Ali Campbell calls for all dads to ‘give it everything’ as they bring up their children, whatever their age

FathersDay_v2 (1)

I am a dad! It still feels like I am new at this, and this year, as we approach Father’s Day, it has special significance for me. On Sunday 18th, not only will it be Father’s Day, but my eldest daughter will turn 18. From child to adult - yet still my daughter!

As I write this, she has just finished her last A Level exam and tomorrow I’ll be taking her out for breakfast to celebrate - to celebrate how hard she has worked yes, but also just to celebrate HER. My daughter is amazing.

Being a dad is so important (not because I might get a great bottle of beer and some beautiful homemade cards, although that is wonderful) but, this ’being a dad’ stuff is MASSIVE. In the midst of everything else going on (work, managing money, can we afford a holiday this year, argh the rota from church has just pinged through on my smart phone … etc) I don’t want to add something else – but being a dad is not a DAY, (neither is being a Mum, all about Mothers Day), we are in this 24/7 for – well, for the rest of our lives.

The thing is, the moments, the days and the weeks are rattling past. It is a finger snap since my own children were babies and now – the eldest will no longer be a child.

Guys, let’s not miss a thing!

So, what can we do then? Time might be precious, lacking, stressful … but our children are not just another “thing” or “task” to squeeze into the day … here are some thoughts and places to start if doing “dad stuff” is either an effort, or (now that you think about it) just not happening:

1. Read stuff with your children, read stuff to your children, be caught reading … give it a go! Weekends, if during the week is crazy – just do it. Do funny voices for the characters, think of a book that made an impression on you as a child, enjoy the pictures and the creative imagination that went into the story … there is even a great place to go for inspiration, it’s a blog called, “Read it Daddy” – a dad kicked off this blog with his daughter and they devour books! They stopped posting in 2020, but the blog is still there and they stuck at it for a decade together!

2. Play! Inside every bloke I know is a big kid, in our own heads I think we “mess about” and think crazy stuff quite a bit. I will let you in on a secret, when I was younger, I used to sit in church and imagine how I might get from one side of the church to the other without touching the floor (there might have been a sermon happening at the same time, I’m hazy on that bit), well – I still do that! Let that imagination out, play with your kids (no, don’t sit them in front of an ipad … ), get down on the floor do the horse rides, the piggy backs up the stairs, go for adventure walks (with children, a mundane walk up the road can be filled with adventure) … let your inner child out and PLAY! Can I just say at this point, with my 15 year-old and almost 18 year-old, if I perch on the edge of a sofa one of them will climb up and go behind me to try and get in to my shoulders - yes, shoulder rides with my teenagers! I can still manage it - just. AND, if I do it for one … I have to do it for the other. The thing is, they know I am up for it! Don’t ever stop playing.

3. Get stuck in with Children’s Ministry at Church! Every child needs role models; every child needs role models who are the same gender as they are. Beyond the family, the place where our children are learning and discovering about life with God, following Jesus and being part of the Church is … Church! In most churches, part of that is going out with a group of other children to junior church, Sunday school, whatever it might be called … what gets to me is how few men get stuck in with this vital ministry. Boys and girls in these groups need to see guys involved, teaching, illustrating, getting passionate about their faith – showing the children that being part of the church, discovering more about Jesus and living for Him is so important that, as a guy, they are in there with the next generation telling them all about it. A lot of boys vote with their feet early on because they think church is “not for them”. They need to see a good balance of men and women committing their time and energy, but often – amidst the amazing sacrificial work of those who do get involved – men are missing. Get stuck in, don’t leave it to someone else! I’ve been involved in children’s and youth ministry for 35 years. As I have worked across the age groups there seems to be a definite gender split … the younger end I have worked with I see far fewer men involved, the older I go it balances out … every age group at church, from the creche right through needs a balance of men and women investing in this brief ministry time. Join in – it is everyone’s job to nurture faith in the next generation.

Can I say it more plainly? Working with children is the work and ministry of people. Guys – step up and join in.

4. Encourage other dads. Outside of work or stuff we spend most of our days doing; we can be solitary as dads. Mostly, bumbling along, hoping we are making the right call, doing the right stuff by our children – but not always sure. I loathe the stereotype, but I think some things are pretty true of us guys – we don’t talk much. We say what we need to say. Maybe we could look around in our own community or church and think about how we might encourage other dads – not because we have loads of answers, but because we need that encouragement ourselves! Let’s get over ourselves and just do that. Be bold, grab a few guys from the back of church or corner them in the playground if you do “drop off” or “pick up”, connect with the dads of your own children’s school friends … whatever it takes! Just hanging out with other dads can lead to helpful conversations … and, if it doesn’t – well, you have had a curry or had a beer, or had a pain au raisin and a latte – it’s a win either way!

Finally, some top tips from other dads on what is most important (every dad is different, there is no “pattern” see what stands out to you):

“Being there for them, loving unconditionally, giving good leadership, being a friend, being a big kid yourself, laugh lots.”

“Never be too busy to make time for your kids! Even if it means financial and personal sacrifice!”

“It’s easy to miss the special times through over tiredness and a belief that working hard enough makes a difference in your kids lives. When you are with your kids, dig deep and demonstrate the love that God has for you as his children by sacrificing your own needs for theirs.”

“Admit when you are wrong.”

“More important than ’quality time’family with my kids is the need just to be there, not least to support and love their mother, and to be the target of their teenage angst!”

“If anyone you know says they’d like to hold the baby or help out say YES!!”

“Be the first to say sorry”

“Just turn your phone off”

‘Don’t just read them stories, tell them stories from your life – especially where you have seen God at work.”

“However many children you have, invest some quality time for each of them 1 on 1.”

“If you haven’t got kids just yet, get out of the house now! Go for a walk in the hills, go to the theatre or cinema, visit friends… Those things are going to be hard for a few years.”

“Don’t worry about what or who they may become in the future. Love, cherish and celebrate the what and who they are in the present.”

“Make time to listen more & let them know that you hear them.”

“Always love them and always tell them, every day, in case it may be the last! Love God, love their mother, love them, in that order!”

Thanks to all the dads who contributed the above thoughts. One extra thing I would add – don’t be hard on yourself for what you haven’t done. Start now. Build the bridge if relationship feels strained, you move, go to them … don’t leave it.

For me, there is nothing in life quite like spending time with my daughters where I really “see” them. This does take effort and emotional energy, but it is so worth it to be attentive and for them to know that you are – it builds their confidence and creates security and trust.

Resources to check out:

Who Let the Dads Out?” A website from BRF with resources for Dads / Churches who want to engage with the kids, think about their parenting and / or engage with other dads around the same stuff. – This organisation is carrying our research on all things related to “Fathers” and has a load of helpful advice, resources and stuff to challenge and inspire you.

What Dad’s Add – From the Mothers Union, because we are all in this together! A helpful reflection, especially for new dads.