Best Dad Ever

To be the best is not to be perfect

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On Father’s Day last year, my six-year-old son gave me a card that he picked out at the grocery store. The front of the card read, “Best Dad Ever.” The sincerity and excitement in his giving it to me was all the gift I needed, but the card also had a built-in surprise. The bright blue badge on the front was a removable and wearable button. 

I pastor a small congregation in upstate South Carolina. Sunday mornings are a rush, between getting four kids ready for church and trying to remember everything I need for the day–my computer bag, my sermon notes, my morning caffeine. On Father’s Day, as I headed out the door, I heard my son yell from across the living room.  “Dad, wait! You’re missing something. Don’t forget your button!”  

“Best Dad Ever” the bright button beamed, as I unlocked the church doors and turned the lights on in the sanctuary. “Best Dad Ever” my badge boasted as I peeked in on the adult Bible study class with many more-experienced fathers, mothers, and grandparents smiling back at me. “Best Dad Ever” the button exclaimed as I preached on Jesus’ parable of the loving father who opens his arms to his two lost and lonely sons. 

After the service, I saw that a fellow dad in town posed in a picture with his “Coolest Dad Ever” t-shirt, and another dad friend was given the title of “World’s Greatest Dad.” But these discoveries didn’t change the fact that I was wearing proof that, at least according to my son, I was worthy of my own superlative: “Best Dad Ever.”

Truth be told, I don’t feel like the “Best Dad Ever” most of the time. In fact, I was still wearing that button at our Father’s Day lunch when I stole my son’s banana pudding when he wasn’t looking. And I was still displaying my pinned title when I caught myself fussing at my children for being fussy – a popular parenting technique of mine that is both ironic and counterproductive. 

Can I really be the “Best Dad Ever” when I fuss as often as my children fuss? I complain and groan and yell just as much as they do, maybe more. I trip over my tongue when trying to correct them. I say more than I should and pray less than I need to. I feel stuck in reactionary parenting when I so desperately want to be more prepared and proactive.

At the end of Father’s Day last year, I removed that button and fell asleep in the anxious and familiar desire to be, if not the best, at least a better dad the next day. But the next morning started with me fussing at my son for waking up the entire house too early. Seconds into a new day I was scolding the same son who had given me my “Best Dad Ever” button the day before. 

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When I was in high school, a friend’s mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered without hesitation that I wanted to be a dad.

There was a time when I thought that might not happen. My wife and I spent years, and a large percentage of our meager young adult salaries, trying to make it happen, with no initial success. 

After a long infertility journey, I’m so thankful to be the father of four wonderful and vibrant and unique-to-themselves children, but being a dad is also a responsibility that terrifies me. 

I’m not worried about being the world’s greatest dad, or the coolest, or even the funniest (though I think my catalogue of dad jokes should put me in strong contention). Instead, I just want to be the “Best Dad Ever” to my four children. I want to be the best I can be for them. 

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My wife and I both played basketball in school. In fact, she beat me in HORSE on our very first date. She gave me another chance on our second date, and I lost that game too.

Sometimes I wonder how many parenting misses I’m allowed before I get benched.  Because when it comes to being a dad, I feel like I airball a lot. 

It helps to remember that to be the best is not to be perfect. Even the best basketball players miss a lot of their shots. Steph Curry is one of the best three point shooters of all time. He has the all-time NBA record for most made three pointers: over 3,000. But in his first 14 seasons in the NBA, Curry has also missed more than 4,000 threes!

When I was installed as pastor of our church, one of the questions I was asked was, “Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” (Book of Order, PCUSA)

It’s a daunting question. You could call it an improbable goal or a half-court heave. Few can sink that shot!

Sometimes I think about that question when it comes to parenting too. “Will you pray for and seek to parent your children with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?” I want to. I sure hope to. But it’s a high goal, and I don’t know if I can.

The only way I know to respond is the same way I answered that question when I first became a pastor: Will you serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? I will, with God’s help.

With God’s help, I’ll do my best to maintain patient energy when my children are losing control in their exhaustion, boredom, or bickering. With God’s help, I’ll do my best to find thoughtful and creative ways to teach them chores or manners or hygiene when what I really want to say is that they need to do it my way. With God’s help, I’ll love my children fiercely on their good days and bad ones, and on my good days and bad ones.

When my son who gave me that badge was younger, he marveled at how his older brother could make a goal on the “big boy” basketball hoop. But I wanted him to learn that he could make it too. So I’d lift him up—not all the way up, but enough. He still missed a lot of shots, but with a little help, he started to make some too.

To be the best dad is not to be perfect. As a father of four, I’m going to airball a lot. But thanks be to God, every new day is another shot at being the “Best Dad Ever.”

  • Hudson Neely

    Hudson Neely is a pastor and writer who lives and works in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Hudson and his wife were both raised in Spartanburg. After a decade of living hundreds of miles away in a big city, they returned to their smaller hometown to be close to family and to invest in the community that raised them. Hudson’s ministry and writing focus on living local. He and his wife have four young kids, and his work highlights themes of family, community, and the big love and grace present in simple and small things.

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