Parenting

You Will Never Be a Better Dad Than You Are a Husband

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All the time I hear people lampoon others by opening with a caveat like “So and So’s a good guy,” followed by “It’s just that he….” Commence butchering.

Or, if you like, commence turning a blind eye to So and So’s terrible behavior.

This kind of caveat doubles as both a way to talk about someone without feeling like you’re gossiping, and as a handy way to excuse someone’s incompetence, ignorance, or negligence.

On one side is fraud, pretending to respect a person so that you will not look so bad when you trash him or her. On the other is rationalization, performed to justify behavior you don’t want to confront in others–or in yourself.

For years, the former routinely popped up at the first school I taught in, usually to decry the outrageous injustices of a school administrator. “So and So is a good guy, but he is completely out of touch with students or what it was like to grade papers 25 hours a day.” At my next school, teachers used the other edge of the sword. All you have to do is invert the sentence structure. “He is completely incompetent, lacks all passion, and is incapable of relating to the people  who work for him on anything resembling a human level. But he’s a good guy with a good heart.”

Maybe he has a great heart. Or maybe it’s rotten. Caveats and excuses reveal more about those who use them than about anyone else. This is especially true of parents. Most people who have ever worked a job they hated or had a friendship go south have used these. But there is one category of people whose experience extends to expertise: dads.

I’m not referring to dads who bash their wives when they’re not around, although I know that trend is out there. Turn over the blade. Dads number among the worst offenders at rationalizing away their bad qualities as husbands in favor of their good qualities as dads.

My wife has a note card taped to our refrigerator that says, “I can never be a better mom than I am a wife.” She put it there after a woman in our church challenged a room full of moms to justify their expenditure of so many hours and so much attention on their children, only to phone it in when it came to working at their marriages. Is it absolutely appropriate (she asked) to spend yourself silly for your kids, to live your life for them, even to lay it down for them? Of course. But you did not marry your children. You married your husband. And your marriage becomes more important when you have children, not less.

The first time I saw that card, I wanted to shrink into the floor. How humbling it was to see my wife humbling herself before God, our children, and me, right here in the kitchen, between the sink and the stove! It’s funny how realizing that you have the respect of someone you love makes you feel unworthy of it.

My next thought was that this statement about wives and moms applies equally to husbands and dads. You will never be a better dad than you are a husband.

It’s tempting to think that what our kids really need, to the exclusion of everything else, is dad’s undivided attention whenever he is not working. In fact there is so much truth in this statement that it’s no wonder some could use a note card reminding us of what we’re missing.

[Related on PJ Parenting: Don’t Punt on Your Greatest Parenting Challenge]

Before our sons grow up to be dads, we want them to grow up to be husbands. Before our daughters grow up to be moms, we want them to discern wisely which kind of man is worthy of them. They cannot benefit from our example as husbands if we inadvertently convey that this foremost of roles is subservient. Nor will it serve them to see us putting anyone else (including them) before our wives.

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