Love Tanks

Over the years my wife and I have referred to the problem of a child having a “low tank,” meaning that it was time for us to pour on the affection. But this, like everything else in this sorry world, can be misconstrued and misapplied.

When a kid has a low tank, he is low on what he needs from you. She is low on what you ought to be giving. To simply assume that the only possible thing needed is “daddy dates” is a recipe for spoiling a kid.

As we have noted, the context of faithful child rearing is warmth and affection. Grace contains law, just as the Garden of Eden contained a prohibited tree. But it was not a garden full of prohibited trees, with one solitary available tree in the middle. Grace is the context, but limits are there for a reason.

Another illustration I have used is that of a check book. When a father has to make a decision that will be difficult for a child to accept, this amounts to writing a major check. If the father writes a check for $10,000 (as say, when he tells a suitor his daughter likes to go away), he needs to do this in the context of depositing way more than that amount in her account over the years. If he has not done this, the check won’t clear.

But there are different mistakes that fathers make with regard to this. One is the mistake made by the austere father, who thinks that he can’t be out of money because he still has some checks left. He can’t be out of money because that’s his name and address in the upper left hand corner. When hard line fathers point to Bible verses that underscore their paternal authority, that is what they are doing. They proving that it is their checkbook, and that they are legally authorized to write a check from it. But that, unfortunately, is not the same thing as having money.

But indulgent daddies make the opposite mistake. They think that if they dispense enough daddy time, if they are consistently warm and affectionate, if they are approachable and sensitive males, then it follows from this that they should never have to write a check. They have all kinds of money in the account, but they don’t have the courage to spend any of it.

I have sometimes asked daughters who have gotten into some kind of significant trouble what their relationship with their dad is like. Often the answer is the obvious one of a distant and harsh man. But not infrequently the answer is that the daughter thinks her dad is a sweetie pie. “Oh, we are really close,” she might say. She does not go on to add that he is a walkover, but she might as well have.

But children need fathers to be fathers. They need fathers to draw a line, to set a boundary. They need limits. But they need these limits from a man who has established his wisdom in drawing them. The limits are not set for their own sake, but for the child’s sake. And they are not set all by themselves, but are balanced in the context of a gracious relationship — just as the numbers on checks should be balanced in the context of the numbers on deposit slips.

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