The following is adapted from Daddy Saturday.
If you’ve ever driven somewhere unfamiliar before, you might have experienced the terror of losing service on your cell phone and not being able to use the GPS.
This happened to me recently while the family and I were in Jacksonville, Florida, for a Spartan Race. The area we were racing in was very remote. After the race we had about a twenty-minute drive to get back to the interstate for our trip home.
We were leaving the parking lot and my cell phone, my wife’s cell phone, and my dad’s cell phone all had no service. You would have thought the world ended as the three of us continued to try to refresh Google Maps to get directions back to the interstate.
We were literally paralyzed without directions and didn’t know whether to go left or right. The way we got moving again was by using the compass in the iPhone to head in the direction we needed to go. We eventually made it home, but it was an adventure.
How often in life and parenting do you also feel like you are paralyzed by a lack of direction? As a father, there will be many forks in the road where you must decide to go left or right, and the outcome of your choice can carry large consequences.
Perhaps as a father, you feel like you are making it up as you go. It’s OK to feel that way, and I believe most of us enter our role as a parent that way. We have great intentions, but there’s so much in your life that can take you off course.
For example, you may have set the intention to respond in a kind and caring way to your children, but then the stress of a long day gets the better of you and instead you explode at them. In the heat of the moment, intentions are irrelevant because the direction you’re pointed in takes over. If you ultimately want to raise kids who become great adults, you have to do a lot more than state your intentions.
You must have a compelling and bold vision for where you want your kids to go. You must have a true north, a Dad Compass that points you in the right direction.
Let’s look at how you can create a Dad Compass for your life and your family.
Create a Mission Statement and Painted Picture
One way you can begin forming a Dad Compass is by laying out a specific mission statement for your family. Our entire family sat down and we developed a family mission statement. My wife and I also have a mission statement for our marriage and individually as a mother and father regarding how we want to raise our kids.
We also developed a “painted picture” of specifically what our family will look like twenty years from now. It details everything that’s occurred leading up to that point in time to the current state to include where we live, the marital status of our children, the number of grandkids, the vacations we’ve taken, and so on. You get the idea—it just needs to be specific toward exactly what you desire your family to look like in the future.
As you think about your mission statement and painted picture, envision your children in their twenties doing something they’re passionate about, employing their strengths and their talents. They’ve got a great spouse and are great parents themselves. They’re strong in their faith, in their family, and in their career. They’re physically healthy and active—all the things you’ve tried to instill in their lives over the years.
You may find it helpful to actually write stories for all of your children describing them in their twenties and thirties and what you want and imagine for them. Let me be clear, I’m not saying you manufacture your children’s life for them, rather cast a vision for who you want them to be so you can serve as their guide to get them there.
Be Sure to Ask the Right Questions
To help truly identify a vision for your children, it’s vital you ask the right questions. I’ll give you a great example. My daughter, Hayden, is very musically inclined. She loves dance, she loves theater, and is so passionate about the arts, but to know if that’s the right path for her, I like to ask her active questions, not passive ones.
Instead of asking, “Hayden, do you enjoy dance?” I asked her, “Hayden, tell me how you feel when you’re on the dance floor.” And she said, “I feel like my whole body just comes alive. I feel free. If I had a bad day, it all just goes away when I’m dancing.”
A response like that lets you know you’ve really hit their passion point. That’s something you can really grab onto and encourage as a parent because it’s specific.
This even works with younger kids like my son, Easton, who is five. Instead of asking, “Easton, how was your day?” to which he will always say, “Good!” I ask him, “Easton, what was the best part of your day today?” or, “If you could do one thing differently today what would it be?” I am amazed by his responses even at five years old.
The “Would You Rather?” Game
Pat Williams, one of the founders of the Orlando Magic and a former coach, is also an incredible father, having raised nineteen children, fourteen of whom were adopted.
He always played a game with his kids called “would you rather?” that I just love.
“Would you rather go to a college in the North or the South? Would you rather go to dinner at a really nice restaurant on your first date or just go get pizza?”
These are the types of questions Pat would ask his children. I’ve employed this in my family because it’s a great way to make use of dead time if you’re waiting somewhere or you’re in the car, and the kids really enjoy sharing their answers.
But it also helps identify what they gravitate toward and frame that picture in their minds. The deeper you go, the clearer the picture and the plan it takes to execute it.
“Alright, you’ve told me that by the time you’re twenty-three, you want to graduate from Clemson with a business degree at the top of your class and you want to work on Wall Street. Okay, so how do we get there? What is it going to take for you to do that?”
Help Your Kids Align with Their Purpose
The vision my wife and I have for our children is the same vision every parent has for their children: to be healthy, happy, successful, and to find their God-given purpose in life. It’s entirely possible to be successful but miss the purpose for your life.
My job as their father is not to choose their life for them but to help them build a bold, purpose-filled mission for their life and if they find it, the rest will take care of itself.
What Pat Williams gave me is pure gold because you can do it with a four-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, or a twenty-four-year-old. Of course, the depth of the questions gets deeper the older they are, but it’s all about alignment. The more you play the game, the more you get in touch with your kids’ feelings because their preferences change.
They start thinking about their answers at a deeper level, which allows you to peel back the layers of the onion a little bit and get to know them even better.
The better you know your children, the more attuned your Dad Compass can be. Armed with your true north, your mission statement, and your painted picture, you’ll be equipped to set your children on track to achieve their best life.
For more advice on developing a Dad Compass, you can find the book Daddy Saturday on Amazon.
Justin Batt aims to disrupt fatherhood with intentionality, by creating intentional fathers who raise good kids who become great adults. He founded Daddy Saturday in his own backyard with his four children, and it’s grown into a national movement engaging fathers across multiple channels, including YouTube, social media, the Daddy Saturday book, an Alexa skill, a podcast, merchandise, live events, and a 501(c)(3) foundation, through which Justin plans to impact 10 million fathers in the next 10 years.