A friend and mentor of mine sent me a link last week to a great column in the New York Times called: The Heart Grows Smarter by David Brooks. It’s about an incredible study called The Grant Study that began in 1938, where researchers began to study 268 students at Harvard University. The idea was to track them through their entire lives and see how they fared regarding things like health, career, successes and failures.
Back then researchers apparently didn’t focus a great deal on the relationships these men had or on their families but their focus seemed to be more on “did they have a “masculine” body type? Did they show signs of vigorous genetic endowments?” (Sounds a little familiar doesn’t it as we currently live in a culture that puts so much emphasis on how we look and our fitness).
The “Hidden” and Significant Value of Relationship
Interestingly enough as the study progressed the importance and value of relationships became paramount. The men who grew up in homes with parents who were warm versus cold and aloof were much more likely to become first lieutenants and majors in World War II. The men who grew up in hard, unaffectionate, “distant” homes were much more likely to finish the war as privates. Interesting isn’t it–the power of a fathers heart?
The physical strength of the men, whether they were short, tall, stocky or thin, had nothing to do with how the men would fare in life. Birth order, political bent and even social class had very little effect on how their “life stories” turned out. But, having a warm childhood was incredibly powerful. As George Vaillant, the study director, summed it up: “It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives.” Of the 31 men in the study incapable of establishing intimate bonds, only four are still alive. Of those who were better at forming relationships, more than a third are still living.
Quality over Quantity
It’s not that the men who flourished had perfect childhoods. Rather, as Vaillant puts it, “What goes right is more important than what goes wrong.” The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen.
In case after case, the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives.
What does this say to me as a Father and a Grandfather? It shouts, “Showing up”, being present spiritually, physically and emotionally with my children, grandchildren and even those kids I am called to mentor continues to be proven over and again as an ongoing investment I must make.
Remember what Mr. Vaillant, the study director said: The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen.
Dad’s, Granddads, because we are called to step up and take the lead in our kids’ lives, I think this has “us” written all over it. This realization hit me hard personally. My kids are grown and how many times did I choose “miscellaneous” or the urgent matter of the moment over being intentional with time, attention and ability to convey a warm heart to my kids? I’m ashamed of my failures. But, God my Father is a Father of Grace. And, I still have an opportunity to finish strong.
Presidents will come and go. Stock markets will spike and crash. But time, tenderness and imparting truth are some of the best investments I can make in this life. These are eternal, not momentary.
We can’t always control what happens in the lives of our children, grandchildren or even the inner city kid we see on the street corner, but if we invest into them faith, truth, words of encouragement and a warm heart, those are tools which can empower the young to rise above the challenges of life and be truly successful. In other words, more than your money, your taxi service or your correction, they need your heart, a fathers heart.
I have a granddaughter now. Though I’m not her dad, she still needs me, not only as a spiritual adviser but as an “old guy” to hang out with by the fishing pond. And when the sun sets, she needs me to carry her in my arms up the path toward home. Like every child in this world, she needs men, not only those who invest the right things into her but also men who share their hearts so she experiences the true love of a Fathers heart.
It’s never too late to invest in your children, grandchildren or a young man or woman that God has brought into your life. If you pass this test you can share your life…hold your hands up to your mouth. Now, exhale. Can you feel anything in your hands? You pass. Time to invest and give your heart away. You’ll never regret it…and neither will they.
Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4 Amplified Bible – Lockman)