By: The Honorable Gregory W. Slayton, author of the recent fatherhood best-seller “Be a Better Dad Today: Ten Tools Every Father Needs” (Regal, 2012). All royalties from the book are being given to fatherhood/family charities. For more please see www.BeABetterDadToday.com and www.FellowshipOfFathersFoundation.org or contact Mr. Slayton at email@example.com
In much of North America today—and throughout much of the world—it’s not popular to talk about setting high moral standards. In fact, many people avoid the subject of moral standards altogether. According to American pop culture, the idea of a “moral compass” is too old-fashioned or too difficult or too constraining. However, these are the same people who moan and complain when a contractor shortchanges them or a close friend fails them or a politician gets caught lying or the CEO of a large company is convicted of cheating his shareholders. They say, “Who are these people—and why don’t they know right from wrong?”
Well, these are men and women who probably grew up in homes with dads who did not have a strong moral compass for themselves or their families. And guess what? It really does matter . . . a lot.
A True Moral Compass matters for your own character and personal development, and for that of your wife and children. Make no mistake: There is no more important gift a father can give his children than a strong moral compass. Not money or fame or houses. Not even close. No material thing will ever help guide your child when he or she has grown up and faces truly difficult moral and ethical challenges. We all know that our children will one day have to face these challenges head-on—that is certain. The decisions they make will shape their families, their careers and their very lives and those of their children (your grandchildren). Having a True Moral Compass to guide them will give them the best chance possible of leading themselves and their families on the right path.
Rich or poor, all of us as parents will pass on some kind of Moral Compass to our children. The only question is this: Will it be one that works well in all settings, or will it be a “situational” compass that points in different directions depending on the situation or our personal feelings or whatever (which is the very definition of a bad compass).
Sadly, many dads today don’t focus much on passing a True Moral Compass on to their children. In much of America today, too many dads have completely abdicated this prime responsibility. They say it’s too hard. Or they’re too busy. Or it’s not cool. Or others just don’t understand their kids. Later in life, these same dads are “shocked, shocked” (to use a great quote from my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca) when their kids grow up to be adults who lie like a rug or cheat in business or commit adultery.
Likewise, in our society at large, many people don’t like to talk about moral standards. But they are absolutely vital to the functioning of any family and culture. Think about it. What kind of a family would you have if your wife repeatedly lied to you (or you to her)? What kind of a family would you have if your kids stole from you? What kind of a family would we have if our kids couldn’t depend on the commitment of Mom or Dad? The answers are obvious.
But think about it a little more. What kind of society would we have if everyone was constantly lying or cheating, so that no one could rely on anyone else? The answer is also very clear. In fact, there are a growing number of failed nations in our world with cultures that are all too close to that. These countries are among the poorest of the poor, in large part because no one trusts each other. The rule of law has broken down—and the law of the jungle has replaced it.
Unfortunately, there are way too many dads today who think that someone else is supposed to teach their children right and wrong. Teachers, pastors, coaches, guidance counselors and others can be important allies in this effort, but they are not equipped—nor are they able—to do it by themselves. Certainly our children need to have good role models outside the family (the importance of which is discussed in my book, Be a Better Dad Today, Tool #8 (of 10) “Other Good Dads”). But from time immemorial, in cultures all over the world, it has always been one of the primary jobs of the father (and mother) to teach their children the difference between right and wrong. That moral imperative has not changed today, and it is our responsibility as fathers to lead in this important work.
I’m not saying that if Mom and Dad do their very best their kids will not make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, just like us, our kids can make huge mistakes. As God’s Word teaches, “Love covers over a multitude of sins [including mistakes]” (1 Peter 4:8, NIV). But one thing is clear across cultures and across continents: If we as dads do our best to set high moral standards for our families—both in word and deed—our kids will have a much better chance of developing a strong moral backbone themselves. In fact, the Bible gives an interesting promise to all dads (and moms) who may be wondering about this: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6, NASB).”
That’s a profound verse—and one that is frequently misunderstood. Note that it does not say, “Your children will never make a mistake” or “Your kids will be perfect teenagers.” It says that if we train up our children (including helping them to understand right and wrong), when they are adults they will remember those lessons.
The “rule of law” starts at home, and it starts with us dads. We must live up to the rules we set down (in agreement with Mom) in our households. If we break one of those rules, we should admit it and ask our family to forgive us. That is the only way the rule of law works: It is either true for everyone or it is true for no one. Once we establish the basic rules by which our home is governed, we must ensure that they are understood and followed—“understood” because no one is going to follow a rule they don’t understand, and “followed” because a rule is not a rule unless it is for everyone.
Once our children understand the basic rules, they will test them. That is where we must apply appropriate discipline. I know that parental discipline is not a popular subject today, but trust me, all love with no discipline can be as much of a disaster as all discipline with no love. Both of the extremes are fatal to a family. But the happy medium, 10 parts love to 1 part discipline, is a good rule of thumb. Consistent, age-appropriate discipline is absolutely necessary. In fact, I will go so far as to say that your children’s success in the future depends on it.
All rights reserved. The Honorable Gregory W. Slayton is the author of the recent fatherhood best-seller “Be a Better Dad Today: Ten Tools Every Father Needs” (Regal, 2012). Royalty profits from the book are being given to fatherhood/family charities. See www.BeABetterDadToday.com and www.FellowshipOfFathersFoundation.org or contact Mr. Slayton via firstname.lastname@example.org