What’s more, when my twenty-year-old daughter summons me with the doubly affectionate “Daddy,” a wave of humbling grace rocks my intentionally cultivated survivor/warrior exterior and I prep to adjust my schedule to whatever she needs at the moment. My identity as a Dad is so deeply moving to me that it trumps even my deeply ingrained, lifelong dependence on performance and approval from others for worth. When I let my kids down, it cuts me deep. I can hear you saying: “OK, all of that borders on co-dependence, Pete.” Without a doubt. Idolatry too.

No one prepared me, nor do I suspect could have, for the powerful grace of being a Dad, and now, being a Chief (aka “grandpa”). There’s a Southern Baptist revival type of electricity that energizes me as a Father; talk about Mama Bears, don’t mess with this Papa Bear’s cubs. I’ve got weapons and I know how to use them.

It is by grace, Abba’s completely undeserved favor, that I am a Dad. The evidence is clear to me that my sinful secret interior life and my all too obvious exterior life deserve a severe backhand from God that should last into eternity. In the place of His just backlash, however, the Father has pulled me into the warmest and tightest embrace possible while He whispers “son” in my ear. Because of the Cross and His determined love, the gifts keep rolling into my life. I’m a Dad by grace. What I’ve learned, though, is that once I became a Dad by grace, it was easy to slip into Fathering by non-grace.

An incredible wife who calls me “husband,” three awesome grown children, two wonderful daughters-in-law, two grandchildren, some friends who call me, well, all kinds of names, and a patient God have taught me tons about how Dads by grace can be, well, Dads by grace:

1. Honest Self-Evaluation

Do I really want to love my kids and grandchildren well by grace or do I simply want them to perform to make me look good? How high a priority is it to me to love my family, for their sake, really? Do I want to love them well more than I want pleasure, status, or professional or financial success in life? The starting point for Dads is blatant self-honesty. Jesus’ coming intended to “turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children” (Lk 1:17). Is that your desire? We men do what we want to do and grace helps me face the real me.

2. Knowing the Mission

Fathers, being life bringers, are also life builders. The mission of a father in conjunction with the mother is to raise children who know God put them here, that He loves them, redeemed them in Jesus, and wants them to have an abundant life! To love our children well means we are seeking to develop them for life as God defines it (Deut. 6:4-9; Eph.6:4). Fathering by grace doesn’t mean giving my kids everything they want, but knowing the direction I’m to take them.

3. Experiencing Grace

Dads who are being transformed by the Gospel know they are accepted unconditionally and find their core identity as sons of God (Jn.1:12). Being loved fully by God therefore enables Dads to find their identity in God and not demand their children define them. When we are loved we then find the supernatural power to love sacrificially in the literally countless situations that demand we be “all in.” Grace also surprisingly and progressively transforms men to be models for their children giving them the needed example of what God wants them to become as adults.

4. On the Job Perpetual Learning

Dads are always learning the love languages and temperaments of their children, of what motivates each child, and devising strategies to develop each child. Since our kids are all unique, Fathering is an art more than a science. When we fail, we apologize; when we’re at a loss, we get advice. Graced men don’t keep score of their own Fatherly failings. It’s a complete waste of time. We read, think, pray, and grow as Dads, every day, through each of the phases of our kids’ lives, seeking to stay connected with our children and grandchildren until we leave the planet. Only then is our glorious mission as Dads at an end (2 Peter 3:18).

5. Being Imperfectly But Fully Present

No perfect human Dads exist or ever existed on planet earth (1 Jn.3:2). Don’t make perfect Fathering a goal; you’ll surely fail. What’s more, our kids know we’re not perfect and don’t demand perfection. What they want is us; the more of us they can get, the more they like it. Eventually most Dads come to realize with stark clarity that what they do want is their kids to know and love them. If we want love from them, when we let God love us, we’ll definitely have something to give our kids, and their love-return is often given.

Grace does change everything, especially how you view being a Dad. Kids who love God aren’t “magiced” into maturity. But they are heavily influenced by Daddies who are Dads by Grace.

You take it to heart.