Last week we began a short series on fatherhood and regret. We started with David’s regret about his failures with Absalom, but there are plenty of regretful fathers in the Bible. The high priest Eli would be just one such example. His story is found in 1 Samuel’s first several chapters. His sons were blatantly sinful and disrespectful toward their assigned work at the Tabernacle of God. When you read the story you are caused to wonder, “Why didn’t Eli rebuke his sons, discipline them, teach them?” By the time Samuel comes to Eli with a prophecy about God’s judgment, Eli seems to have recognized his failures, but it seemed to have been too late to curb. What regret Eli must have felt at the shameful behavior of his sons.
How do we avoid the regret? Last week we began by talking about a father’s example—attitudes, actions, words, everything. This week we’ll consider the teaching part of fatherhood.
Besides the provision of the necessities of life and showing love, teaching is the number one job of a dad. Children enter this world completely ignorant of how the world works. God gave children parents for a reason—to teach them! The book of Proverbs often speaks as a father teaching a son. The entire book seems to be mostly a collection of principles, pieces of wisdom, and insightful nuggets that one might teach to one’s son. And the promise given to the son who listens is long and satisfying life (Prov. 3:2). A slightly different aspect of this truth is that the father who doesn’t teach is depriving his children of a long and satisfying life.
So how do you teach?
The first place I’ll stop on this whirlwind tour of fatherly teaching is modeling. We talked about it last week, but I’ll emphasize it again here, because a child’s ears will always be closed to the oral teachings of a man who is not practicing what he preaches. As the poem goes, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way: The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear, fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.” (Edgar Guest)
Recognize and Use Teachable Moments
A father needs to recognize “teachable moments”. Teachable moments are those precious opportunities, when the child is sincerely asking why. When they are just not getting it and are looking for help. When they are standing in awe of the night sky, or a gorgeous sunset, or a baby’s innocence. When disaster or failure or tragedy strikes. And sometimes, when you yourself just start to spontaneously (and appropriately) share your thoughts with them. They are the moments without the pride of “I’ve got this”, the moments without the “I know, I know” attitude; when the walls are down and curiosity’s up. They will happen; they do happen; and when they do, you have to recognize them and take advantage of every second those windows are open—in a globally connected world, they don’t happen as often as they used to.
Time is precious to us all, and finding the time to teach children is hard. Some frustrated and selfish parents have been known to spout-off, “That’s what they have teachers/youth ministers for!” But the father who fails to carve out, chisel out, blast out the time to teach his children will pay with heart-breaking regret. Teachers and youth ministers may do some good, but poll after poll, year after year teens name their parents as their primary influence in life. Without you deliberately taking the time to teach them the spiritual things, the Biblical stories, the godly ways, the responsible life, etc., the only thing left is the school of hard knocks. If you don’t know how to do this, run, do not walk, to a brother who is doing it or has done it well and get some help.
Use All Avenues
Teaching, as any good teacher will tell you, is not a one-tool endeavor; it’s not, for example, just a lecture. Rather, effective teaching uses a box full of tools: discussion, question and answer, testing, correction, doing a “post-mortem” on a failure and a success, training, coaching, praising, pointing out (discretely, of course) the successes and failures of others and discussing the whys, allowing consequences, modeling (as mentioned above), and even punishment—to name just a few.
Explaining is another one of those tools of teaching, of course, but I mention it specially here, because there are ways of teaching that are basically just “Do this; don’t do that,” that aren’t very effective. The question, “Why?” isn’t always a challenge to authority—sometimes it’s a genuine and legitimate question. You see, while “Do this; don’t do that” might work for a few kids, most want and need an explanation. Explanations helps kids (and adults) to apply the principles to a much wider range of life experiences. Explanations take more time, but they better equip kids for the life that they will face now and in the future. Take the time and explain things.
Be a father who teaches, not a father who regrets.