How can fathers be most effective in raising their children? Dr. Ken Canfield founded the National Center for Fathering and the National Association for Grandparenting to help fathers answer this question. Dr. Canfield’s book 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers has been taught to tens of thousands a fathers nationwide, and he joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss the important role fathers play in their children’s emotional and spiritual growth.
Some of Dr. Canfield’s practical advice for fathers includes:
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear more of Dr. Ken Canfield’s advice for fathers and grandfathers.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We all know fathers play an important role in their children’s spiritual growth, but like many things, that can be easier said than done. Today, we’re pleased to be joined by a man who has dedicated his life to helping fathers take the lead in their children’s spiritual growth. Dr. Ken Canfield is the founder of The National Center for Fathering and The National Association for Grandparenting. As a prolific writer, Dr. Canfield has taught his 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers book as a two-day conference to over 125,000 fathers in a variety of settings.
Dr. Ken Canfield, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DR. CANFIELD: Good to be with you, Traci. I’m delighted to talk on a subject that is dear to every family, and most importantly, every dad.
TRACI GRIGGS: I agree. So, we are seeing an increasing number and variety of men who are describing fathering as a spiritual experience, even if they themselves are not especially spiritual. Why do you think that is?
DR. CANFIELD: Well, it’s the wonder of birth. And I think that as we consider just the privilege of becoming a father—not having to carry thankfully, this child in our womb—when that child comes out, it kicks into gear what I call the generational clock. For moms, they know about the biological clock and the care and the nurture, and those years following birth are so important. But for dads, it’s this legacy clock that starts to kick in and it’s profound and powerful. Some call it the magical moment; I call it the eighth wonder of the world.
TRACI GRIGGS: What do you know about the practical difference a mother spirituality has on her children versus that of the father?
DR. CANFIELD: Now, when you contrast mother involvement and father involvement, we need to recognize the team is best together. There are unique things that a mother brings to the forefront that a father cannot and does not, and vice versa. So teaming together, not pitting against each other, is what we need to do.
Dads are instrumental, that drive, that passion; dads tend to push kids out into the world at the right time. Now that’s important because that involves taking steps of faith and risk and so forth. That doesn’t mean you have to be risky to be a dad, but it gets into the faith formation and how you perceive God as your father. And when you start to play that out in an authentic, vulnerable way, I think you’ll believe the truth that “like father, like child.” They will imitate; they will follow. And so your connection to a heavenly father and unprocessing some of those maybe painful things in the past, is one of the best things you can do in building that spiritual foundation.
I think a father stands in what I’d say is a premier role. There are unique things that dads should be doing. This notion of blessing, encouraging, giving guidance and discipline, setting structures that are going to be safety boundaries—that’s all important. Now that’s not to say a mother can’t, because mother-only families have predominated in many parts of the world. Not because, you know, kids grow up and say, “I want to be fatherless;” it’s just that dads weren’t around. But when dads engage, I think this is something that can bring a whole host of positive benefits, like increased self-esteem, awareness management, and this notion of having that blessing, where you’re imparting something that you see as a dad, into your children, your grandchildren. I mean, that’s distinct. And again, we do this together as a part of the mother-father team. But dads, I think the initiative to do this in bold sorts of ways, it rests with you. God has disclosed himself in fatherly terms. Not to say God is male or female; he’s genderless. But what is important is that you stand as an image bearer. And when you bless your children, when you give them guidance, when you nurture and affirm them for behaviors or successes, that builds the resiliency and self-esteem which is necessary, we know, as you maneuver through life.
TRACI GRIGGS: Does this look different in the relationship between a father and daughter and a father and son, do you think?
DR. CANFIELD: Research says this: men tend to default to fathering sons, spending more time with them than daughters. But we have got to look at the research and say, “Hey, we don’t need to follow this trend; we need to do boldly what God’s calling us to do.” I can tell you this: as a father of three daughters and nine granddaughters, if you nurture your daughters, they’re going to make sure you are well taken care of when you mature in age!
Notwithstanding, sons of course are very important! And so I think we need to believe this equity principle, that there is enough fathering in your heart to father daughters and sons in some ways equally, as far as your passion and commitment, for sure. But there are nuances as you go through the lifecycle that you need to be attuned to. And so to that extent, I do believe that the dignity and the grace that we can endow daughters with, it comes dad, through your blessing and encouragement and affirmation, and quite close to that, the courageous boldness that you want to see. Part of that too can come from a dad to a daughter, as well as a dad to a son. Dads know there are no perfect fathers except one. And I do believe that as we face difficulties, to the extent that you can disclose maybe challenges you have appropriate to your child’s age, that’s going to be a benefit to them because they know that failure is a part of life. It’s not if you fail as a dad; it’s what you do after you fail.
And so are there specific things? I think the whole nurture of the spiritual disciplines and the way we go about life; our commitment to prayer; our duty and following through as the clan leader to care for, to protect, to wisely employ the rudiments and the basics of scripture, be they Proverbs or parables or any number of things. And when dad takes on what I believe is a teaching role in modeling, it doesn’t get any better.
TRACI GRIGGS: I hear you, and I have two children who are in their thirties now. Is it too late? If I’m listening to you and I’m a grandparent, is it too late for us to instill some of this in our grown children?
DR. CANFIELD: No, I’m so glad you asked that question. It’s never too late to engage. In fact, grandparenting is like your second opportunity. And I don’t know any child that has a parent, let’s say a dad in this case, who comes to them realizing now he’s the grandfather, and says to the parent of your grandchildren, “Hey, if I did things over again, I would probably do some things different. And I want you to know, if I’ve hurt you in any ways in the past, I would ask humbly for your freedom and forgiving me. But I want you to know this: I want to be the best grandparent I possibly can, and I’m on your team.” And when a child hears that, let’s say your adult child, they’re going to be softened. They know you made mistakes, but when they hear that you want to be a team member and seek to be the best grandparent, what you’re saying is there are things that can change. There are opportunities to grow, even as you mature in age. And these can be the best of years! What you’re doing is bonding generations. And if you do it in sync with your children, that legacy is one that will not be forgotten.
TRACI GRIGGS: Talk about some of the practical ways that fathers can start to build that spiritual connection with their kids.
DR. CANFIELD: Practically, doing a mission trip with your kids. I’ll tell you, that will open everybody’s eyes and put you in a common place. The second thing is take them through a passage of scripture. Be always ready to respond to them with some sort of spiritual insight. And it doesn’t mean you have to have a degree from seminary or Bible college. Isn’t it fascinating how God shows his cohort of leaders, the disciples, people that were in some ways unschooled—they were normal; they were simple. They applied the principles of Godly life, and they talked about them. And when Jesus began to teach them much more lofty truth, he uses the daily life of caring for a vineyard, taking care of a lost coin or a lost child. So that gets into this vulnerability and openness that can be easily done if you are humble in heart, as he was humble in heart. So, I think those are just a few things, notwithstanding attending as you’re able fellowship with others. Worship in the home? Oh my goodness, just the inclusion of music and laughter and those things that are critical to extolling God himself. It says the Lord inhabits the praises of his people, and when we can do that in the home, we see not only your fathering, but the heavenly fathering shows up in a big way.
TRACI GRIGGS: One of the other things you mentioned is gratitude. You talk about that as being one of the critical virtues in this work of spiritual growth between fathers and children. What do you mean by that?
DR. CANFIELD: The gratitude, it’s tough. I just want to say for anybody that’s raising a special needs child or grandchild? I tell you, if I get to heaven before you. I’m going to nominate you for the heavenly congressional medal of honor. I’m saying that because the heavy lifting that that requires—the time spent—is so important. So how does gratitude and thankfulness fit into that? You talk to anybody who’s caring for some child in that situation, and they will tell you, “It’s hard; it’s overwhelming! But if I had to do it over again, I’d still do this and recognize this is a common grace.” Suffering, unfortunately, is one of the things we have to face. So with gratitude, what you can do is look at any situation and pick out something that you can be thankful and grateful for. Meaning that there’s going to be a dour or difficult task ahead of you; it’s just having the attitude that helps you understand and moderate emotions and feelings. And when you can communicate appreciation, when you show appreciation for those around you, and can think in words and perhaps gifts or mementos—ways to show gratitude—that again helps to build a firm foundation to move forward through life that is full of challenges.
TRACI GRIGGS: What a great note to end on. Well, we are just about out of time for this week. Dr. Ken Canfield, where can our listeners go to learn more about this important topic?
DR. CANFIELD: If you’re a dad, you go to fathers.com and sign up. And we summarize weekly tidbits of research insights and practical tips. We have a whole warehouse of material for fathers at fathers.com. If you’re a grandparent, go to grandkidsmatter.org, and you’ll find there another resource with deep richness, not only based in research, but ideas that are practical.
TRACI GRIGGS: Great. Well, Dr. Ken Canfield, author of 7 Secrets of Effective Fathers, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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