In this episode of Equip, Pastor of Leadership Development, Brad Merchant, talks with Executive Pastor of Operations, Bruce Smith, about the blessings and challenges of fatherhood.
Brad: I’m Brad merchant host of the Equip podcast and here with my good friend Bruce Smith, the Executive Pastor of Operations here at College Park. Bruce, how you doing today, man?
Bruce: Doing great Brad. Thanks for having me.
Brad: Yeah, we’re here today to talk about a fun topic, one that you have some experience in. I’d even call you a veteran actually. You can add that to your resume. And that is about being a dad. Don’t you love being a dad?
Bruce: I do. I love being a dad.
Brad: What do you love about being a dad?
Bruce: Well, you know, it is amazing to watch what God does in the lives of your children. So there’s, there’s so much that is out of our control. And to watch God bring children into a marriage and see them grow from a little teeny baby, see their personalities develop, and see them move into life is amazing. It’s wonderful being a father. It’s funny too. There’s so many stories that we have as a family that we can share it together. And there’s poignant points as well. Major life decisions, disappointments, and it’s an opportunity to learn and see what the Lord’s doing, not only in our lives, but think about influencing all of eternity. It’s a real gift to be a parent.
Brad: It’s like you get a front row seat at how God is at work in our lives of your kids. Well, what would you say makes a good dad—just an experience that you’ve had, maybe some advice you’ve heard along the way? What makes a good dad?
Bruce: Yeah. Well there’s a few and I’m certainly not the expert, but there’s a few things I’ve seen and experienced. One is to create a sense of belonging in a family. Now, children need to know they’re loved and they belong. They’re part of something bigger. Another thing that dad needs to do is to love his wife. Children need the security of seeing their mom and dad together, safe, and, that’s a big thing. Another thing is dad’s need to be godly, humble, faithful, have initiative. Yeah. And another thing I’d say is that we need to walk through life with our children in ways that is helpful to them. You know, troubles come, challenges come and a good dad is there when they need to talk, when the kids need an encouraging word, when the kid needs wides council. Yeah. So those are some things. And finally is gently bringing them to Jesus.
Brad: What do you mean by that, “gently bringing them to Jesus?”
Bruce: Well, you know, when children are born they’re sinners like all of us.
Brad: It doesn’t take long to figure that out, does it?
Bruce: It doesn’t. And so we as fathers have the opportunity to help our children understand that there’s a God that loves them, who’s holy, and that we have a need in our lives to be forgiven of our sins. And that Jesus is the only way. So that’s, that’s a great responsibility and a great blessing to be the primary discipler of our children.
Brad: Yeah. That’s a good word. I heard a friend of mine, who’s also a dad and a consequently a husband, always asked his wife this question—I always thought this was brilliant, so wise—he occasionally ask his wife on date nights when they’re going out together, maybe on a monthly retreat: do you feel more like my wife or a mother? What a great question because you want to cultivate that in your marriage. Make an example for your kids, like you said. That’s so good.
Bruce: Great question.
Brad: Alright Bruce. So, let’s go back. When did you have your first child? How old were you?
Bruce: I was, I must’ve been thirty.
Brad: Okay. So imagine I’m thirty-year-old Bruce Smith, not nearly as good looking as thirty-year-old Bruce Smith, right. But you’re sitting here across the table, thirty-year-old Bruce Smith. What advice would you give him? In other words, if you can go back, what are some regrets that you have, some things that you wish you could change, go back and just do differently? What are some things that come to mind?
Bruce: Well, first thing I would do is to believe what everybody told me. It goes by really fast. So that would be the first thing: to make your family priority. There are too many times I look back and go, “hmm, I wasn’t present when I was home.” I was working on a project or thinking about something else. And so that’d be the first thing that I would do. It goes by really fast, so be all in once baby comes. And then the second thing I would say is I would invite my kids more into my world. So I kind of did work and family and I think it would have been fun, looking back, to have the kids more involved in some of my work responsibilities. Maybe take them on a trip or engage them with the staff that I worked with more. And the third thing I would do, and this is maybe a gimme, but I would’ve prayed more. So, ultimately, God is the one who does the work in their lives and he has a purpose for them. He’s created them and I probably would’ve pray more.
Brad: Yeah, that’s good. I’ve heard it said that in parenting, really in life in general, but especially in parenting: “the days are long, the years are short.” Right? And you get back by the end of the day, and you’re just like, “when is this day gonna be over? And then ten years goes by like that.
Bruce: It does.
Brad: And you just miss it, you know?
Bruce: Yeah, that’s true.
Brad: What advice do you have for new dads? So, guys who, like myself at the time of this recording, a soon-to-be first time dad, what advice do you have for guys like me that are beginning this journey in the months ahead or in the years ahead, what advice do you have for them?
Bruce: Well, already talked a little bit about it. Make sure you protect your marriage and you give your wife time to rest and renew. She’s got a tough job too. So, as a dad, you need to be careful to love your wife and protect her from the pressures that come with being a mom.
Brad: So what are some ways you did that with your wife?
Bruce: Well, we would—you talked about a date night or get-away weekends. We’d certainly do that. Some things that she really liked to do, I’d make sure I was home for, I had a babysitter for so she could go out and rest, have time with friends, have things that she was interested in learning about. We’d give her opportunities to do things like that.
Brad: That’s great. What are some, some other things that maybe come to mind that you’re like, man, if you’re a new dad, you need to know this. Anything else that come to mind?
Bruce: Yeah, you know, I found it really helpful, Karen and I to make sure early on we talked about what’s important to us, what’s going to be success for us as a family. And then once we had a bit of a picture for that I made sure that my priorities reflected that. For us, that was making sure we were spending time with the girls and we do things like, everything—and I’m sure you’re already thinking about these things, you know—reading to them, picnics in the park, special events, camp out and mom and dad’s room. Things like that were really important because it created a sense of community, a sense of family, but it also created a platform for when something was going on in the world. We could have question-answer times and they could be honest with us. They felt safe, it felt secure. And so that opened up an avenue of conversation that was great at the time and really paid dividends as they got older.
Brad: Okay. What about on the other end of the spectrum?
Brad: So what about not, I’ll say “new dads.” What about not “old dads.” Don’t take offense, any old dads listening to this. But, dads who have kids out of the house—maybe they’re grandparents now, it’s a totally new season. What, what advice do you have for, for those men?
Bruce: Well, it’s important to continue to listen and pray. Be a good student of your children, your grandchildren. Be a supportive advisor without being intrusive. You know, wait to be asked.
Brad: So how do you do that?
Bruce: Yeah, well, it’s patience. It takes a lot of patience, doesn’t it to go, “oh, I know the answer to this question, but they’re not asking this question yet.” So, be ready. God can change hearts, God can intervene. So pray and when opportunity comes, be a good and gentle and faithful advisor to your children or grandchildren. You know, another thing is to invite them into experiences without guilting them into being there. So, as all of our daughters are out of the house now, we’ll set up some events throughout the year and we’ll say, “hey, if you can come great! Make it. If you can’t, we certainly understand.” So they have lives and responsibilities that they have to be faithful to as well. You know, and the final thing, I think for a man is to finish well. You know, I’ve seen more than I care to count men who don’t finish well, and that leaves a big impact on their children and on the next generation.
Brad: Yeah, that’s right. What advice then do you have for dads that are listening to this and they just say, “man, 2019, I want to grow as a dad. I really want to grow.” What are some practical advice for you have for dads to grow as fathers?
Bruce: Well, the first is to be a learner. Be a learner from your wife, about your wife. Be a learner about your children. Talk to men about what they’re doing in their families, how their parenting, challenges that they’re having, things that are going well for them. Get into your children’s world. Try some new things. Sometimes us men are like, “uh, I’m not gonna play that game or I’m not going to get out of the ground and play with the kids.”
Brad: “Don’t give me the dolls”
Bruce: The doll house or whatever, you know. And, I just say, dive in. Enter the world of your children right where they’re at and be at their level and with that comes a door to their soul that God will allow you to use as they grow older. You know, another thing is to think about: where are your children going? How’s God gifted them? What are their unique personality traits and have some aspirations for your children. Start thinking: how can I let them try things? How can I give them an opportunity to experience something and see—is God leading them in a certain direction or not? And providing some experiences that are beneficial to them. Then finally, walking in the spirit. You know, ultimately as we said earlier, God is the one who does the work in their soul. God is the one who created family. And as dads learn to walk closer to Jesus, walk in the spirit, the fruit of that will be a blessing to your wife and family.
Brad: That’s right. I think I heard John Piper say one time, “the greatest hindrance to a child worshipping God is parents that don’t.” I just think that’s so helpful to remember that if you have a vibrant walk with God, it just overflows into your kids. What are some, uh, some ways that your kids have changed you over the years? How has God used kids as redeeming instruments in your life to change you?
Bruce: So many, so many, too many to count. I’ll give you a couple though. The Lord Blessed Karen and I with four daughters and, as I mentioned, we were thirty when Emily came. I’ve learned to be a much more patient man because that wasn’t me before we had children. So, Karen would say that I was, I was an impatient husband and as the children came, I learned that I had to slow down if I was really going to be a good shepherd. I had to be, I had to be a patient, quiet self-sacrificing man. Yeah. So that was one thing. The second thing is, they taught me how to laugh. You know, we’ve had so many great experiences when they are growing up, so many stories that, still make me chuckle. And you know, the third thing is they taught me how to be a good teacher. So my background is in education and getting around the table with four wiggly kids. “Okay, so how are we going to open the Word today? How are we going to make this impactful to their souls?” It forced me in a good way to learn how to communicate effectively to their little hearts.
Brad: That’s great. That’s just helpful to remember. You pick your spouse, but God picks your kids and he uses kids to change us redemptively to be more like Jesus. So Bruce, if you fast forward to the end of your life, what do you want your kids to say about their dad
Bruce: Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. “Dad was faithful. Dad loved people well. Dad was intentional and dad loved the Lord.”
Brad: Simple and yet so robust. And if we could have any of our kids say that at the end of our lives it’s miracle of his grace. Would you close our time together just by praying to that end for the dads that might be listening to this?
Bruce: God, thank you that unless the Lord builds a house, those of us who labor, labor in vain. And family is your idea, your design, and I pray for the dads, the men, who are listening today or that you would bless them with power to go forward, to get to know you better, to apply your Word to their lives and from the overflow of you doing a work in their lives, that they love their children, that they could guide them well, and that they would prepare the next generation of Christ followers to impact their culture and to honor you. And we pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.
Brad: Amen, thanks, Bruce.