When I asked - what do good dads do, one of my friend Mike's answers was this: "foxy stories."
Mike squeezed this answer in between two other responses - disciple them and cry with them. If you knew my friend Mike you'd have read this foxy stories response as a practical joke - his way of lightening up his other two weightier answers. To my surprise, though, that wasn't the case. Fortunately for me, and maybe for you, Mike felt compelled to make sure foxy stories carried a little weight itself with the following explanation:
I should explain, "Foxy Stories." At first I wrote "entertain them." Even as a kid I suppose I was an entertainer. So for me this kinda just came natural (and maybe that is the key- be yourself!). When my second son was born we were given a stuffed animal, a fox, for him. I suppose at first Foxy just sat with Micah in his crib but early on I began to "talk him." Sort of like a puppet I suppose. Foxy had a slight lisp and a "larger than life" sort of personality. He was always going on adventures and getting in trouble for doing things he shouldn't. He had an attitude. When our children were young they always begged for Foxy stories. So off the top of my head I would tell an elaborate tale that often included other stuffed animals or make-believe villains like evil, but stupid, Farmer Fred. Each story was new and fresh. The telling was often at night and included events from my childrens' day. Occasionally there was a moral to the story but most of the time it was strictly for entertainment. My only regret was that I never recorded or wrote any of these down. I remember sometimes while wrapping up a 45 minute story, I would get chills because of the way God allowed the story to all come together in the end. Foxy was also always there to cheer them up when they got hurt or sick. He was what made our many long car trips bearable. He was also someone they could take there frustrations out on with a good punch or a throw across the room. I would guess that up until our kids turned 10 they had heard more words come from my mouth in Foxy's voice than in the voice of their dad. I suppose Foxy may have been at times therapeutic for them, but he was often therapeutic for me. Even now at times when this old dad is all alone and thinking of his son who literally lives on the other side of the planet, I just say a few sentences in that lispy, attitude driven Foxy voice, and let the tears flow.
Mikes account of bringing a stuffed animal to life through stories he told his children moved me. I know Mike well enough to know he delivered some life-changing lessons through those stories. I know this too, though. In his story telling mode, Mike enjoyed his children, and they enjoyed him. I can hear their laughter and picture their smiles impatiently waiting on Foxy's next words.
When I shared Mike's "Foxy Stories" on Facebook, Mike's son Micah commented, "I feel (and probably a lot of other people that know us) that my dad and I have a lot in common, but the one thing that we share the most is that sense of humor, which I think a lot of that was passed down through those foxy stories.
As I read and re-read Mike's explanation of "Foxy stories", one thing he said stuck out to me. He said in sharing these stories he was being himself. I'm afraid too many dads feel pressured to be some pre-conceived notion of a dad around their kids instead of being themselves. We feel pressured to find the secret to getting our kids to relate to us instead of having faith in the absurd but true notion that sometimes we influence our kids more with our willingness and ability to relate to them. Especially in their early years. They don't need us to help them understand what Foxy has on his mind today, they need us to show them Foxy understands they have something on theirs. And many times that is nothing more than a desire to laugh.
You know what I love most about being a dad? It's that not only is it occasionally OK to forget you're fifty years old and act like your 8 again, in some moments it's the most powerful thing you can do for your kids. Whether it's bringing a stuffed fox to life with your voice, a field to life with an impromptu wrestling match, or a car ride to life by adding new and hilariously improved lyrics to a song on the radio, you never know what memories will be created by trading in dad duties for dad fun.
Several weeks ago we were at a local pumpkin patch with my mom and dad. While we sat enjoying a cup of hot cocoa on this chilly, early fall morning, we watched the boys wrestle in the grassy barnyard that surrounded us. Grass was flying everywhere as they rolled over and under one another. It looked like fun, so I sat my cup down and joined in. I promise you, my wrestling moves appeared far more robotic and labored than theirs, but laughter filled the air. And boy was I enjoying my kids.
When the match was over, likely when Katie shouted out someone's going to get hurt - (why do these shouts always carry more fear for my health than the boys') - we raced back to our cocoa. My dad told me watching me wrestle with the boys reminded him of the days he used to wrestle in our living room with me and my friend Scott. I remember those childhood matches well. Oh how I enjoyed them.
When you engage in moments of enjoyment with your kids, when you treat yourself to the opportunity to entertain them, their smiles that often lead to seismic waves of laughter assure you it's a wonderful moment for them. My dad reminded me it's more than that, though. As much as our kids enjoy these moments, some of the joy in that enjoyment laughs on in a lifetime of a dad's memories.
Please come back next time when I talk about why it's so important for our kids to see us enjoying them.