While sorting through my office recently, I discovered a birthday card that my daughter made for me a few years ago. What she wrote in that card provided some needed reassurance that I have been modeling for her what I ought.
“Character,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “is what you do when people aren’t watching.” I might add a corollary: “The character that really matters is what your children see when you aren’t aware that they are watching.”
My daughter has been watching me. What has she seen?
It hasn’t always been pretty. Sometimes I confess my sins privately to God. Sometimes I must apologize directly to her. But over the years a pattern has emerged, despite my sins. She summarized that pattern in the birthday card she made for me:
Never mind the misspellings. She recognized that I was seeking (and to some degree succeeding) in placing God first, family second, church third, my job fourth, and the rest of the world last. A closer inspection of the card reveals that she initially put “world” ahead of “job” and then corrected it. I am so grateful that the place of confusion in her mind was not family vs. job. In fact, you’ll see that family outranks job by two full positions.
This does not mean I lack commitment to my job. But what I have found over they years is that the more I learn to place family above work, the better I serve not only my family but also my students at Bethany Lutheran College, where I’ve been teaching for the past 16 years.
Bethany’s mission is to “provide Christian higher education in a challenging academic environment where personal mentoring guides students to pursue knowledge, truth, and discernment.” I agree fully with that mission statement; in fact, I served on the committee that wrote it. But what I “write” through my actions with my children still must take priority over the Christian education I offer my students. What good would it be for me to provide “personal mentoring” to my students, if my students observed that I failed to do so for my own children?
And my students are watching. One of my former students knocked on my door not long ago to thank me for putting my family first. He had noticed. He was headed for law school, and after that, the legal profession. He knew that many lawyers work 60 to 80 hours per week and neglect their families. He wants to avoid that mistake. What I taught him in class was enough to get him admitted to law school. But what about after law school? He told me that he will remember my example when he gets married and has children. He told me that what I taught him without trying, when he was watching without me knowing he was watching, was the more important lesson.
My daughter and my student together have provided me with the encouragement to keep on track. When pressures rise at work (and there always seems to be more to do than can be done!), I need to remember that I do not neglect my career when spending time with my family. Rather, I fulfill the purpose of my career when choosing home over office.
If my daughter were to make me a new birthday card next year, would she still be able to record the same priority-sequence that she observed in the past? I hope so. I am thankful to have rediscovered her card so that I may pause, reflect, repent, rejoice (forgiveness in Christ!), and resume my vocations as a husband and a father and all of those other things that come later in the list.
Perhaps you or someone you know needs to pause, reflect, repent, rejoice, and resume with me. If so, I invite you to ponder the “Redeeming the Time” essay that I wrote some years back.
May God bless your efforts, forgive your failures, and keep you and your family always close to Himself.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschool children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean and Professor of History and Philosophy at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.