Some time ago I was sitting eating with dinner with my family and enjoying their company. We had a young woman staying with us so I asked her how our home was different to the one she was raised in. She said with a sigh, “We hardly ever ate our dinner at the table. Mostly it was always around the TV and as a result we didn’t talk as a family very much.” Then she said, “From when I was 12 years old I was given my own little TV for my bedroom so I would not disturb my brother studying.”
We continued to discuss the merits of not having TV, as was the situation when our children were quite young. My children observed that whatever the case, children tend to copy their fathers. They pointed out that they all read the paper and books because I read the paper and books. They postulated that even if we had a TV when they were little, they would not bother to watch it too much as I was not a big TV watcher myself. The irony is that although I produce TV programs I seldom watch TV because I find the medium too full of trash.
My children’s comments got me thinking about some thoughts by John Burns in his powerful book, ‘The Miracle in a Daddy’s Hug’ in a section called ‘A Vision of Dad’.
Like many children, when I was young, my dad was my hero. He was the biggest, the strongest, and the smartest dad of all. When I grew up, I was going to be just like him. I wish all dads would realise how big and important their lives are in the eyes of their sons and daughters!
Children start out seeing their world through their mothers, but they learn to measure the world through their father. Who Dad is, what he does, and what he provides for the family become the boundaries of a child’s vision. By looking at Dad, children conclude who they can be, what they can do, and what they can expect to have in life. Dad is the role model, the window to the world. He’s the identity.
Children gain much of their vision of manhood through Dad. How Dad treats Mum, how Dad deals with difficult challenges, how Dad displays emotions – the complete picture of how Dad does life is titled ‘Manhood’ and this portrait becomes indelibly etched on a child’s subconscious.
What if that portrait is flawed? The frightening reality is that, unless purposefully changed, the vision recorded in a child’s subconscious becomes the blueprint for his or her future – thus, the saying ‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. A boy who has a distant or abusive father may grow up to be distant and abusive too. His sister may grow up distrustful of men or craving male attention.
The good news is, a vision can be changed. It’s possible to identify the faulty vision that’s responsible for negative behaviour and change that vision by replacing it with a new, healthy one. This is what I encourage the girls at Mercy House(a healing home for young women) to do. People who grow up with an unhealthy vision of family can replace that vision by surrounding themselves with healthy families. Over time, the unhealthy vision will fade, and a new vision of a healthy family will take over.
As fathers we must be responsible stewards of the visions we carry in our own hearts. Our personal visions of family and fatherhood dictate more than our actions; they are likely to become our children’s visions and dictate their actions too. By making a concerted effort to identify and change our own faulty visions, we can save our children an enormous amount of pain and struggle. The work we do to replace unhealthy visions with healthy ones results not only in the betterment of our own lives; it ensures the transfer of healthy visions to our children and to our children’s children, for generations to come.
Have a healthy vision for your family and then live the vision because your children will copy your actions much more than your words.
Yours for a healthy vision