By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.
Fifteen years ago my wife Nicki and I were blessed with the birth of our first child—Allison (Ally) Willoughby. We had struggled with infertility, and it was with great joy and thanksgiving that we welcomed her to the world. I distinctly remember loading her into the car seat as we left the hospital to drive home. I don’t think I have ever felt more ill equipped for any task in my life! Over the last fifteen years, I have been fortunate to have wise friends and family who have helped guide me in what it means to be a Christian father.
When I started writing this column, Ally was going into first grade, now she will be a sophomore in high school. Time certainly does seem to fly! I remember one parent of a teenager told me when Ally was very young to savor each season of parenthood because it will be gone before you know it. I realize just how true those words are. One of my greatest joys is to watch how Ally has matured in her faith and how she now inspires me to be a better father and a man of faith. Here are a few of those life lessons.
Love of Scripture
Having grown up having plenty of Bibles around and being in the church for most of my life, it is easy for me to take the Word of God for granted. I can easily fall out of a routine of investing my life in studying the eternal truths found in Scripture. When I watch how Ally enjoys reading the Bible and how she is moved by different verses, I am inspired to look afresh at the Word with open eyes and heart to glean new understandings.
Love of People
One of my greatest failings in life is in the area of relationships. I too often let the tyranny of the urgent and my own agenda get in the way of building relationships. I can lean towards being an introvert and not take the time to open my home and share the gift of hospitality. Ally does not seem to share that quality. She has a broad and diverse set of friendships. We moved to Memphis from Madison, Mississippi, two years ago, and I worried how Ally would handle the transition. I knew she was leaving many friends behind and would not know anyone at her new school. With the help of social media, she has been able to stay connected with her old friends, but has made countless new friends in her new community. I am inspired by her desire to invest in and grow relationships.
Love of Family
Almost six years after having Ally, we were blessed again with the birth of our son, Trey. Like Ally, I was an older sibling. However, I admittedly was not the best brother in the world. I have spent my adult years trying to make amends for my failings as a big brother. On the other hand, Ally has been a great big sister. When Trey was young, Ally was the doting mother hen, and now that Trey is older they act like any brother and sister. They have their squabbles, but she exhibits a patience I did not have which helps bring peace to the household. Her love and respect for her family and extended family inspire me to demonstrate the same kind of love.
My job as a parent, coach, and mentor to my children is far from over, but I am thankful that I have the Word as my guide and the insights from faithful parents who have preceded me in the journey.