One of my husband’s favorite stories to tell/points to make in our “Reaching the Heart of Your Teen” seminar/workshop is also the most fitting way to describe his parenting style. The story comes from the book of II Samuel and the point is found within the story of Absalom standing by the gate of the city:
“And Absalom rose up early, and stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him, and said, Of what city art thou? And he said, Thy servant is of one of the tribes of Israel.
And Absalom said unto him, See, thy matters are good and right; but there is no man deputed of the king to hear thee.
Absalom said moreover, Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice!
And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him.
And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”
In case you missed how that passage is related to parenting in general and parenting teens specifically (it’s easy to miss), let me point out two specific parts of the story that are relevant to our message to fathers today:
1. “…stood beside the way of the gate: and it was so, that when any man that had a controversy came to the king for judgment, then Absalom called unto him…” (vs 2)
2. …” so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” (vs 6)
As Ray likes to tell it, Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel because he was AVAILABLE. He stood at the gate and answered their questions. He was waiting for them to come through. He took the time. According to Ray, “Whoever is available to your children is the one who will win their hearts.”
Ray has spent his entire parenting life standing by any gate in which he thought could win his children. Standing, playing, reading, talking, singing, encouraging, laughing, wrestling, teaching, training….by the gates in which he knew our children would pass. Giving his children what every child dreams of—a dad who is available.
In honor of my husband, and hopefully as an encouragement to many others today, I would like to demonstrate in pictures how a man can be the Absalom in his children’s lives–and continually be available to them. Please bear with the pictures–Ray has been living like this for thirty years, so some of the photos are not the best, blog-winning quality; however, they are all heart-winning quality.
The Teaching Gate: Day or Night, Summer or Winter–Ray can always be found teaching his children something–from the Bible, to math, to football, to life principles.
The Surprise Gate: Our children will never forget the night that the electricity went out in the dead of winter, and we lit candles and all hovered in Mom and Dad’s room listening to audio story cassettes, reading, eating snacks, and playing games by candlelight. They will especially not forget the fact that Dad went out of the room at some point early in the evening and discovered that the electricity was back on, but he came right back into the bedroom and acted as though the electricity was still out for several more hours! Nobody even knew that the power had really been on for a long time because Dad used this night for fun and surprise.
The “Building” Gate: Through the years, especially the first ten to twelve years of each of our children’s lives, Ray has played more Legos, bricks, blocks, and cubes with our kids than almost any other single activity (with the exception of any kind of ball!). I think he spent the majority of his winter evenings on the floor for the first fifteen years of our parenting!
The “Come to My Gate” Gate: If Ray was busy, he would simply ask the child to come to his gate! Whenever he has been involved in anything (setting up for a debate, working outside, cleaning the house, filling book orders in our center, etc.) that he could include the kids in, he simply had them join him in what he was doing–always teaching along the way.
The Museum or other Family Day Gate: While we do not have a large or expensive home, new vehicles, and elaborate (or store bough!) furnishings, Ray has always believed in investing in shared experiences. Zoos, museums, shows, and movies have been the highlights of our family times.
The “Some Assembly Required” Gate: Puzzles, elaborate toys, and extensive games have never scared Ray away (unlike his wife, who really dislikes those things!). He would always just sit down right in the midst of several small children and dig in–for literally hours. The children seldom felt like Dad had to hurry because he had his own things to do.
The Swimming Gate: All of our children have fond memories of swimming in motels with Ray when we traveled with him on business. One of the things that always struck me was how Ray was just about always the only dad in the water playing with his children—and how all other children always wanted to join Ray and the kids in playing. The kids always shared Ray with up to a dozen kids in any given motel pool.
The Baby and Toddler Gate: Ray always had a lapful of kids when he was at home. He never watched television (we didn’t have one), played electronic games, or even had hobbies. He knew time with our small children was limited, and he always used his time for me and the kids–day in and day out, never tiring of it.
The “Whatever My Kids Are Into” Gate: Whenever our kids got involved in something (speech and debate, leading a ministry, drama, basketball, Upwards, etc.), Ray always jumped in to teach, help, lead, assist, etc. He always said, “I want to be where my kids are and know what is going on with them”–so activities took place in our home or we were involved in what the kids were involved in.
The Basketball Gate: With four sons, Ray spent a ton of time in the driveway playing basketball. As Joshua put it, “I learned angles and statistics in the driveway with Dad.” While Ray has spent countless hours on the basketball court and in the yard playing football and kickball, there was a period of nearly a year in which every night at 9:00, he and Joshua (our oldest) met at the basketball goal for some b-ball time, which always turned in to talk time. It was just a period in Joshua’s life that he really needed Ray (nearly daily!)–and so the Basketball Gate was where Ray stood every night!
The “Lesson On A Napkin” Gate: Ray has been notorious for teaching the kids whatever they asked about on the spot–and often on a paper napkin, back of a church program, bank deposit ticket, etc. This usually followed a question that one of the kids asked–but however it came about, the kids were always eager learners as they seemed to know intuitively that all of the time that their dad gave to them was unique and special.
The “Daddy Time” Gate: Through the years, time with Daddy has had many titles—Malachi time, Bible Talk, Daddy Talk, devotions, read alouds, family worship, etc. Bedtime is one of the most important times with our children–and Ray wanted to be sure that he was standing at the kids’ respective gates waiting to hear their hearts every night.
The Gate of the Nursery: Ray changed twelve years worth of cloth diapers; always got up in the middle of the night and brought the babies in to me; and most importantly, as soon as the babies were old enough, began reading Bible stories to them constantly.
The Fun Gate: Ray has always been a fun dad–the kind of dad to surprise the kids, making them think that we are driving north home to Indiana following a business trip to Tennessee, but really driving south to surprise the kids with Disney World. Vacation fun, daily fun, and games…..Ray has always stood by the fun gate.
I wish I had time to gather more pictures, scan in a bunch more old ones, and tell about the hundreds of other gates that Ray has, and continues to stand by–such as the math one he is sitting at with our college son right now for the past four hours. Or the football in the yard gate. Or the driver’s training gate. Or the midnight gate with teens and young adults. Or the relationship gates with our sons. Or the “I’m always here” gate for our young adult daughters. Even without the photographs, I have those pictures in my mind forever. The important gates that he knew our children would be going by–and that he stood by waiting for them to pass, waiting to win their hearts by being available.
What gates will you stand by, fathers? Dads have many gates to go through, walk by, stand near, and enter in their lives. Men can go through the gate of success in the workplace, walk around the gates of hobbies and fun for themselves, and sit by the relaxation gate. We all want to do those things—it’s human nature.
Or Dads can realize that time with our children is short. That whoever is available to our kids, especially our teens, will win their hearts and have the chance to influence them the most. That no gate of success or ease is worth standing by over standing by the gates that our children walk by.