Fathers can be mentors, but mentors aren’t necessarily fathers. Mentors choose to mentor, but once a man becomes a father, he is always the father. I believe that’s why God chose the father-son paradigm to explain the relationship He wants with us. God as the permanent, perfect, never going away, never giving up, always giving and forgiving Father. And me, the beloved but immature son.
Because our role as a father is permanent and not optional, it’s easy to live it out unintentionally. To relax into routine, blindly replicating what our fathers did. Responding to our kids out of authority and arrogance versus love and understanding.
And it’s easy to take fathers for granted. Our kids get used to receiving the love we give and the way we give it. Over time, it’s routine. And invisible.
Mentoring is for a season. Fathering is permanent. Mentoring is usually around a goal, or a specific skill (i.e., I mentor to lead men toward God-centric lives.) Fathering isn’t specific. It offers opportunity and duty. It has no limits. It’s about finances, health, life skills, family responsibilities, and submission to authority.
As a father, mentoring is an ‘above and beyond’ opportunity. One of my greatest blessings was having my son in one of my mentoring groups. Stepping into the role of mentor helped us reframe our relationship into a more mature one. It added objectivity for both of us. It wasn’t just dear ol’ dad harping on something. It was group assignments where the value was apparent, and the whole group was involved. Looking at me, seated at the head of the table, facilitating the conversation and sharing my heart, he saw an older, wiser man who wanted to add value. Rather than a critical, meddling, overreaching dad trying to change his son.
This being a holiday week, offers an excellent opportunity for a check-up on our fathering work. Find a time to get each of your children off to the side and ask this question . . .
“Tell me three things I can do (or stop doing) to be a better father for you?”
Don’t argue. Don’t defend. If you ask questions, make sure they’re for clarification, not opposition. As soon as you can, get somewhere and write them down. Word for word. Next week, ask God to show you what He would have you know from this, and what He’d have you do with what you’ve been shown. Set some goals, put some to-dos on your calendar and follow through.
As you look at this feedback from your kids, look for opportunities to mentor. Think about what they are interested in learning or doing . . . areas where you might be able to mentor them.