Growing up, I never really thought about being a dad. I was one of six boys with a Marine father and a tomboy mother. Our life revolved around sports, games, the great outdoors, and competition of any kind. Rarely did we discuss things like feelings, emotions, or relationships.

As I got older, I realized I wanted to marry someday, but I viewed parenthood with a dose of skepticism. I liked the idea of having children, but I wanted to control the details. If I were to be a father, then it would be on my own terms and according to my agenda. In short, I was willing to meet society’s expectation of having 2.1 children just as long as their little lives didn’t infringe too much on mine.

But God had other plans.

Sean Martin is the father of 11 children – 9 of whom are adopted and were prenatally exposed to alcohol and other drugs. Click To Tweet

Today, I am the father of 11 children – 9 of whom are adopted and were prenatally exposed to alcohol and other drugs. Many of my children have other special needs as well, from spina bifida and cerebral palsy, to Down syndrome and autism. You name it, we probably have it in our family. So needless to say, my idea of controlling how and when I would be a father went out the window a long time ago.

And so did many of my expectations.

These were simple things like sitting down during the weekend to drink a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. The only time this happens is when I’m traveling for work. Another expectation was being able to play games together as a family. Some of my kids cannot play games, while others have a hard time with anything beyond “Go Fish” or “Uno.” I also expected that I’d be able to relax in the evenings. However, when you have 11 kids with the variety and magnitude of needs that we do, relaxation usually comes when the head hits the pillow… and that is usually interrupted as well.

I don’t share all of this with you to complain – quite the opposite. I share all of this to glorify God. My pre-fatherhood expectations were all about me, preserving my own comfort and pleasure. Ultimately, my expectations were selfish and self-focused. But parenting changed all that. When God called my wife and me to be parents, He asked us to put aside our wanton desires and put our children first.

God ask us to put aside our wanton desires and put our children first. Click To Tweet

He’s asking the same thing of you.

You may look at my situation and think, He’s got 11 kids, many of them with special needs – and some severe. What does he know about my situation, where I’m struggling to parent just two children? How can he relate to my life? The truth is, the lessons I’ve learned about fatherhood are universal truths that can be applied to any father of any number of children.

Dads, we’ve got a big job before us. Our kids are looking to us to model a strong work ethic, reliance, and trustworthiness. But fatherhood is more than just “bringing home the bacon.” It also exemplifies meekness, humility, compassion, and empathy; virtues that are woefully absent from today’s self-centric society.

What are some practical ways we can model these virtues?

  • When your child asks you to play a game or read a book with them, put aside the task at hand and do it.
  • Involve them in chores around the house. Whether you have 1 child or 11 children, there’s always something that needs to be done.
  • Even at the end of the day, when you’re exhausted and just want to fall into bed, be there for your kids. I guarantee your teens will want to have their deepest and most meaningful conversations at 11:00 p.m.

I don’t hold myself up as some paragon of fatherhood. But I will unashamedly point to the One who has proven Himself as the Good Father, steadfast and perfect. I struggle daily with my selfish tendencies; but as I have learned to die to myself, I rely more and more on God’s grace. And as I work to model God’s “strength… made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), I have the blessing of watching my children grow and mature and become more like Jesus. That is an unexpected reward that my younger self never expected, and my older self has never deserved.

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