It is hard to be a good father. In all fairness, no-one ever said it would be easy, but it is more difficult than I would say is commonly appreciated. I think that for me, the constant challenge is balance. I will tend to focus on, for example, providing for my children by making sure that I work hard, try to progress in my career and bring in enough money to meet their needs. Then, I start to feel concerned (quite rightly) that my children have a need for my physical and emotional presence, rather than just my financial provision. This leads me to try to make more time for quality time, time one on one with them, time playing over the park, walks in the woods. This is great and when I do it, it feels right. It feels like the way it is meant to be and my children clearly benefit from it. But then, as always, life begins to feel very busy and congested and other elements creep in and start to suck up my time. There are household chores that need doing - washing, ironing, washing up, hoovering, cleaning the car, fixing meals, decorating - all very necessary and important and as tedious as they generally are, essential to make time for.
I tell myself that these things need to be done and I am right, they do. However they wind up becoming too much of a focus and I essentially become a house keeper and handyman to my children instead of a father.
Lest we forget, there is also my wife to consider. She is more important, more precious to me than all of my children put together (much as I love them and would never be without them) and I want to ensure that when, as they inevitably will, my children grow up, move out and make their own lives, my wife and I have a life together, a relationship, that is founded upon our marriage, founded on us, rather than simply being founded on the need to properly raise our children. So many marriages have struggled in later life because all that existed was a focus on raising the children and then once they were raised, there was nothing left between the husband and wife beside the memory of a wedding day decades in the past and the shared experience since then of setting everything else aside to take care of the children.
Do not misunderstand me, children are important and precious and if I fail to make proper time and energy for them my failure is something that will prove hugely damaging all round. But they are not all I am as a man. I am not a father to the exclusion of all else. I am not even a father first and foremost. I am a child of God, then a husband, then a father, then (hopefully) an active and useful member of my church, then everything else.
I know that, rather prosaically, central to all of this is time management. There is time to do and be all of these things, but it will not happen by itself. I have to say "no" to so much in order to be able to say "yes" to my wife and my children. I cannot go to the gym three times a week for two hours each time and still be all that I wish to be as a husband, father and Christian. I cannot spend quality time with my children at the weekend if I lock myself away painting a bedroom, despite how pressingly urgent that job seems. I cannot make my wife feel special, precious, beautiful and loved if I come home late from work, stick a DVD on and ignore her. I might be able to justify such actions to myself by saying that I am tired, drained and stressed and need to unwind, but ultimately that is a cop-out. I need not be a martyr, I just need to choose. What will I do today? What will I choose to make time for on Saturday? How will I plan my evenings? How will I organise myself at work so that I can honour my employers with an honest, hard day's work for an honest day's pay and still ensure that I am home in time to play with my children and put them to bed?
Fatherhood. Potentially so rewarding, fraught with potholes, joyous when you get it right, very easy to get wrong, exhausting even at the best of times and pretty thankless until your children have children of their own and realise what they put you through. I wouldn't change it for the world.