Everyday Ways Dads Can Say “I Love You”
Dads sometimes find it challenging to express the pride and joy their children bring them. Some, like John Wesley’s father, wait for big moments to share what we feel. Taking some small steps will help dads (and moms) share their love for their children every day.
By most accounts, John and Charles Wesley’s dad, the Rev. Samuel Wesley, was not the warmest guy, but there were at least two times he expressed his love for his family.
The first came when John and Charles were very young. Following a horrific house fire, the Wesley family gathered in their garden. John Wesley would later remember that when Samuel saw that his wife and children were all safe, he cried out, “Let us give thanks to God! He has given me all my eight Children: let the house go: I am rich enough!”
The second came 17 years later when John Wesley was elected to a fellowship at Lincoln College. Through the fellowship, he would receive free room and board, students to teach, and a salary for life, as long as he remained single. This was a big deal!
Two weeks later, Samuel wrote a letter of congratulations to John, whom the family called Jacky, gushing, “Wherever I am, my Jacky is Fellow of Lincoln.”
Dads, however, need not wait for milestone events like a life-threatening fire or a prominent promotion to express their love and pride to their children. With some small steps, fathers everywhere can develop skills to share their hearts with their children every day.
Easy tips for dads (and the rest of us)
Bedtime blessing: When children are small, many have bedtime rituals. Parents have them take a bath, brush their teeth, and then maybe they read a story and say a prayer together. Dads can add a special blessing to that daily rhythm. Something as simple as “The grace of Jesus Christ enfold you this night” (United Methodist Hymnal 879) can be an expression of not only God’s love for them, but yours as well.
Morning ritual: Family schedules can be crazy. When the kids reach a certain age, afternoons and evenings are filled with games, recitals, practices, rehearsals, play dates, homework, and more. Mornings may be the only time the whole family is awake and together. Take some time each morning with your children. Share breakfast. Talk about the day ahead. What are each of you looking forward to or dreading? Then pray for God’s grace to be with you and your child in the day ahead.
School matters: School is the center of a child’s experience for 13 years in the US (and beyond for some). During this season of life, it is pretty easy for dads (and moms) to get caught up in the results—test scores, grades, honor roll, etc.—but much more happens in school. Relationships are formed, deepened, and lost. Interactions with adults and peers sometimes go well, but not always. Responsibilities and challenges are met sometimes and other times become learning opportunities. Stay involved. It shows interest in that which takes most of your child’s time and attention.
Undivided attention: Most families struggle to find one activity that everyone enjoys. That’s a great opportunity to spend one-on-one time with each child. Play catch with your athletic daughter and listen with your musical son to his favorite band. Lose a round in their favorite video game or watch their favorite movie for the 40th time. One of the basic needs children have is for the attention of their parents. Time we spend focused on them is an expression of love.
Seize every opportunity: Let’s face it, some dads overthink things. Often, while internally debating whether this is a good time to say it, or how to phrase it properly, the moment passes. Don’t wait. Simply say, “I’m so proud of you.” Without thinking, blurt out, “I love you.” We teach our kids that words matter. Share some great ones with your children.
The power of touch: Not only do words matter, but so do hugs, hands placed on shoulders, and kisses on the forehead. Sometimes the child will squirm. For seasons, you may have to stop the kisses. But finding ways to keep in physical contact with your children can be a great way of expressing love and pride without saying a word.
Model love: Parents know they are never off the clock. The eyes in the rooms down the hall are monitoring them to learn all aspects of behavior. Work to grow in the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)—and thereby model the love of God to your kids.
Samuel Wesley may not have been the most effusive parent. History, however, offers glimpses of the love for his family in his heart, and the pride he took in the accomplishments of his children. Dads can learn from Samuel not to wait for monumental life events to express their love to their kids. Instead, fathers can find ways every day to let their children know how much they love them and how proud they are of what they do.
Special thanks to the Rev. Matt Tuggle, Director of Family Ministries at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, for contributing to this story.