I’ve been told that the most emotionally stressful event in a man’s life is the birth of his first child. My own experience backs up that bit of wisdom.

What guy in love ponders the maternity ward? You see the most beautiful and attractive creature who ever crossed your path. You’ve got to have her, and you go after her pell-mell. In my case, it took five years of strategizing, straining, struggling, and stroking—to say nothing of plundering my bank account. At last I stood beside her, in front of a church full of people, after which I was assured I could legally take her home with me.

Actually our “home” was two thousand miles removed from the church. We were a “student couple” and blissfully happy. When she, who was always wholesomely healthy, told me she wasn’t feeling well, I suggested some extra sleep. She’d get over it; it was just the usual adjustment to Texas.

When she didn’t get over it, I concluded it was all in her head and told her so. The doctor said it wasn’t in her head but in her tummy. She was headed for motherhood. Sounded okay to me. But I was an only child, so the word pregnancy was foreign to me. No big deal; women had been having babies since the beginning of time. It’s an honorable event. Why not us? But when the baby was born, I felt left out, as if this little infant had burst in and stolen my wife. Little did I know I needed life education, and my Father in heaven was enrolling me in His “Fatherhood 101.”

Back in those yesteryears when I was a rookie dad, I thought fathering meant taking turns with night feedings and paying pediatrician bills. I learned quickly it had more to do with praying with my family and learning to just be there for my wife and children—even when I’d really rather have been playing handball with my buddies. The only worthwhile legacy of a dad is what he gives away of himself to the mind and heart of a child, which, in turn, prepares that child for his or her own life.

My own dad did not know God personally until shortly before his death, yet he left his mark all over me. His words, along with body language and inflections, still play like old movies in my conscience: “Don’t ever let me hear you talk to a woman like that!” “You never, never do anything dishonestly, d’ya understand?” “Son, that’s not good enough when your name is Hendricks!” “Think, son, how is this job going to look when we get finished?” You see, he cared too much about me to let me get away with anything ungentlemanly or shoddy or lacking integrity.

Dad often seemed harsh and uncompromising to me, and I know I have perplexed my own children at times in the same way. But if a man is to prepare his children for the dangerous and jagged road ahead, he must teach and demonstrate how to maneuver, persistently encouraging a proper reaction to the obstacles. Love always does that which is best for the other. A good father mentors his children; he walks inside their heads and leaves his footprints on their hearts. Then, when he is gone, they will be just like him.

Adapted from Congratulations, You’re Gonna Be a Dad! by Paul Pettit. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used by permission.