everything, send them to great schools, and waste themselves on “taking care” of their families. That’s the back side of selfish. Whether it’s for the pride of being “that” guy, or the praise of their family, or the envy of their friends – it’s a selfish motive at the root. Both of these extremes guys are missing the point.
More than anything, our kids need mature dads. As a dad, I’m accepting responsibility for striking that middle ground between taking care of their needs, and teaching them to be capable men who stand on their own two feet. Hunting can be a great tool when working towards that end, or a great hindrance to what really matters.
What Does This Have To Do With Hunting? – The Point is Balance.
As a man trying to be a good father, my hunting has to fit into the bigger picture. My first priority is not a huge buck this year. What matters most when I enter those woods is much heavier than the meat we take from a big doe. My success, my worth, my goals are all connected to a mission that is far past hunting – raising men. Hunting can be a valuable tool or an obstacle. I choose to use hunting as a resource, rather than serve it as my master.
I hunt, but not as much, as far, or as long as I’d like to. I bring the boys into the process. Hunting is a family affair that helps us work together, rather than a divide that pulls their dad away. The key seems to be balancing priority. The priority is not the hunt, but the family. Hunting is what we do, it’s a part of our family.
Soon enough my guys will be headed to the timber with me. We’ll be sneaking around looking for bushy tails or perched up high, hoping for a glimpse of antlers – together. I look forward to the days when I can share that side of the hunting experience with my boys.
Maybe if I can navigate the question, “Dad, are you going to stay with us?” with my kids now, I’ll be hearing “Dad, are you going to come with us?” when they are out on their own in a few short years.