Since starting on this writing journey, I’ve been working to be intentional about what I’m reading and writing about. I don’t want to limit myself to only things that are only fun and easy for me (or all I’d read is stories! I’m not kidding.) I’m seeking to be a student in this process, which honestly still includes a lot of fun as I learn. I’ve recently discovered an opportunity that many book publishers offer to bloggers. In exchange for an honest review, they provide a copy of the book to the blogger. I’m truly excited for this chance to expand my range of authors and topics, while critically thinking and evaluating if a book is edifying or helpful. And bonus, I get more packages in the mail! Who doesn’t love some mail love? Already, I’ve been challenged in articulating what I believe and why, beyond whether or not I simply *like* a book or not. You’ll be seeing a number of these book reviews starting to appear periodically on my blog. My hope is to go beyond whether or not a book is “worth” reading, but to delve into why a book is worth reading.
For many years, my dad would tuck me in and bring with him a game. We had months of backgammon, followed by months of Uno, and I think Rummy had it’s day as well. I felt so loved as we got to enjoy something as mundane and simple as a card game for a few minutes before bed. The tradition faded as years and schedules grew, but when I think of my growing up years with my dad, bedtime games always have a special place in my heart.
When I picked up 10 Things Great Dads Do, I knew that I wasn’t the intended audience. I recognize that Rick Johnson isn’t speaking directly to me, but I wasn’t put off by that. I’ve been fathered by a good man and am married to a father, another good man. I was curious about what Rick had to offer about parenting, in this specific way, even if I might not be able to directly apply everything he said.
I think this book has the best of intentions. I felt the heart behind what this father and grandfather says, starting in his introduction. He talks about how hard being a father is, but how he sees so many men not knowing how to practically begin. Rick seems to say that the work is hard, but knowing what to do doesn’t need to be. “[These] are tools you can use to help you become the kind of father you want to be and the kind of father your children deserve.” (16)
This book offers much in the way of practical application for behaviors and practices of good fathers. Rick breaks down each of his chapters into easy-to-understand action steps. On the chapter about communicating with your children, Rick has sections on body language, written notes, the value of words, how to listen, interpersonal skills and the impact of an apology. I appreciated the practical tools he gives the reader for how to do the things he’s talking.
This book was a little hard for me, and I’ve been wrestling for a few days with why that is. I’ll admit that it could be because I’m not a man and therefore, not the intended audience. But I think it was more than that. There were only a few things that Rick said outright that I disagreed with, and they were not his major points. I certainly appreciated his call to intentionality and recognition of the important role fathers play, not only in their own family but the community as well.
This book was difficult for me not because of the what or how of fathering, but the why of fathering. I didn’t have a problem with what is listed as practical application for a change in parenting, but what the motivation is for such a change.
“Fathering may be difficult, but it’s also the most rewarding thing you will ever do.” (15)
Rick addresses the deep satisfaction that comes from being a good dad and the benefit for children, but I’m not convinced, as Rick seems to be, that this is motivation enough for change. The impression I got from this book was that most men are not great dads because they simply do not know how to do things better. I certainly agree that this may be part of it, but I don’t think it can account for the whole. This book felt like an attempt to reach more than just a Christian father, but any father who wants to do better. But in doing so, I felt left with a book that felt watered down, leaving the reader with a wide spread of ideas without depth behind them.
I think the only thing that can motivate long-term, heart-deep change is being loved and known by our Heavenly Father. Real change only happens out of deep conviction and our hearts changing, not simply behavior modification. Only out of that love can we hope to impact or love or educate anyone in a way that is helpful, and not haphazard. I love how the Message translation sums up what it means to live out love:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. (1 John 4:17-19)
Rick does have a chapter on his own spirituality, and the impact his own walk with the Lord had on his ability to parent well. He had a vulnerability in this chapter that I didn’t find in the rest of the book. I honestly think that was my favorite part of all his writing, as he shared about his own doubt, anger and struggles with the Lord at different points in his life. However, his relationship with the Lord doesn’t seem to be reflected in the other chapters the same way. It leaves his other chapters feeling like empty generalities, despite his attempts to provide examples and practical application, and even talk about his own struggles and failings.
In the September 23rd entry in My Utmost for His Highest, it says this:
“In our natural life our ambitions change as we grow, but in the Christian life the goal is given at the very beginning, and the beginning and the end are exactly the same, namely, our Lord Himself. We start with Christ and we end with Him— “…till we all come…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:13), not simply to our own idea of what the Christian life should be. The goal of the missionary is to do God’s will, not to be useful or to win the lost. A missionary is useful and he does win the lost, but that is not his goal. His goal is to do the will of his Lord.”
I think that just in the same way, the goal of the father is to do the will of the Lord, not to be a good dad or teach character. I think a father does end up being a good dad and teaching character, but not because that is his goal. His goal is to follow Jesus, and the other things are merely byproducts of what it looks like to love like Jesus does.
“This isn’t the venue to go into a long theological discussion of the ways God manifests his presence in the world and in the lives of human beings, but it is to say that most men question God’s existence and struggle with the concept of having faith in something they have no control over.” (108)
I disagree with Rick and think that this book could have been the place to include the ways God manifests his presence to people, since I’m convinced that is where we get the courage to live (including what it takes to father) well. I think what felt most disappointing about this book to me was knowing that the author is a Christian. I had higher expectations for the author to share of a more integrated faith into the mess of life. I hoped that he would discuss how it is faith that brings application to the everyday of life of which fathering is part of. Instead, this man’s Christian faith felt like a category of fathering, instead of the sum total of it. I felt as though this book made the claim that “father” is the main identity of a man, that “Christian” can fit under, but doesn’t necessarily have to.
Like I previously said, I’m convinced that the intentions behind this book were good and meant to help. But I was disappointed to not see a relationship with Jesus driving the practical application of fathering. I think the intentionality and application could be helpful, but without the proper motivation of being first loved by Jesus, I think this book may be little more than behavior modification.
*Revel Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255