The dadcraft Life: How Robert Gelinas manages to balance professional ambition and fathering six kids (most of whom are teenagers).
Tell us about your family.
I’ve been married to Barbara for 22 years. We have 6 children. 3 boys, 3 girls, between the ages of 11-18. Five of them are adopted. Three from the US and two from Ethiopia.
We are extremely busy. My wife and I are essentially just taxi drivers.
What’s surprised you about fathering?
It hasn’t gotten easier. I thought it would get easier, like a skill you get better at. But each stage has demanded a high level of new competencies. It doesn’t get easier. It has simply demanded I change what I need to be good at.
There are parts that are easier. We spent 12 years with kids in diapers. We’re now done with that. It’s just a different kind of hard.
How do you manage professional ambition and intentional fatherhood?
You have to put reins on professional ambition. Work will take over your family. Twenty years ago, when I was becoming a pastor, we discussed how many nights it was acceptable for me to be away. We came up with three nights a week at the most where it would be acceptable for me to miss dinner. And then I had to stick to it. We put into the calendar the things that are essential and nonnegotiable.
I have to say no to opportunities now to have the greater opportunities with my family. I have to trust that those opportunities will be there when I’m ready. You can’t have a scarcity mindset with opportunity. I have a friend who is an empty nester, and he was so helpful just saying, “It gets better. You’ll have time to chase those dreams one day.”
What energizes you about fathering?
Watching them become.
There are moments watching them doing things I once did. Running track. Homecoming. Watching them discover the same things and walk the same road and discover what I discovered. Watching their joy in it. When you know what’s around the corner, you don’t need to tell them what’s coming. Just watch their eyes as they see it.
I was a runner in middle, high school and college. We’re now going to the very same meets and tracks I ran on. I saw my daughter run her best time on the same course I ran on. When you live in a certain area for a long time, there’s something beautiful about it.
What frustrates you about fathering?
Technology is frustrating. It’s an incredible tool. At the same time, it’s a constant challenge to try to protect my kids from the dangers that come with it. And, at the same time, helping them experience the opportunities. Society isn’t helping on that. There’s a point when they can earn a Facebook account. Once they get Facebook, they want Twitter. Then they want Snapchat. It’s frustrating how it seems like there is never enough technology to satisfy them.
We always ask: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your father?
I grew up without a dad. But here’s what I know: God is a really good father. He is not a substitute. God has been my dad. At every phase of my life, God has been there for me. I’m speaking in a real, mystical way. From the moment I got my first Bible—realizing that it’s a book my Dad wrote—till now, I just asked him to be my Father. He has been really good about fathering me.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
I wonder what my kids would say? I think they’d say that when I’m with them, I’m with them. I’m tuned into them. I ask questions about their lives. I’m not somewhere else when I’m with them. It’s so easy to think about writing emails when you’re with your kids. But that’s stealing from them.
A few times each week, I stop by the Barnes & Noble by my house. I have a routine. I go to the same sections. It’s a moment of decompression. It’s a moment of letting go. When I come out of the store, I’m coming home, not leaving work. That ritual has helped a lot.
We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
Fatherhood revealed my deficiencies. Because of my kids, it forces me to ask questions about myself. Why did I choose to get angry? Normally it’s not them. I’m experiencing something about me that wouldn’t have surfaced without them. Some of it I haven’t liked.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
With six kids, it’s tough to pick just one. My favorite isn’t always their favorite. My favorite is bike riding with them. But they all like different stuff. One wants to play chess. Another wants to play basketball.
We have friends who have a timeshare in Utah. We go there every summer. There’s no agenda. I love those times.
The most important thing I’ve learned: As my children grow older, I’ve had to come to terms with the temptation to idolize being a father. Growing up without a father, I assumed being a good dad would be all they need. I’ve had moments where I’ve realized that I thought I was all they needed. As much as I’ve needed God to be my father, they need God to be their father too. They may have less than a deficit, but we all have that deficit. I’ve had to repent of that.
Robert’s thoughts on being fully with his kids reminds us of Dan’s fine piece on presence. It’s also worth noting that it’s hard not to be present when you’re roughhousing with your kids.