How to be More Intentional as a Dad (With the Right Stuff)

Written by J. A. Hart

Before you begin, make sure you grab a journal and a pen.

Before we begin, I am not a dad, nor am I qualified to tell you how to be one. The truth is, I don't understand fatherhood, at least not in practical action; I’ve never done it.

But fatherhood is one side of a relational coin.

If you are a father, that means you must have a son. Now, THAT, I can understand, because it just so happens, I am my father’s son. From the ‘Sonship’ side of the coin, I have a different perspective.

I am sure many of you have asked your children, “What did you do?” You know- with the commanding voice that says, “Speak now or I shall make thee speak nevermore!” Kids can frustrate parents to the core, especially on a bad day. I understand; I have siblings. Despite children being children, I wonder, how many of you have ever asked your child, “How can I love you better?”

Maybe you have, and maybe you haven’t, but I wonder what they would say if you did. Now, I don’t recommend asking your toddler this; we can imagine how that could go:

You: “How can I love you better?”

Your toddler: “Don’t make me eat my broccoli!”

10 out of 10 parents would not recommend.

How can I love you better? is still a great question to ask, especially to your older children. Unfortunately, many barriers may sit between you, your children, and that conversation. In my story, the biggest barrier between my dad and me was the condition of our hearts.

How do we define the word “Heart?”

“Above all else, guard your lev, for everything you do flows from it.”

King David, Man after God’s own Heart (italics added)

Let’s start here this week because if you don’t know what I mean by ‘heart,’ you won’t see and understand what it will take to break the biggest barrier between you and your kids.

Take a moment, and ask yourself this question, “How do I define the word heart?”

Write your answer in a journal.

In our culture, we hear the term ‘heart’ used periodically. Quips like “Follow your heart,” or “What does your heart want?” appear in lots of popular culture, but if you asked any single person to define the term ‘heart,’ what would they say?

The first is obvious; the heart is the vital organ that pumps blood throughout the body. Maybe people would say, “Desire” or “My Experience.” My guess, most people would not be able to give you a straight answer. I struggle to define it as times.

You and I need a right definition of “the heart,” and to find that definition, we need to go to the true Source. What does God’s story show us about the heart?

For the ancient Israelites, ‘the heart’s meaning ran much deeper than “the vital organ of the body.” They understood this fact but saw the heart as vital for a different reason. The word commonly used throughout scripture is not referring to an organ. The ancient Hebrew word used is ‘Lev.’ In the Easton’s Bible Dictionary, ‘Lev’ is defined as “the ‘home’ of the personal life[.]" Or, as we define it, “the innermost chamber of a person’s inner life.”

According to the ancient Israelite writers of the Bible, ‘Lev’ is where your internal life happens; it is where you hold desires, emotions, understanding, and beliefs. Your outer life flows from this innermost chamber; the choices you make, how you treat others, and how you live reflect like a mirror your ‘lev.’

As humans, we cannot rightly see the condition of our hearts without the ancient Israelites lenses; we need ‘lev.’

‘Lev’ over Behavior

Kids are ruthless. I grew up with seven siblings and saw how they treated people. I remember how I treated people. I was a little a**hole at times, and I’m shocked I ever made it to adolescence.

During my ‘kid’ years, my siblings and I got in trouble a lot. I spent many evenings alone in my room, and (don’t lose your mind) my butt was red and sore from the flat end of a wooden paddle more times than I care to admit. My dad often threatened collective punishment even if none of us did ‘it’ (me and my siblings always ‘drew straws’ to see who would ‘fess up’). Though I look on those times with a chuckle now, they weren’t always my favorite.

Don’t get me wrong; my dad was present. He coached my siblings and me, showed up at every game, and even celebrated our abilities on and off the field. But, over those years, an emptiness hung over him. He knew something was missing as a father, husband, and business owner, but he wasn’t sure what. We, as his kids, felt it too, and the sting of that emptiness still manifests today. The difference is this:

The ‘man’ my dad was back then isn’t at all the Son and Man I know today. He’s changed.

Over time a thought formed in his mind; he was always intentional, yes, but maybe about not quite the ‘right’ stuff.

I say ‘not quite right’ because intentional dads are uncommon. Showing up to every game does have an impact, but how do you handle your sons when they lose? Or if they throw a game, screw up, or fail in other areas of life?

Enter ‘lev.’

If you ask my dad today what he would change about his fathering of us during that time, it would be this, “I wish I had intentionally focused on my heart and my wife and kid’s hearts better.”

Go back and re-read that through the lens of the ancient Israelite writers.

“I wish I had focused on my inner life (my desires, emotions, understanding, and beliefs) and my wife and kid’s inner life better.”

Today, my dad knows what’s most important. He understands that ‘lev’ is where our behavior flows. He is intentional to know our inner life over punishing us for outer. He asks, “Why did you do that?” over judgment and punishment of the “What did you do wrong?” He is quick to seek the ‘heart’ of the matter (see what I did there?).

As a son, not much else in this world means more to me than my dad asking me, “How is your heart?”

Calibration

Write your answers in a journal. We will return to this next week.

1. Have you ever asked your kids, “How can I love you better?”
2. What was their answer, if anything?
3. Before this blog, how did you define the word ‘heart’?
4. Was it different than and/or similar to the ancient Israelite writers? Why and/or how?
5. How do you father/parent your son/kids? Give specific examples.
6. Would you say you focus on their behavior or their hearts more?
7. How do you think you can shift from behavior to lev?

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