10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Dad

Before I became a dad, I thought I would be a pretty good dad. After all I grew up in a nice, Christian home, I read a few parenting books, and heard quite a few messages on biblical parenting. So I was set. The kids I would raise would be fortunate to have me as their father.

Then, a funny thing happened. I actually became a dad for the first time. First came Grace, then Daniel Jr, then Emma, and finally Lily. I’m now a father of four and I know much less about parenting than I did before I became a parent. I’ve realized that there are certain things about fatherhood you can only learn until you actually become a dad.

Here are ten:

1) You are much less patient than you think you are. Oh, you think you’re a loving, patient, sweet peach of man. You’ll be the guy playing catch for hours and carefully instructing your son how to ride his bike. You’ll never get short with your kids and you’ll always know the perfect balance between discipline and love. Right. Keep dreaming, my friend. There’s nothing like a live child in your midst to bring out your selfishness, anger, and impatience.

2) Many times you’ll have no clue what to do. But you still have to pretend you are in control. Like when your three-year old melts down the grocery store. The books say to do one thing, but there is a certain paralysis that takes place when it’s your little child kicking, screaming, and not getting along with the shopping program. Over time, you’ll figure out your child and the best method, but there will be a lot of trial and error along the way. Mostly error.

3) You’ll realize that minivans are secretly awesome. Before I had kids I swore on a stack of John Wayne collector’s edition DVD’s that I would never be seen behind the wheel of a minivan. Then we had our 2nd child and I suddenly saw the awesomeness of minivans. I now have four children and the Chrysler Town and  Country keeps getting cooler. You can go for long trips and play DVD’s. You can fold the seats down into the floor and haul large pieces of furniture that your wife thinks you need. Trust me on this one. As soon as kid #2 comes, you’ll find yourself wandering over to cars.com to compare the best prices on minivans.

4) You’ll probably not get six continuous hours of good sleep ever again. And if you do, you’ll never admit it because it will make your wife mad for the broken up sleep she got when she got up and took care of the teething child. Dads perfect the art of pretending like they are stone cold sleepers who can’t be easily woke. But really you’re just trying to do it long enough so she’ll get up and take care of the situation.

5) There are singular moments of joy so indescribable they can only be experienced. There are moments of pride and joy that make every single hard parenting experience seem easy. There are times of closeness and love that will make your heart burst with rapture. Sometimes I just sit back and look at my four children and cannot believe God allowed me to be their dad. If you’re a dad, you know what I mean.

6) Your presence is more important than you know. You may not think you’re a good dad. You may not think you’re all that useful around the house. But your kids need your presence more than you know. God wove fatherhood into the fabric of humanity. Your consistency and faithfulness to your wife and to your children will speak volumes to your children about the consistency and faithfulness of their Heavenly Father.

7) You need to repeat the same words over and over to your children. It’s not enough to be a model Christian. It’s not  enough to provide and be present. Your kids must hear, over and over again how much you love and accept them. I try every single day to tell each one of my children that I love them. There have been times I’ve flippantly said something to my oldest daughter and it crushed her feelings. I’ve had to apologize and seek forgiveness. My words matter to her.

8). You will watch less of your favorite games, play less video games, and will go out with your guy friends hardly at all. But this is good. You are called to serve your family sacrificially. This often means putting your selfish desires last. This means not whining. This means being strong when you want to be tired. This means being the brave one when everyone is scared. But if you see your kids as your God-given mission, you will gladly give up these things for something better. Your sacrifice and your presence is not an option.

9) You will embrace your cluelessness as a gift from God. The further you go into your fatherhood, the more you realize you need help being a good dad. You really don’t have what it takes. This is where you lean in, heavily, on your Heavenly Father. The sooner we realize, as dads, that we don’t have what it takes to succeed, the sooner we’ll seek His help, both thru His Word, His Spirit, and from earthly fathers who can lend wisdom. I’ve learned much from a program our church did called Men’s Fraternity. I’ve learned much from other dads in my church. I’ve learned a lot from older dads who have gone before.

10) You will realize your ongoing need to repent, confess, apologize, and forgive. You will mess up, almost daily. And so you will need to admit to your children your mistakes and ask their forgiveness. You will learn the underrated value of an apology, how quickly it earns you respect and attention. You will have to forgive your children for their sins. You will need to practice these with your wife. In doing so, you will model to your children what the Christian life looks like. It’s not a life of perfection, but of brokenness, surrender, and grace.

Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He previously served five years as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church. He is a contributor to Leadership Journal, Homelife, Crosswalk.com, Stand Firm,” and a variety of other evangelical publications. He has written several books, including his latest, Activist Faith.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

26 thoughts on “10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Dad

  1. I don't know why I found it hard to believe that anybody else did #4. I'lll still feel terrible the next time I wind up doing it, but there is some comfort and encouragement knowin that other brothers share an aspect of my depravity.

  2. Solid list that hits home. As a father of three, I affirm this with an amen after reading each one… except I confess that I always thought minivans were awesome.

  3. Number 2, and the need for number 9, are so much truer than I wish they were. Perhaps my next book could be on fatherhood, and titled "I Got Nothin'" As a Way of Life.

  4. I love this and will be sharing it with my son and my son in law for Father's Day. They both have a one year old child.
    Thanks so much. I have not been to your blog before.

  5. So desiring to be with guy-friends once in awhile is selfish? Would you say to women who are mothers/wives that their desire to spend some time with girlfriends is selfish?

    In challenging men, let's be careful not to swing to the extreme end of the pendulum and become guilty of misandry (i.e., men-bashing) and appreciate the fact that men have needs too (including, yes, the occasional time away from their families). They, too, need to spend time with friends of their own gender, particularly fellow brothers in Christ, who can encourage them and be used of God to strengthen them for the soberingly high calling they have.

  6. I regret the tone of my last post, and for insinuating an accusation against the blogger of misandry. I ask for the blogger's forgiveness. I meant to make the point that just because a husband must sacrifice greatly for his family (and I wholeheartedly agree with this) doesn't mean he can never spend time with his buddies, especially if they are brothers in Christ who can build him up (and whom he can build up) or men whom he can witness to for Christ.

    But what came out of my mouth before did not quite sound like this, and so I'm very sincerely sorry. Keep up the good work on your blog.

    • Sean, no offense taken at all. You actually made a great point, one I wholeheartedly agree with. Likely I could have changed it to something like, "You will have to carefully weight your male friendships." I'm with you–male friendships are vital, especially during the formative, parenting years. At our church we really try to cultivate that.

  7. I'd change "You will watch less of your favorite games, play less video games, and will go out with your guy friends hardly at all" to say, instead, "It is virtually impossible to have true friends and children." Or maybe, "It is virtually impossible to have close friends without virtually ignoring your children."

  8. Our youngest is turning 18 next month. We have gone through all of these and grace got us through. Thank you Jesus for a strong spiritual leader, for a godly father for our children and a godly leader for our household. Things may not look perfect but our daughter is strong in faith and strong in knowledge that we witness turning into wisdom every day. Thank you Lord for blessing me and mine. God bless you all…

    • That\’s so encouraging to hear. I\’m the father of many young ones and we hope to be faithful in our parenting.

  9. I highly recommend To Train Up Child by Michael Pearl. I wish my mother had trained me this way instead of the constant anger, beatings, and silent treatments. (I had no Dad, so i was a mess on picking the wrong men for 41 years). It took me 40 years to think I might even want kids because of her. It took me that long to get straightened out. And it took me that long to find a nice Christian guy. And now, I just don't have the health.

  10. Great list and examples! The mini-van point is dead on but you nailed most of this pretty well. I have enjoyed the experience but it does take work and a lot of learning.

  11. The list pretty much sums up of what I've been going through.
    I apologized to my two year old today and now I feel OK about it.
    Thanks Daniel.

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