As a bio dad of 4 kids, adopted dad of 1 and a step dad of 2 my plate can feel pretty full. My children range from age 2 to 21, and although fatherhood is rewarding, when you combine it with being a husband and a business owner, life can be very unpredictable and at times overwhelming. So like most men that want to see things get done, I tended to yell more than I should, to get my point across.
Because as the man of the home, I need to be the one that makes sure things run in order. I need to be strategic and stern because I know (or thought) that if a problem arises, I am the only one capable of fixing it, and in my mind a roar always puts things in order.
This WAS my thinking until one day while in the car with my kids on the way to school.
Let me explain.
As most school mornings in our household go, my kids woke up groggy and moving slowly. Thankfully, we managed to make it through that part of the morning without any major problems or confrontations. Things were running rather smoothly for a Thursday morning, but of course, when you are in a house with six kids, all it takes is that one child that purposely annoys another one or one child losing a sock, shoe, or something, and the craziness begins.
But even with a few hiccups here and there, things were going better than normal.
Everyone was fully dressed including socks, (which is an accomplishment even when they don’t match), backpack on, lunch box in hand and ready to head out the door. I gave my beautiful wife a kiss and shuffled everyone into the van to start our morning commute to school.
Before dropping off the youngest, I first headed to drop off the two oldest children. A “Have a good day and love you” from me of course was returned with a fist-bump from my 17 year old son and a hi-five from my 15 year old daughter because any other way would be uncool. Once they got out the car, I begin to pull out of the high school parking lot, and as I prepared to drive onto the street that leads to the elementary school, I heard the voice of my 4-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, yelling, “Daddy, Dominique won’t put my seat belt on!”
Let me pause for a moment before I go on and say; Yes, she WAS in her car seat which WAS clamped to the metal bars. And Yes, the seat belt WAS across her chest. However, the part in the middle that connects near the thigh wasn’t snapped together completely. Simple problem to fix, so I thought.
Before I could interject by fussing, my other daughter, Dominique, jumped into the conversation in full defensive mode, “Gabby! You never asked me to help you. You only said Dominique; you better put my seat belt on”.
It was then that I realized the problem wasn’t that Dominique wouldn’t help her, it was that Gabby never asked for help.
So in my lingering frustration from the early morning escapade I yelled, “Gabby, you need to ask appropriately if you want someone to help you!”
“But Daddy she didn’t put my seat belt on,” she yelled.
By this time I could sense that her frustration had risen and she was not wanting to cooperate with the simple task of asking her sister to help her. She was being stubborn, to say the least. As my frustration began to rise as well, I decided to share with her my plans to stop at the gas station for chips to add to her lunch, hoping that would help defuse both of our frustration and calm her stubbornness, ultimately encouraging her just to ask for help.
“Well Gabby, I was going to buy you some chips, but if your seat belt is not on by the time we get to the gas station you won’t be able to get any chips.”
As you could imagine that statement took her from 10 to 100.
“I am not getting chips,” she said as she began to cry hysterically, “but I do want chips!” So, I tried to gently encouraged her again to ask her sister for help as I said a quick prayer to calm myself.
“We are getting closer to the gas station Gabby, all you have to do is ask,” I said.
That’s when I felt the sudden tug on my heart to stop yelling, and listen. So for the next few minutes I silenced my “outward” yelling and paid close attention.
The gas station was now clearly in view. I heard the voice of Dominique say anxiously, “Gabby! Hurry! We’re almost there! Just ask me politely!”
Suddenly my son, who at this time was almost in tears because he understood how simple the task was, turned around in his seat pleading with her, “Gabby, just ask her for help! Just ask her for help!”
Gabby responded with tears falling and a crackling voice,
“We’re here already. It’s too late.“
As if all hope was lost.
Heart broken, that’s when I stepped back in, “Gabby,” I said, “We are close but were not there yet, all you have to do is ask for help putting on your seat belt, and you will be able to get the chips.“
Finally, as we sat two cars away from the gas station parking lot, I could hear Gabby’s soft, gentle, shaky voice say,
“Dominique, can you help me put my seat belt on, please?”
Right before I made the turn into the gas station.
Silence filled the car; joy filled our hearts! I was so overwhelmed with emotions. I knew all along that my heart’s desire was for Gabby to receive the gift that I was going to give her, but as much as I wanted her to have it even in all my roaring, I couldn’t force her to ask for help.
I couldn’t help but to think at that moment, “This must be how God feels.” How often has Jesus stood there beside us, ever so patiently, waiting for us to Just Ask? He ultimately has what we desire and He sees that we are in need of His help leading, and caring for our families. But in our stubbornness or fear, or simply thinking we have to carry this fatherhood load alone.
Husbands and Fathers, I can tell you that I am use to being Mr. Fix-It and let me tell you something that will free you right now! We don’t have to fix everything on our own. We don’t have to allow the stress and frustration to push us over the edge. God is waiting for us to stop yelling, ask Him for help and just listen. Just like we love our children and want them to ask us for help so we can give them their hearts desire, God loves us and wants us to do the same. That moment in the car is something I will never forget and will always share with my sons as they get older, become fathers with a family of their own, about how I learned to yell less and listen more.