PMP:077 Four Tips for #DadsAsPrincipals

I’ve noticed a group of principals trending on Twitter lately using the hashtag #dadsasprincipals.

Photo by akahawkeyefan – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

And my friend Daniel Bauer recently interviewed a group of these dedicated dads at last month’s National Principal Conference. You can hear their talk here.

These dads have picked up on the #momsasprincipals movement they saw happening among their female colleagues, and they wanted to encourage one another as dads to stay as invested in their own children as they were to the ones in their schools.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fatherhood this week because my oldest daughter just went to college. Eighteen years ago, I was standing by her hospital crib when she been delivered prematurely. She was six and half weeks early and weighed a healthy 5lbs, 11 ounces. But she struggled to breathe, so nurses asked me to push her cart and follow them to the NICU. Here they moved her into a crib with a ventilator and connected her to wires and leads.

For the next two weeks, my wife and I spent our days at the NICU or the “NIC-unit” as the nurses called it. At first, we could only stroke her and hold her little hands. Then she was able to try nursing. Eventually, they gave Missy a room where she could sleep in the same room with Emily at night. It was Thanksgiving Day when we brought her home. My wife’s family had spent so much time out-of-state visiting her in the hospital and helping us prepare for her arrival, they had all returned to their homes to give us space. We forgot that it was Thanksgiving so I ran to the store and we had a simple dinner and just basked in the joy of having our first baby safely home.

During the two weeks of her hospitalization, the hardest part was sleeping at night without her there. It’s odd how I could live my whole life without knowing I would someday have an Emily to love, but the moment she was born, I could no longer imagine a world without her. We had bought a CD of Michael Card’s Sleep Sound in Jesus. So, we’d play it at night as we held one another and prayed for her.

This week our 18-year old went to college. It was a delight to see her filling the house with shopping bags and watching her organize books and clothes. The night before she left we gathered all four kids in the living room. I brought out a bottle of sparkling grape juice, and we all made toasts to Emily, and then we prayed for her. The next day, her mother was the hero of the day when we moved her in, and she helped her unpack and settle in. We are so proud of her for the full-academic scholarship that allows her in the school’s honors program. But the last few days have been harder than I imagined they would be.

It’s a different feeling than I’ve ever had before. I know she will come home again for breaks or long weekends. I know we’ll have her home for the holidays and talk her into vacation getaways. But there is more than an empty bed in our home. I’ve tried to compare it to finishing one of the best books you’ve ever read. You turn the page, and it’s over, but you still want more. And you find yourself grieving that you don’t get to be there for stories of the characters that must keep going on.

And I’m having all these memories of Emily. The nights we snuggled in the blue chair to read books. Playing with her in her first kiddie pool. Watching her play sports. Peeking into her classrooms at school. Driving to games together with her face paint and lucky blanket. Having her there after a school event to lay her head on my shoulder or tell me she was meeting her friends at IHOP. Hearing her sing in church.

One time I asked her if she had a favorite memory. I thought she’d say going to the mountains or Christmas at Gran’s. But she said, “My favorite memory is when I was still little and you were on summer vacation. We’d lay in the kiddie pool, and we’d look at clouds while you told me stories.”

And then there are the regrets. The lessons I wish I had taken more time to teach her. The fears of wondering if she’ll make the right choices while she’s on her own. The places I always wanted to show her but didn’t.

It may be too soon for me to offer advice to other dads, but for what’s it’s worth, here are a few thoughts I know older dads probably told me, and so now it’s my turn:

1. When you can, eat supper together as a family.

I know it’s old-fashioned, but when we don’t have a Scout meeting, band event, or game to attend, we unplug from all technology and sit at the table for meals. Having this time to talk and catch up is one of the best ways we’ve found to reconnect with our kids throughout a busy week.

2.  Read to and with your kids.

I don’t do this as much now that they’re older, but for years, we had book time. When they were little it was story books. As they grew older, we read entire novels together including the Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Living adventures together gives you a lot to talk about and time together

3. Build your own rituals.

With four kids, it has sometimes been hard to find one-on-one time. So we have some family traditions we started so we could capture some special time with each one:

  • Half-birthday dates: Every kid gets a half-birthday date each year. The girls with me, and Jack with Missy. They decide what they want to do, and we can spend an entire afternoon or evening just being together.
  • 11-year-old weekend away: Each child also was given an out-of-town weekend away when they turned 10: the girls with Missy, and Jack with me.
  • 13-year-old first date: At thirteen, each girl was treated to a fancy date night with dad and given a special necklace. Jack still has his coming.
  • 16-year-old weekend: Sixteen meant another weekend away with mom.
  • 18-year-old adult dinner: Missy and I took Emily out just the three of us after she turned eighteen to remind her how proud we were of her.

Each of these times was a focus on the kinds of life lessons we wanted them to learn and understand as they were developing as children, teens, and young adults. We’d talk about everything from goals setting to understanding sex.

4. Give yourself lots of grace.

The last advice I’d give is to not be so hard on yourself. When I think back to all the times we’ve disagreed, the family crisis times, the angry outbursts or ways I’ve disappointed my kids, it’s easy to only remember the failures. But relationships are not like recipes. You can’t just mix all the right ingredients together and bake at the right temperature for a guaranteed outcome. People are spiritual, physical, emotional and complexly designed. And that’s what makes relationships so much more fulfilling and frustrating than a good piece of cake. So love well and when you don’t, start each day new. Ultimately, God is the one in control of the final outcomes.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I thought of Emily. I couldn’t peek in her room for a goodnight kiss or ask her about her day. We had texted back-and-forth a little but it was obvious she was busy with freshman orientation. So, I decided to play Sleep Sound in Jesus on my keyboard. As the music filled my soul, I remembered how it soothed me eighteen years ago. And I’m still whispering the same prayers now.

Here are the lyrics to Sleep Sound in Jesus by Michael Card:

Sleep sound in Jesus my baby, my dear,
Angels are watching, they keep you so near;
Know for His sake you’ll be safe for the night,
Sleep sound in Jesus, I’ll turn out the light.

Sleep sound in Jesus, sweetheart of my heart,
The dark of the night will not keep us apart;
When I lay you down in your bed for the night,
He holds you gently till morning is light.

Sleep sound in Jesus, the angels are here,
They’re keeping watch so there’s nothing to fear;
Against any foe they are ready to fight,
So sleep sound in Jesus, I’ll turn out the light.

Now It’s Your Turn

As you look at the start of a new school year, what are ways you can stay connected with those who matter most in your life? How can you keep investing time in loving those in your school or on your team while also making time for the ones you hold most dear?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker