Fathers: Make sure your babies grow up to be cowboys (and girls).

My knees were trembling when I said it, I'm certain.

"I charge $3 an hour for babysitting." That was many years ago, obviously; but my father taught me to give the neighbors for whom I babysat an hourly rate (these days we have to take a second mortgage out to finance our sitters. Worth every penny). My dad wanted me be proactive, and in the process, he armed me with a life-long skill. He made sure I knew my own value.

A father worth his salt prepares his children for the world's demands. I'm not going to tell you the relationship with my own was an ideal one. As a child of divorced parents, I didn't get nearly enough access to my father growing up. His job serving our country took him across the globe; my parents' split was rife with conflict; I rebelled in my teen-aged years. I missed out on so much - but then, so did he. Still, when I did spend precious time with him, his words resonated long afterward.

Fathers - or the influence of a loving uncle, friend or grandfather - shape children in powerful ways. Fathers teach their children self-reliance - how to dust themselves off after falling, how to stand up to a bully. Good fathers encourage young girls to excel and to say "no" at times. Good fathers model for boys how to harness their burgeoning strength. Good fathers respect their children's mothers, even if they don't live with them. Under the shade of his wide brim, a good father's presence will protect and nourish a growing child's secure sense of him or herself in the context of a big, scary world. Then, he or she can "cowboy up" when the time comes. And it will.

But good fathers aren't perfect ones. The Bible warns, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children..." (Ephesians 6:4) and yet, they do. Even the best dads are impatient at times; their expectations are sometimes too high, their voices too harsh. Good fathers make mistakes. But they don't give up. They continue to nurture their children, even if they live in another house. And they never stop showing up, even years later. Even if they're making a return to seek forgiveness - even when they get rejected.

We never outgrow our need for a loving, protective and wise fatherly figure. Even as a grown woman, I crave my father's affirmation. And if a young girl (or boy) doesn't enjoy compliments from her father, she or he will seek them elsewhere. If your own relationship with your father is, or was ever severed, my prayer for you is to seek God's help in restoring it. It's never too late.

And if your father was lost to you forever, know that our good and gracious heavenly Father will always invite you to find peace, joy and solace under His wide brim. He expects you to "cowboy up," but He's always there to pick up the pieces when you fall.

• Diane Meehl lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her own cowboy and their three kids. They worship at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Find her on Facebook or reach her diane@shiftkeycontent.com.

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