We’re all working toward more involved, engaged fathers for every child. And hopefully, there are more and more dads in communities across our nation grasping their importance and becoming more proactive in fathering their children.
But what happens when dad actually latches on to this idea and has renewed inspiration to be more involved? Then what? Can he just jump right back into his children’s lives? Should they in turn accept him back without question?
Former NFI President Roland Warren recently wrote a blog on Patheos titled 3 Things a Father Must Do to Fix a Communication Problem with a Child. In it, are nuggets of gold for fathers who are ready to reconnect with their child(ren).
Roland posits that there’s something very specific that dads need to understand in the reconnection stage: retrieving.
To explain the concept of retrieving as it relates to father/child relationships, Roland reflected on when his boys were young and how they'd look for him coming home from work and they'd run up to see him. All Roland had to do was receive their interest and delight in seeing him-- he calls this kind of connecting "receiving”.
But as his boys grew older, communication and relationships shifted, and his sons grew to have minds of their own and like many teenagers, interest in mom and dad waned. Now when Roland came home, his boys often had other interests, may or may not be home at that time, or were just headed out to do something that was were more interesting to them at that moment. In observing this, Roland realized that he had to shift his approach from “receiving” to "retrieving" the communication and connection with his sons. And that takes effort.
Retrieving can be very hard for some fathers to do.
Roland says, “As I considered my experience with my sons, a key word came to mind: humility. You see, a father who wants to maintain a solid relationship with his children must humble himself and enter his children’s world, not just demand or wait for them to enter his.”
He continues to explain that retrieving can also be difficult for a physically present father when an emotional chasm develops between him and a child, especially during the teen years. Fathers must humble themselves and shift from being a receiver to being a "retriever” to mend and heal the relationships with his children.”
To tackle this, there are 3 “R’s” that Roland suggests a dad can do to take steps toward being a retriever:
Let’s say you had an antique chair that had been passed down through your family for generations. It was so special that you posted a sign on it that read. “Don’t Sit in This Chair!” Now, imagine that I disregarded the sign, sat on the chair and broke it. You would be pretty angry, right?
Now, what if I started grabbing the pieces to try and fix it. My sense is that you would be so upset that you would tell me to get away from the chair and not touch anything. Why? Because I tried to put the chair back together without saying I was sorry.
However, if I immediately started to apologize profusely (i.e., repent) for my carelessness and I promised to be more careful in the future, chances are your heart would soften. Why? Repentance is a sign of remorse and contrition. Now, if I said I wanted to make things right by helping to put the chair back together, odds are you would be more likely to accept my help.
And, therein lies the powerful lesson that fathers who struggle to retrieve their children often forget. Because men are doers by nature and saying you’re sorry requires humility, they often make the mistake of trying to reconcile before they repent. Remember, Proverb 15:1 says that a soft word turns away wrath. An apology, which reflects true repentance, is the soft word that is needed.
The word reconcile means “to settle or resolve.” When you have abandoned your child, physically or emotionally, you will need to seek forgiveness so that you will be able to settle or resolve the break in your relationship. The “superglue” called commitment is critical in order to bind you heart to heart with your child.
However, be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions and some difficulties as you put the pieces of your relationship back together. Most likely, this will not be an easy process. It will take time, but repentance and reconciliation are essential for the well being of your child.
Continuing the chair analogy, now that the pieces have been put back together, it is starting to look like a chair again. But, whenever something was been broken, there will always be a few pieces that you can’t find or just won’t fit together like they did originally. So you will need to add some wood putty to fill in the gaps. You will need to sand it to smooth out some rough spots. You see, this final step to restore means that you will need to reestablish, recover, or rejuvenate your relationship with your child. As a retrieving father, you must establish trust, which once broken, can only be restored by your child testing you and you passing the test. After all, the only way to know if a broken chair is truly restored is to sit on it…right?
Finally, it’s critical to bear in mind that you may also need to go through the 3R process with the mother of your child or your wife. She may have a fair amount of resentment towards you as well. Mothers are very sensitive to the pain that their children experience. Accordingly, if you are trying to rebuild a relationship with a child who feels abandoned, you will probably have to rebuild a relationship with a mother who feels abandoned, too.
If fathers can master the 3Rs and become a retrieving father, they may not experience the thrill of their children running out to their car to greet them, but they will experience a joy that comes with deeper, renewed and more meaningful relationships with their children. And, that’s a joy worth fathers retrieving.