I’m So Flawed as a Father

How can I ask my children to act correctly?

Thank you for continually sharing the wisdom and knowledge as you do!

I have a dilemma and fear that if I don’t take ownership of it and actively practically pursue a solution the result will be catastrophic for my children.

I have two teenage children (one boy, one girl) and a younger son. I have an amazing wife who is a carbon copy of the one described in Proverbs — she lives for her family and is very passionate about her faith. We’ve always tried to bring our kids up biblically, however I have to confess I haven’t been leading the household as a father should. I am embarrassed at the reality of having let it go on for so long without trying to sort it out. I have over the years made many poor decisions practically and financially which has put me(us) in a position where my wife has been the backbone of the family’s faith. Unfortunately ultimately there’s only so much a mom can do.

I can offer a few excuses like I feel emasculated because I have done so many things wrong over the years (including lustful internet habits in the past and have also often not been honest about our finances to my wife), and a few others but the point is that I need to get it right now for my family’s sake.

We often read together at bedtime and have recently started taking turns to pray… This evening was my eldest’s turn but he just shrugged and said, “What am I supposed to pray for?”

This hit me hard and I’ve been searching a bit about how to help your kids get into the habit of praying & reading the bible. I grew up in a family where very few emotions, let alone belief or faith issues, were ever shared openly. I’ve always struggled with going over in action and would generally start very eagerly and drop things off over time again. I would like to pray with my wife again but feel I’m being false as I know how many things I’ve messed up in the past. I have never physically been unfaithful to my wife but online and in my head I have…which is probably exactly the same thing. In my family it was never discussed at all but assumed that because you were born in a Christian family & go to church you are a Christian. My wife was raised in a family who literally shared everything including faith, health, opinions, emotions literally everything very verbally and I am envious of that as I find it hard.

However I thought it would be great to get your input on the matter.
Sorry for the long letter – I left out quite a bit to keep it shorter. I am a member of We Happy Warriors but have also not been able to make enough time for that. I am suddenly struck by the realization that your reply might be one that’s tough on me, which I probably deserve…

Thanks again!
~ Robbie M.

Dear Robbie,

We actually see little need to be tough on you as you are being quite tough on yourself. You see the problem, you see the solution, you see the impediments to implementing the solution…so why are you writing to us?

Let us review:

  1. You view your upbringing as unemotional and uncommunicative in the important areas of life and you appreciate and desire to emulate your wife’s family in this matter.
  2. You have made mistakes in the past, know that you need to change, and recognize that time is running out for transmitting your dearest values to your children.
  3. You appreciate your wife but recognize that you are not acting as an equal partner let alone the guiding light of the family.

Action! You desperately want to pray with your wife but fear that doing so would be a false picture of who you think you are. Don’t overthink it. The action is what is important here even if it feels a little unnatural. Just do it. It will soon feel natural. You know why? Because you will have changed. And isn’t that exactly what you want? Doing the right things even if they don’t yet correspond to your inner being is important. The actions cause the change. Just do it.

You, like all of us, have made mistakes in your past that you cannot undo. We have to live with our pasts. But feeling hobbled by our pasts is a choice and it is a choice you don’t have to make. Feeling inextricably linked to past mistakes is one of the tactics of our negative impulse. It tells us, “Who are you—pretending to be so virtuous?” “You messed up and that’s who you are. You will never be able to be different.” “Every time you try to improve, you fail again.” If we let that impulse rule us, it is correct—nothing changes.

You allowed your son’s question, “What am I supposed to pray for?” to sideline you. Instead, you might have said, “Well, then I’ll lead us today because I have so much to pray for,” and gone on to ask for your family’s health, for food on the table, for friends and for other things that your children can appreciate. Or, you could have tuned in to things you’ve heard from your son at the dinner table or other times (Are you regularly making time to check in with each of your children and your wife?) and said, “Well, how about praying for strength and courage during your soccer game on Sunday?”

You have spent years not leading your family in the way you would like to. This isn’t going to turn around in one day. There will be ups and downs, but if you persevere you will start to see more forward progress than backsliding. We strongly recommend that you find a male friend/mentor to whom you will be accountable on a weekly basis and whom you can call when you feel yourself weakening. Keep a daily journal with reasonable goals and an account of hits and misses. As what seems like a major step today becomes routine, set a new goal. Celebrate small steps and stay strong when you falter. Your children will grow more from seeing you authentically grow and model Bible reading and prayer than from your imposing it on them.

We see writing to us as a form of procrastination. You know what you need to do and, as a very normal human being, it is hard to do so but ever so worthwhile. Pray, but act!

Keep us posted,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments on this Ask the Rabbi and Susan article.
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