The Headwind vs. the Tailwind Dad
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Bryan Loritts talks about the difference between a headwind father and a tailwind father. He explains which one sets his child on a trajectory for success by inspiring them to their God-intended destiny.
The Headwind vs. the Tailwind Dad
Bob: One of the characteristics of a good dad is that he’s there for his kids. But as Bryan Loritts points out, that doesn’t mean that he is their genie/there on demand.
Bryan: One of the gifts that my dad gave me, that I’m thankful for it in hindsight, is Dad didn’t make me the center of his world. Dad was very clear on, “God’s called me to do some things.” He would pull out the calendar before our athletic seasons; he would go, “I can make these seven or eight games.” He’d then pull out the calendar and say, “Here’s the trips I want you to go on”; so as a little boy, he’s taking me with him. He was very intentional; but at the same time, Dad was very clear. “Hey, I know you like those cleats. Let me tell you how you got those cleats—I work.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, September 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. One of the best predictors for long-term success for young men and young women is having a dad, who is purposeful, intentional, focused, and not always there. We’re going to talk more about that today with Bryan Loritts. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I remember a conversation I had, this was many years ago, with a woman who had been a public school teacher. This was right about the time when diagnoses of ADD were starting to mushroom. Boys were hyperactive in the classroom, and doctors were starting to prescribe mediation for these boys.
This teacher said, “ADD’s a real thing, but I think it’s being over-diagnosed. I have a different acronym for it. I think ADD is not Attention Deficit Disorder; I think, in a lot of cases, it’s Absent Dad Disorder.” I’ve never forgotten that.
Dave: Wow; wow.
Bob: I don’t know that we fully appreciate how significant a father is in the life of his children/in the life of a family for good or for ill. His presence is significant; his absence is significant. Whatever he does or doesn’t do is going to leave its mark/going to leave its fingerprints. You know this firsthand.
Dave: Yes; it’s interesting when you say that, Bob. My first thought is: “My dad left when I was seven. I don’t think there’s a single day in my life—and I’m 62 years old now—that he doesn’t influence me to this point; I mean, he’s in the grave—even though he wasn’t there in my life still.” I didn’t even know—until my junior year I became a follower of Christ and started reading the Bible, really for the first time as a man—I did not know there was this phrase, “The sins of the father will visit down through the generation.” I come across that, and I’m like, “Wow; I’m living that.”
I said to my nine-year-old son at that time, CJ—I said, “CJ, what do you think of this verse?” He looks right back at me, nine years old, and he says, “Dad, don’t sin.” [Laughter] That’s what he said! But he caught it, at nine years old; he’s like, “Whatever you do, it’s going to affect me.” I remember feeling the weight of that—like, “He’s right; I have a huge responsibility.”
Ann: I’ll say this—as a woman and as a mom—I have been astounded by the power that a man has in the home. As I look at Dave, I remember saying to him, “I am jealous of the power that you have.” Like the boys—he would say something, and the boys would be at rapt attention—where I’m saying it—
Dave: I think everybody is, Bob, when I say something. [Laughter]
Ann: But no; it’s true! It’s like men have this powerful voice in children’s lives.
Bob: We have got a friend, who is joining us to talk about this today. Bryan Loritts is with us on FamilyLife Today. Bryan, welcome.
Bryan: It’s great to be here.
Bob: Bryan has spoken at a number of FamilyLife® events. He’s a pastor and an author. He just recently became the executive pastor at the Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bryan has written a book called The Dad Difference. He knows a little bit about the impact of a dad, because we’ve had his dad regularly with us on FamilyLife Today—his dad, Crawford.
Bryan, you start the book by saying that “Dad” is the most powerful three-letter word in the English language. When did you realize that? Did you realize that when you were growing up, and your dad was exerting that influence over you?
Bryan: No; honestly, I think it was Mark Twain who said that “Youth was a gift wasted on the young.” I didn’t appreciate my father at all. It wasn’t until I got out of his house and started to get older that I began to look back and I realized how much the old man has grown. [Laughter] The combination of getting older, and smacked around by life, and reverting back to these “Crawford-isms” as I would call them.
Then, as a pastor, as I would wade into people’s lives, the common denominator in an overwhelming majority of cases—it’s really true—all roads do lead back to home, and specifically the influence of a dad. So much so, that how one perceives another powerful three-letter word, “God,” is oftentimes seen through the lens of “Dad.”
Bob: It dawned on me recently that, when God reveals Himself to us and chooses to use the terms, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” this is an accommodation to human understanding. God is explaining to us Who He is; and He says, “The best way I can explain Who I am is to use this term.” I thought, “He could have said: ‘It’s COO, CEO, and Comptroller.’ He could have come up with any other illustration; but He picks ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ as the way He explains Who He is to us.”
Bryan: Yes; and I think a part of what God’s getting at with that insight, Bob, is the relational aspect of it. “Father” is a very relational term. In fact, in the Aramaic, when we talk about “Abba Father,” that’s akin to a three-year-old daughter climbing into her Daddy’s lap and going, “Abba.” It’s a highly-relational term. That’s the consistent theme throughout the Scriptures. Even when Jesus is baptized, God said, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased.” It’s a term of endearment/of relationship. There’s an intentionality as to why God chooses that imagery.
Dave: How does our view of our own father—you mentioned it—affect our view of God? How do those two go together?
Bryan: As I’ve sat down with people, who may struggle with a legalistic God/with a God who has a perpetual scowl on their face—oftentimes, that’s linked to a dad, who nothing was ever good enough. If the only time you ever heard from your father was when He was coming down on you, or there was this negative thing coming, that’s going to impact how I see God. You can go to the flip side. If you had this Disneyland dad, maybe who was detached from the home—and out of a sense of guilt would spoil you to death—that might lead you down a prosperity-road perspective that God exists for your happiness.
It’s not true in every single case; but in my experience, in the majority of cases as a dad—and I wish I would’ve been more attuned to this in the early days of parenting—I’m not just handing my kids a road map to life; I’m also giving them a perception of Who God is.
Bob: If you had had that perspective when your kids were babies, what would you have done differently?
Bryan: I think I would’ve been a lot quicker to apologize; because you realize real quick, “I’m not deity.” I think I would’ve been a lot more careful with how I disciplined—the things I said to them/tone of voice—I would’ve been a lot more mindful.
Bob: I look back on those early years of parenting, and think, “I could’ve been a whole lot more purposeful and intentional in terms of shaping the direction of our family and the direction with my kids.” I could’ve recognized, “I’ve got a big job here in front of me, as a dad, and there are things here only I can do. I better be really focused on this.” I think there’s a lot I could’ve done that would’ve been more intentional.
Bryan: I think that’s the key word. When I think of great dads that I know, they were intentional. When I think about my dad—the book, The Dad Difference—let me dispel any notions; it’s not about me being a dad, because that story is still being written. I’ve got three teenage boys: 19, 17, 15.
Bob: —a work in progress; right? [Laughter]
Bryan: Yes; it’s really reflections on my dad and how he fathered me.
He was intentional. He was my first Old Testament professor/New Testament professor. We had a standing breakfast appointment every week when he was in town at the local Shoney’s® or McDonald’s®. I remember him taking out napkins—he was with Cru® for a lot of years, so he was a big “Four Spiritual Laws” guy—so he was writing out, “This is how you share your faith.” I’m like six/seven years old. And he’d go, “Okay; I’ve explained it to you. Now watch me do it with the server.” Taking me on missions trips with him; having me raise support when I’m ten years old; wanting to expand my faith. No, he’s not perfect—and I make that point very clear in the book—but he was intentional.
Ann: Yet, he was gone a lot. When you talked about that, Bryan, you were saying that Crawford was gone a lot of the time. Was it the time he was home he was intentional?
Bryan: Yes. One of the things, Ann—I want to dispel the notion—my dad’s a great dad, but he’s not the fourth member of the Trinity. [Laughter] I did not want to overwhelm the reader by giving them this kind of Instagram® picture of my dad, in which the reader would be exasperated, going, “I could never be that.” I was real quick to point out the flaws in my dad. My dad would say, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have traveled as much as I did.” But at the time, I didn’t know any different. I think parents create the “normal” in the household. Even though he was gone a lot, I just thought that’s how every dad was.
One of the gifts my dad gave me, that I’m thankful for in hindsight, is Dad didn’t make me the center of his world. Dad was very clear on: “God’s called me to do some things.” He would pull out the calendar before our athletic seasons; he would go, “I can make these seven or eight games”; we were so happy. He’d then pull out the calendar and say, “Here’s the trips I want you to go on”; so as a little boy, he’s taking me with him. He was very intentional; but at the same time, Dad was very clear: “Hey, I know you like those cleats. Let me tell you how you got those cleats—I work,” and “I can’t show up to everything.” He didn’t raise me with this happiness ethic.
The last thing I’ll say on that is I have this Asian friend of mine. He was commenting on the difference in his perception of how Americans parent and how the Asian community parent. He said, “Bryan, broadly speaking, in my perception, the key word for Asians”—the one thing they want for their kids—“is: ‘We want them to be successful.’ Looking at Americans, it seems like if there’s one word that describes the parents’ aspirations for their kids is: ‘We want them to be happy.’”
Because of that, we’re unleashing into the world—not arrows/Psalm 127—but boomerangs, where they venture out only to come back. More and more, they’re not resilient. That’s not an indictment on them; that’s more an indictment on us, as parents.
Bob: You and Korie made that exact point in the Art of Parenting® video series when we sat down and had that conversation. You talked about happiness: “If that’s your goal, you’re setting your kids up for a wrong view of life and the future.”
Bryan: That’s right; that’s absolutely right. I couldn’t agree with that more. My dad demanded certain things of us. I think, after my first semester in college, I vividly remember him saying, “You know what? God’s blessed us, and I could afford to pay for all your college. I just don’t think that’s good for you, so I need you to come up with
25 percent of tuition.” [Laughter] I’m working hard. By the way, my sisters didn’t get the same deal. [Laughter]
Ann: But you’re not bitter about that.
Bryan: I’m not bitter about that. Dad was constantly looking for ways to get us to step up.
Dave: There’s a dad, driving in the car right now, or sitting and listening—obviously, women as well—they’re asking this question: “If happiness isn’t the goal with my kids, what am I shooting for?” Bryan, what are you shooting for?
Bryan: One of the things I talk about in my book, right up front, I look at Psalm 127 and this whole idea of the imagery of children being like arrows. When a warrior picks up that arrow, it’s with great—like we just talked about—intentionality. That warrior is aiming at a target. I think the goal should be: “Is releasing from our home kids who hit their God-ordained targets in their generation for a time”—as my dad would say—“that we cannot see.”
It’s helping them to understand, not just what job or career they should work in, but the idea of vocation. Os Guinness unpacks this in his wonderful book, The Call. Dad was very clear on “What is our unique bent?” He would have us do different activities. I did everything from sing in the choir to playing football and athletics, and all sorts of things. He would affirm those things; he would say, “Man, when you do this, I sense the blessing of God. Let me continue to encourage that.” But when I sang in the choir—I think I sang for one Sunday—he said, “Yes; that’s not you. You’re getting out of it.” [Laughter]
He very much saw his role as—sort of like Howard Hendricks says: “The three big questions in life is: ‘Who’s your master?’ ‘What’s your mission?’ ‘Who’s your mate?’”—Dad saw himself as helping to come alongside of us and setting us up to answer those three questions well.
Bob: I think you make a great observation here. A part of our job, as dads, is to figure out, “What is the unique bent for our child?”—Ephesians 2:10—“What are the good works that God has prepared beforehand that our children should walk in them?” There’s a discovery in the learning process that we, as mom and dad detectives, we’ve got to be digging in and saying: “Okay; who did God make this child to be? What are their gifts, and abilities, and passions, and all of that?” And then, “How can we help aim them so they can walk in that unique path that God has mapped out for them?”
Bob: You use the phrase in the book—you talk about a “Tailwind Dad.” Can you talk about what a Tailwind Dad is?
Bryan: I use this metaphor; I travel a lot. When you go from coast to coast, you figure out pretty quickly: when you travel from east to west, your journey, for the most part, is always going to be slower; because you’re fighting a headwind. But when you’re traveling from west to east, your journey typically is faster; because you have a tailwind that’s pushing you. In the book, I make the point: “All dads are either a headwind or a tailwind.”
No matter whether your dad was a headwind or a tailwind, you can still get to your God-ordained destiny. But when you did not have an intentional dad, who had this lofty vision/this transcendent vision, for your life, who was really a model of a desired destination, you may spend some time undoing some of things that he did to you. You can still get there, and you will still get there.
In fact, some of the best dads that I know are those who, themselves, had headwind dads, who either by their absence or their passivity introduced a lot of pain into that young child; so much so where, when this person becomes a dad, this person says, “My child will never have to experience the pain that I felt.” They don’t say it in these terms; but they make up their mind, “I had a headwind; I’m going to be a tailwind.”
Honestly, I get a lot of credit for a lot of stuff; but outside the sovereignty of God, I felt like because I had an intentional godly dad—who invested heavily in me—that kind of fast-tracked me in life. That’s the power of an intentional dad.
Dave: A lot of us didn’t have that. I certainly had a headwind dad. Ann’s shared here on the program before—that on our honeymoon, I break down—second night?—third night?—
Ann: —second night.
Dave: —literally in tears as we’re processing together: “What is this emotional weight I’m carrying?” It hit me: “I can never be the husband you long for and deserve; and there’s no way I can be the dad my kids will someday need, because I never saw it. I’m way behind the game; I’m in a negative.” Remember?—I was like, “I didn’t even know what I was processing right now.” I’d just been to the Weekend to Remember®. I’d heard the husband talk/the dad talk—now, we give that talk—but I was overwhelmed by that, thinking, “I’ll never be able to do it.”
Just like you said—God’s grace—again, I’m not sitting here, saying, “I’m the perfect dad, and my kids are perfect,”—I used to say, “Don’t judge how you did as a parent until your kids are 30.” Now I say, “…until they’re 40”; because I have a 34-year-old. [Laughter] The truth is—as you look back over the last 34 years—God did something I could never do.
If there’s a father listening right now, thinking, “I can never do this,”—yes you’re right; you can’t. That’s right where God wants you. He wants to say, “I have to do it. Let Me do it; let Me change you. I’m going to change your legacy through you. Just give Me the chance to do it in you.”
Bob: I remember having a conversation with Voddie Baucham, who grew up in a home without a dad/single-parent mom—had an uncle, who got involved and helped shaped him during his teen years when he was starting to spin out and go in the wrong direction—I talked about, “What do you do when you’ve got this deficit/you don’t have a road map to follow?” He said, “You read your Bible, and you do what it says.” [Laughter]
He says, “This is the goodness of God, who is the perfect Father, Who not only gives us Himself as a model, but Who also gives us instructions.” He says, “Yes; there’s a deficit, and there are holes, and maybe you didn’t see it fleshed out; but God’s Word does give us instruction on how we are to interact, and live, and raise the next generation.”
Ann: The other things is, I think for women, is we are longing for husbands to engage/to be those dads that you’re talking about. We’ve tried all the tactics, like we’re putting books by the table: “Oh, here’s Bryan Loritts’ book. I just heard him on the radio today,” [Laughter] or “Here’s So-and-so’s book.” We’re trying all these tactics. What is the best way for wives to encourage their husbands to engage as fathers?
Bryan: That’s a fine line; right? You want to encourage; but you don’t want to encourage on repeat, to put it mildly. That’s where I think getting plugged into a good church/getting into a good community group: putting yourself in an environment, where there are other people, who are trying to journey in the same direction that you are. Out of that, you’ll typically find some models, some friendships, some help. Maybe there’s a conference that you could go to, with another couple, that’ll inspire you together. Maybe there’s a reading group you can hop in on. But trying to travel with other people for a sense of encouragement.
At one of the churches I served, we did this thing called the Men’s Huddle; it was our men’s ministry. We would watch such things as FamilyLife®Stepping Up® or 33 The Series®, and men would gather together. There was this sense of: “We’re all in this together.” There’s this freedom to talk about your vulnerabilities. I think it was Rick Warren, who said, “When men share strengths, they compete; but when they share weaknesses, they draw close together.” That’s really good; being in those kinds of atmospheres, I think it’s helpful.
Bob: And if your husband were to happen to find that somebody had downloaded these episodes of FamilyLife Today onto his podcast feed on his iPhone®, he might go, “Ohhh; I wonder how this got here.” You don’t have to reveal that you’re the one who downloaded it; right? [Laughter]
I would hope that any husband/any dad, who would see Bryan’s book, would say, “I want to read this book.” First of all, Bryan, I appreciate the fact that it’s less than 150 pages. [Laughter] You knew who you were writing for; didn’t you?
Bryan: Yes; I won’t elaborate on that. [Laughter] That was a clear directive from the publishing house.
Dave: Here’s the other thing—we haven’t even talked about the subtitle, which makes us say, “We’ve got to talk further,”—The 4 Most Important Gifts You Can Give Your Kids—it begs the question: “Okay; what in the world are those four? Let’s talk about those further.”
Bob: We will unpack those this week. For those who want to jump ahead, we’re making Bryan’s book available to FamilyLife Today listeners, who can help us with a donation to support the ongoing work of this ministry. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. The fact that you hear us each day on this local radio station, or as a podcast on your Alexa® device, listening online—however you connect with us—that all happens because listeners, like you, help make it happen by donating to support the production and syndication of this program, along with the ministry initiatives of FamilyLife. You’re helping us effectively develop godly marriages and families. That’s what you’re investing in when you support FamilyLife Today.
If you can make a donation today, we’d love to send you Bryan’s book The Dad Difference. Donate at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” When you donate, be sure to ask for your copy of Bryan Loritts’ book, The Dad Difference.
By the way, Bryan and Korie Loritts are a part of FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series. If you’re raising kids in the early years/in the teen years—wherever you are in that journey—consider getting this series and going through it on your own or with other couples. I know there are couples getting together now in socially-distanced small groups or, even, online. Learn from people like Bryan and Korie Loritts, Phil Vischer, Kevin DeYoung, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Dave and Ann Wilson, Alistair Begg, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jessica Thompson, and others who are a part of this series. Find out more about the Art of Parenting video series online. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; the information you need is available there.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about The four gifts that every dad needs to give to his children. Bryan Loritts is going to join us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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