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There was a memorable line in the Jack Nicholson movie As Good as It Gets* that has stuck with me for years. Nicholson’s character, the very obnoxious and unlikeable Melvin, is in a restaurant trying … awkwardly … to compliment Helen Hunt’s character Carol, a waitress he is falling for.
As Melvin builds up to this compliment, Carol is pretty sure – based on past history – that he’ll say something awful.
He fumbles for a bit before he finally says, “You make me want to be a better man.”
Carol’s immediate response is silence, and – after a long pause that makes Melvin wonder if he’s totally blown it – she replies, “That’s maybe the best compliment of my life.”
My wife, Michelle, and I are going on 20 years of marriage this summer. And that line uttered by Melvin really captures how blessed and inspired I am by her. She truly does make me want to be a better man, a better dad, a better follower of Jesus.
I thought of those words again a few weeks ago when I saw that former President Bill Clinton is one of the 2013 “Father of the Year” award recipients, as selected by an organization calling itself The National Father’s Day Council.
What intrigued me about the announcement was that it didn’t really mention what Clinton has done as a father to merit the award.
Instead, the organization praised Clinton’s efforts as a philanthropist around the world. USA Today’s coverage of the announcement cited his global health and environmental work through the William J. Clinton Foundation as key factors in the committee’s decision.
That got me thinking …. What inspires us to name a dad “Father of the Year,” anyway? Is it what a dad does as a dad in his family, or is it more about what he does in the world – and that he just happens to be a dad, too?
It also got me thinking about Melvin and what motivates and inspires us to be better dads in the first place.
My wife once gave me a simple gift that I’ve treasured for years and has inspired me to be a better man. For our anniversary, Michelle compiled some colored index cards, spiral bound, with handwritten messages on them. The title card read simply: “How do I love thee …”
Each card briefly notes something that she loves, admires or respects about me:
“You value your family and keep them (us) a priority!”
“You encourage me in new endeavors, but you don’t demand that I be someone I’m not.”
Wow. Let me tell you, this is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. If our house was on fire, I would want to save these heartfelt thoughts. Every once in a while, Michelle rotates the order of the cards to display a specially chosen thought or sentiment.
Do I always behave like the man she describes on those cards? Absolutely not. I wish I were. But those cards sit on our bathroom counter, every day reminding me not only of what she sees in me, but what she appreciates about me.
Yeah, she makes me want to be a better man.
In what ways have you felt inspired to be a better dad?
* By the way, I’m not endorsing the movie As Good as It Gets. It has some great moments, but is very flawed, too. For a great resource on how to evaluate entertainment options that may or may not be appropriate for your family, please check out www.PluggedIn.com for hundreds of helpful media reviews.
Leon Wirth (@LeonCWirth) is a contributor for Dad Matters and the Executive Director of Parenting & Youth at Focus on the Family.
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Leon, thanks for your love for your wife (our daughter) & your lovely girls (our grandaughters). Most of all for your desire to be the Godly leader of your wonderful family! Love grandpa Falcone
I appreciated reading your comments, Leon. As a woman who saw the movie, I remember thinking how Melvin went from being this odious, awkward man to one who spoke with such elegance and depth in that simple profession of love. I remember thinking as well that it was so nice to see Carol respond appreciatively to his words. In spite of past history and expecting the worst of a man, still her heart was open to receive his gift; this vulnerable confession. Though popular, conventional wisdom may indicate otherwise, I believe as women, we yearn to be cherished deeply; to inspire our men as we walk alongside them, to be the best they are intended by God's grace to be. And while Carol and Melvin may not have thought about it in those terms, in that one moment, they showed that in spite of past hurts and brokenness, the beauty of tender vulnerability, trust and hope are all part of what grows an intimate relationship with another human being. The National Fathers' Day Council misses the mark. Philanthropy for the world is good, but love and care as one man for his own family is great. Just as "For God so loved the world" is true and certainly good, it is in the intimacy of relationship of the Father with "whosoever" receives the Son, that relationship takes root, thrives and brings one closer to Him to become more like Him.
That coffee looks tasty! Good article amigo
Your article really touches me. Thank you. I pray everyday that the Lord will bring my family back together so I can be the man of God, father in God, and Husband in God that I'm supposed to be. Until He brings them back all I can do is trust in Him and be the man He wants me to be and this article has given me some encouragement on a day that I really need it. Thank you again.
I would like to offer encouragement to the gentleman who is praying for God to restore his family. I do not know who you are, but I will be praying for you and your family. May it be of comfort to know that HE knows who you are and what you are experiencing. May your efforts to stand in the gap for your family be realized, and may His peace be your portion this day. God bless you!