Life Lessons as a Dad - Part 1


When Terri and I had been married (August 27th, 1977) for about a year and three months, we were resting on our bed when a very strange feeling came over me. It was a kind of “loneliness” that I had never felt before. As I shared these feelings with Terri, I dawned on me that it was a desire to become a father that was rising in me. We shared that day about our mutual desire to become parents. Almost exactly nine months later, Luke was born–August 1979 in Little Rock Arkansas.

Two years later in August, Lisa came into the world. Then three years passed and Sam burst onto the scene–again in August . After moving to Kansas City, via a short time in Michigan, and when Sam was almost four, Mike was born–a July baby. And finally…last, but not least, Steve arrived after another three years–hey, how did October sneak into our family calendar?

Needless to say, we were thrust headlong into a very long stint of parenthood. When we first talked about having kids, Terri thought we might have two! She has been an amazing mom to our kids and I respect her so highly for this. (One thing that she determined early on was that she would never sacrifice our family on the altar of church ministry. She set aside many of her God-encoded aspirations and capacities for a more “public” kind of ministry–speaking, writing, traveling, leading–to focus on just being a great mom who viewed her kids as her first “ministry priority.” This is one of her life messages that I hope you’ll get to hear more about in the days ahead. And…those God-given dreams for a greater impact in ministry for Christ?…they are now beginning to be fulfilled in her life. So watch out world!)

When I share about parenting, I usually begin with referring to Psalm 127 verse 1:

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders (us!) labor in vain.”

This is a Psalm that is much to do with God and family–and His “senior partnership” in the enterprise. I have observed that many parents who are Jesus-followers, are afraid and uptight about how their kids will turn out and that this fear has long-term counter-productive effects on the chemistry of their family relations. Sadly, sometimes “Christian” books on parenting have only fueled the fears–ugh.

The first lesson that I have attempted to incorporate as a dad has been to really trust the Lord (down deep in my guts–really, really, really) with my kids’ lives and futures. This ability is empowered by a belief that we are just their parents and that we are not the Holy Spirit. His job is simply too big for us! We have to create an environment about our family that makes room for God to be God to our kids, and also…for us to be us–imperfect parents who are still in process. God has never entrusted a baby to a totally wise and mature parent–isn’t He amazing? But He has no other choice…right?

No, being a successful dad is not about being infallible. Covering up our immaturity, failures and weaknesses as parents drives our children’s hearts away from us. Being transparent, honest and humble about them actually, and ironically, endears them to us. They instinctively know that we haven’t been and aren’t yet perfected in God’s love, and they become experts at discerning pretense–especially when they become teens. So lesson number one is the need for dads to be vulnerable before God…and also before our kids. It’s really a great kind of relief and release when we “go there” as fathers.

Thank God, there’s more to us than our weaknesses (and more needs to be said about this), but God does give grace to the humble. 

Michael Sullivant