best-friends-1241017“You’re a good dad,” she told me. “Like, a really good dad.”

It was the end of a long day, just like every day in the life of a busy family with three elementary school kids. We had finally completed the hour-long process of making sure the kids had all taken baths, prepared their backpacks for school, completed their chores, and brushed their teeth. Like most nights, I had a couple of rough moments, in which the going-to-bed chaos exposed a few of my more unpleasant personality traits. I was tired, and so were they.

Miraculously, though, I had time to read to each of the kids before bedtime. Halfway through the funny story I was reading to my 8-year-old daughter, she and my son both began to giggle. Then I started to giggle, and our reading time spiraled a little bit out of control. We were laughing so hard that we ran out of time to finish the story.

I tucked them into bed and walked into the living room, grateful for some time to rest. That was when my wife said those words:

“You’re a good dad. Like, a really good dad.”

I’m not sharing her words because I think I’m an amazing father. I’m sharing her words because I needed to hear them, and I suspect there’s a dad in your life who needs to hear them as well. It may be your own father, or your husband, or just a friend of yours. Like me, he needs those words, because most of us harbor a quiet fear that we’re not really good dads.

We hear all the time how important it is for children to have “good fathers,” but rarely do we hear what it means to be a good father. We see the articles and the statistics implying that the very future of Western civilization hinges on our ability to be good fathers, and we silently think, “If that is true, then the world is doomed.”

What does it even mean to be a good father? We know how to measure success on the baseball field and in the boardroom, where the rules are fairly well-defined.

But fatherhood? Where do you begin? Just for starters, how do you figure out when and how to discipline your children? How do you know if your kids are old enough to talk about sex, drugs, or popularity? How can you be certain you’re spending enough time with them? Or if you’re smothering them? Are there things they need to know that you aren’t teaching them?  How much of what they do reflects on your parenting, and how much of it reflects their own personal choices? Will they copy your bad habits, your bad attitudes, your bad choices? What about your good ones?

There are thousands of books about fatherhood, written by studied experts with doctorates and their own research teams, but they’ve barely scratched the surface.

Imagine trying to construct a scale model of the Eiffel Tower from a block of pine, in the dark, with only your bare hands and a butter knife. That’s what fatherhood feels like most days. It’s hard to define success, and you often feel ill-equipped for the few parts of it that you do understand.

So you can imagine why an encouraging word at the right moment means so much. You can imagine why those simple words, “You’re a good dad,” made a deep impact on my heart.

And I wonder if the fathers in your life hear words of encouragement often enough? We all know, of course, that only one Father is perfect. Your husband, your father, your friends – they are all flawed.

But if those men in your life are trying to be good fathers, tell them you notice. Remind them that being a good father consists of being faithful in the middle of thousands of little moments, mostly witnessed by only a few little people.

Moments like helping your daughter with her math homework and resisting the urge to yell. Like explaining to your son why, if he really must pee when he’s playing outside, the backyard is preferable to the front yard. Like laughing at a bedtime story when you have a thousand other worries and you just want to sit down for awhile.

Tell the fathers in your life that those moments matter, and you’re really glad they’re showing up for them.

Your words of encouragement may seem small, but I guarantee they’ll make a difference. 

There are no perfect fathers, but I’ll bet you know one or two good ones, men who are trying their best to know and reflect their heavenly Father as they raise children. Take a moment today or tomorrow, look one of them in the eye, and say, “You’re a good dad. Keep it up. Do not grow weary in doing good.”

I guarantee he will hear you, because those are words he needs to hear.