Creating My Legacy As A Father
Legacy. We are all born into one. Some are born into a family with a rich legacy providing an incredible example for one to follow. Others are born into a family with a less than exemplary legacy in which one can strive to create better. We all will leave a legacy. The choice is yours what kind of legacy you will create. In my case, the most important legacy I could create was as a father.
My Family Background
I was born in a small town in Northern Alabama. My dad was a hard working mechanic who was an alcoholic and a womanizer. My mother, who was a seamstress, was soft spoken, gentle and wonderful.
My dad was raised by a strict disciplinarian mother and a gentle natured Father. I won’t exploit or dive to deeply into his demons but I’ll say that the particular dynamic of his upbringing contributed to him devaluing and objectifying women.
My mother was raised by a strong father who had very strong outdated traditional beliefs on the “woman’s role.” Her mother was sickly for years until she died of tuberculosis. My mom was 16 when she became the woman of the house. Caring for her little brother, cooking, chores, and trying to finish school became her responsibilities according to my grandfather.
All That Mattered
Raised in a strict dogmatic religion, I always felt like an outsider. An outsider in the church because of our family dynamic. An outsider with the secular world because of the traditions within the church that I had to observe. Melancholy was my "go to" emotion. I remember asking my mom, while riding with her in our old Ford Falcon, “Does Dad love me, Mom?” Her response was “Yes dear, in his own way.” That seemed to satisfy me at the time, but it wouldn’t forever.
As I got older, I envied those who had (what I perceived) a whole family, where "I love you" was spoken freely and Dad was a hero.
At 13 my parents divorced and my biggest goal in life—all that mattered—was to have a family. I remember my brother (who was much older) coming to visit one day. He had a car, a job, a wife, and a little boy. To me he had everything.
My Dream Come True
When I was 14 I met who would become my wife. She was 13. We married at the ages of 18 and 19. We had our daughter Hannah 6 years later. Pretty young, huh?
By the age of 25 I had a wife, a little girl, a house, two cars, and two dogs. I had everything I wanted materially, but my little family didn’t look as I had imagined it. I was working an excess of 80 hours a week. I was missing out on so much. I remember coming home from work long after Hannah had gone to bed. I would watch her sleep, tears running down my face. I wanted so badly just to hold her, to smell her skin, to play with her. I worked like this for 8 years. I carved out time to help coach T-ball, to go to school functions and occasionally read to the class (That was a BLAST), but I was missing out on so much. I had to be very intentional with my time.
My Role As A Father
In order to be the kind of father I wanted to be, I had to make time for my daughter. I had to take advantage of any down time. It was such a struggle to be the man I had wanted to be. I was so tired and frustrated. I had to make the precious time with her quality. While she was riding in her car seat I would reach back and hold her hand. I would speak to her as if she were an adult, reasoning with her. I knew she probably didn’t understand some of what I was speaking but I did it anyway. I wanted her to know the concept of consequences. I would give her choices and help her reason through them. I needed her to know how to navigate through the life choices she would have. I would use my life decisions and mistakes as examples being very authentic with her. I felt a sense of urgency to be a father unlike I had experienced. She never had to wonder if her dad loved her. Love in my own way looked very different to my daughter than my dad's love looked to me.
A Sad Ending To Our Marriage
The two jobs, the religious pressures that we were experiencing, along with our own personal flaws depleted our marriage. We were just not equipped to handle the stressors that permeated our lives. By the age of 33 we divorced. When the divorce came our church family went. We were no longer able to be a part of this sect of religion. After our divorce, my life went a bit sideways for a couple of years (that's a story for another time). I had lost everything. Everything except my daughter. Eventually I embarked on the journey towards healing and began to understand the heavenly Father's love in a way I had never experienced before, giving me an even deeper understanding for loving as a father.
Being A Dad To The Fatherless
As I was getting my life back together, an opportunity came for me to partner with an organization called “Epiphany Ministries” which allowed me to spend time in children’s prisons, being a dad to the fatherless, sharing my life, my mistakes and offering hope to these children. We fed them, played with them, and listened to them. The expression on these kids faces when we told them how messed up our lives had been was priceless. They thought we had it all together. We let them know different. We were very real with them, and that made all the difference.
Their Harsh Reality
I remember one time we hosted a birthday party for the girls (25 of them). They each had a cake with their name on it and presents. We over heard two girls talking. One said, "I have never had a birthday cake before!" And the other replied how she had gotten some lip gloss one time for her birthday. I also heard stories of children sharing needles with their parents, little girls throwing their babies away because they were afraid of getting into trouble for having sex. Stories of sixteen year old boys getting shot and killed over talking to the wrong girl. These stories were straight out of these kids lives. Horrifying!
Eventually I spent time volunteering in maximum security prisons and the stories I heard there had a common theme with the stories in the kids prisons. They had a lack of an intentional, present, loving father who modeled love and respect. Teaching their sons and daughters healthy concepts and setting examples. I believe WE men have failed our children and society. Seeing this solidified my urgency to pour into my daughter’s life.
Today the relationship I have with my daughter is one like I have never seen. She allows me to be Dad, mentor, and friend. She has the freedom to share her opinions and her reasons. She shares with me things that most parents would cringe over. Communication isn’t always easy, so giving her a safe environment in which she could learn to express the hardest things was huge to me. Maintaining open communication was life or death. I can see how the time I invested all these years has rewarded in a beautiful relationship with my daughter today. And it's so worth it!
Take The Opportunity
As Fathers, we need to encourage one another. If you see a dad getting it right, let him know. As quoted by Dale Carnegie in his book, How To Win Friends & Influence People,“Much more can be accomplished with praise and affirmation than criticism.”
I was having dinner with a friend, when a young couple with a little girl came into the restaurant. I noticed the dad put his phone face down on the table, and leaned in to hear every word that came out of the mouths of his two girls. He was very intentional to be in the moment. I was so impressed with this young man that I excused myself and followed him into the restroom to tell him. Now based on his expression I don’t recommend following someone into the restroom but you get the point, right? Take the opportunity to encourage one another.
Your Role As A Father
I have a passion for men to own their roles as dads. In the article, The Privilege Of Fatherhood, by Dr. Glenn Graves, he writes how fatherhood is absolutely a privilege, and I agree completely. Being a father is one of the heaviest, most rewarding, privileges we men will have. The ripple effect of our actions will go on forever good or bad. Men, we need to step in the gap for our fatherless children as well.
Creating A Legacy
I want to encourage you as a dad to slow down. Look at your kids, really look at them, and ask yourself what kind of life do I want to guide them towards? What can I do to insure that my child doesn’t make all the same mistakes that I did? How can I love my son more? How can I show my daughter what to avoid in a relationship? How can I show them in a way that they know they are loved without strings attached or passing judgment. Always look for the opportunity to teach your children.
Can we as men educate ourselves, learn, grow, and ultimately change our legacy as a father? Absolutely!
Hi! I am Darren Jones, a Christ-follower, a Dad, a People lover, a Mentor and a Musician. You can find me on IG: @djbigpoppy and @MefatherMyfather.