When my daughter was in kindergarten, she headed off to school one morning with her hair done up in an arrangement that only vaguely resembled a braid. Actually, at the top it looked almost exactly like a braid. But the hairstyle quickly devolved into a loose semi-tangle with an odd dogleg, like a fairway at Augusta National.
The following morning Jessi asked me to please just put her hair in two pony tails. That was the same week I sent her to school wearing orange socks, which didn't fully complement her pink outfit.
Things were different when my wife, Jeanette, was in town - which was most of the time.
When Mom was home our daughter was a kindergarten fashion plate. But when Jeanette traveled on business, the goals shifted a bit. Once the alarm went off I started checking items off a mental to-do list. Feed Jessi a hearty breakfast, dress her in clean clothes, get the tangles out of her hair, and deliver her to school on time. If she arrived ahead of the bell with all the things she needed inside her little backpack, and started the day with a hug and kiss from me, I considered our morning a red-letter success.
During Jeanette's business trips, Jessi and I tended to devote more time to riding bikes in the neighborhood, going to the playground, and playing Pooh sticks at the footbridge on the way to the library. Our dietary habits also underwent a transformation. We ate mostly mac and cheese, spaghetti, scrambled eggs, and frozen things that could be microwaved in eight minutes or less. Jessi thought it was great, since she liked fish sticks, pot pies, and chicken bits. She was less enthusiastic about the peas I served, but she ate them like a trooper. It didn't take my daugther long to realize her parents did things differently, but each of us got the job done.
I found that as Jessi grew older she trusted me to be there for her, and she knew we could talk about anything. Friendship, faith, politics, boys, school, family, sex, God, future plans, anything. While Jessi and I were bonding at home, Jeanette looked forward to the change of pace made possible by occasional business trips, and she enjoyed the expanded opportunities to make use of her leadership and organizational abilities.
A few weeks ago Jessi completed her first year of college, and next week she will leave for Uganda to work with AIDS orphans and to assist an African pastor who ministers in a remote village. She turned out all right, in spite of having had a fashion-impaired dad. And I can't begin to tell you how much I miss her when she's away at college or out of the country.
If you sometimes feel guilty about using your skills outside the home because you fear you are neglecting your kids, think about this: Inflicting your husband on your children every now and then could be one of the best things you'll ever do for them. It's a bona fide familial adventure, a crash course in deepening the dad-offspring bond. Plus, after just a few of these dad-on-duty episodes, your kids will more fully appreciate what you bring to the table. Nothing says "when will Mom be home?" like a dad who can't manage a French braid or decide whether orange goes with pink.
When you invest your leadership abilities in the world outside your home you are making greater use of the gifts God gave you. More people have a chance to benefit from the ways God is using you. And in the process, you're building a better dad.