Former NFL QB Jeff Kemp on Championing God’s Design for Dads
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During his 11 years as an NFL quarterback, Jeff Kemp was known on and off the field for his leadership skills. Whether it was calling and executing plays on the gridiron or working away from the sport to strengthen marriages and families, Kemp has always been willing to work for the improvement of the modern family.
Recently, Kemp has teamed up with Fatherhood CoMission to champion fatherhood both inside and outside the Church. It is his desire for dads to be positive difference makers in their families, in the community, and around the world.
I recently spoke to Kemp about why dads are critically important and matter, ways to evaluate how you are doing as a dad, and how you can be the best dad year-round.
First off, we are living in a world that seems to devalue anything that is seen as traditional. Why are dads important and why do they matter?
Fatherhood is a simple concept; it hasn't really changed from 6,000 years ago in human history. People are going to look on it negatively. Of course, men have let women down and have abused their power. I'm saying some men, not all. So, this pendulum had to swing to re-bring the human dignity to women, as well as fair treatment, dignity, honor, and opportunity. And that movement actually started with Jesus. He was the most radical, courageous, transformative figure in human history.
Sadly, we don't see God as the true father with all His character that we should. For example, the prodigal son story shows a father and a beautiful picture that is probably incomplete. However, it's still a beautiful picture of the Heavenly Father painted by Jesus himself.
Culture and imperfect human performance have made us disrespect tradition and even throw out the baby with the bath water relative to the importance of fathers and respect for him. Whether it's respecting our parent, which was the first commandment at the time. It actually had a promise that comes with it. Obey your father and mother. Respect your father and mother, that it may go well with you. That’s fascinating but we don't practice that. And it doesn't go well with us.
This weekend, we will be celebrating Father’s Day, a day to honor dad for his contributions to our lives. But I am of the belief that being a good dad is a 365 day a year job. How can you be the best dad to your children year-round?
Putting Father's Day on a card and one day on a calendar is actually in the long run, shrinking and dishonoring, but it is something as important as breathing or drinking water. But as you just said, it's a 365-day job. So how do we encourage dads to see it that way and engage in it? Everyone else is in the same spot, whether your dad was absent, missing, left the family, divorced, was an alcoholic, abusive, negligent, conditional performance, or militaristic. Perhaps you didn't know him, or he was a little bit of a disconnected, unemotional guy. Even if it was pretty good, no matter the condition of your dad, you're in the same boat as others.
None of us have a perfect dad but you do have a perfect heavenly father. That relationship with that perfect Father, receiving that relationship with that perfect Father, is actually the source. So, number one, everyone's got a perfect father. We really have, A) a place to get our needs met and B) a place to get the strength that we need to be a good dad. Number two, the most important job in the world is loving, caring for, and shaping human beings because they last. Records, money, houses, and businesses don’t last. So, your most significant, most lasting thing, and biggest legacy is fathering.
Thirdly, it's a pretty short season. It may seem long when you're waking up at night with crying babies or having to work some extra hours to get enough money to pay for all the things your family needs. Many times, we ramp up what we think we want and call our wants needs. And we do the financial thing instead of the relational thing as a dad. The most important thing you do is being a dad. Then, I'd step down to this and say relating and building a relationship with your children is the most important thing you will ever do and an honest relation. Now, is there a lot of gray area and room for different paths to do it different ways? Yes. Some dads do it through coaching little league sports, Boy Scouts, or even playing in the backyard. Some dads do this through reading. Some dads are homeschooling and teaching their kids. Some dads take their kids to the job and teach them their business. Some dads do a great job telling their kids the stories of when they were a boy, their first prom, first dance, and insecurities they may have had. But some dads are great at asking questions. Everyone has some avenue that they can be good at and pursue to build a relationship and to relate to their son or daughter. That is the foundation for fathering.
What are some good ways to evaluate how you are doing as a father? Are there any time-tested or scriptural things that we can do to see how dads are doing?
That's a good question. Do your kids ever ask you for help or ever ask you a question? If they're never asking you for help and they're never asking you questions, then there's probably a lot of relationships that you're not building where there is trust. Maybe you've been doing a bunch of stuff, but you've kept yourself on a pedestal and they don't know that you're not perfect. They think dad always got A's. Dad always worked hard and made money. Dad never uses cuss words and he doesn't look at pornography. That's perfect. They're afraid to tell you that they look at porn, they got a D in a class, or they don't want to play baseball because they don't like baseball. They're afraid to tell you that because you as a dad haven't humbled yourself. Basically, a dad needs to be humble and get off the pedestal, be real, accessible, and trustworthy. And then your kid will lean into you occasionally and ask you questions, ask you for help, or want to spend some time with you. Do you want to play catch in the backyard? Dad, can we go for a walk? Will you listen to this music with me? Show them you're committed. If your kid has asked you to listen to some of the music he likes and you don't think it's good, or you don't want to watch a show that they watch, you're missing a chance in that relationship. Dads, you don't need to give your opinion. You can ask them their opinion. Instead of saying you don’t like it, ask how come you like it? What's cool about it? What's it say to you? Is there anything that it says in it that you'd like me to understand or know about you? So, just ask more questions.
I can’t let you go without talking a little bit about Fatherhood CoMission. What can you tell me about the organization and perhaps some of your current initiatives that are happening?
The Fatherhood CoMission is less of an organization than an organism. We're a network of leaders and organizations that work to strengthen fatherhood. We do everything from helping single moms to get their children in touch with mentor dads to working with estranged dads that have legal and other reasons why they can't be in touch with the kids. We coach them through getting through the legalities, connecting with the mom, connecting with the kids, and fixing their own father wound. We work with dads coming out of prison and coming out of drug abuse to learn how to be a dad. Some of them are even learning how to be married. So, we have those types of groups that are kind of at the bottom of the waterfall. And then we have groups that are kind of in the middle of a waterfall like intervening where dads are having challenges right now that need mentoring and small groups. We also try to prevent the waterfall by going upstream and giving fatherhood conferences, writing fatherhood curriculum, promoting other groups, and taking others and organizing them for a monthly meeting with their kids. It is here where they share wisdom and encourage their children.
Also, over the next couple of years we'll be bringing attention to the issue of fatherlessness, a father’s absence, and the father deficit. It's probably more consequential than the terrible federal deficit. There's hope. No one's disqualified from a good future as a father. We're really hoping and helping fuel kind of a rising tide of attention on the fatherhood problem or the father deficit.
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