How Big of an Influence Can a Father Have?

Jeff and I have both gotten into this book by James Clear, called Atomic Habits. It’s awesome. It really dovetails super well with our conversations around rhythms. And I think Jeff and Alyssa did even an interview on their podcast with James Clear. And he said something. He tells a story in his books. This is not necessarily about the Atomic Habits thing, but I just really blew my mind about how big of an influence can a father have. And one of the things that I believe is that every one of us is really shaped by a father’s vision. It’s not necessarily our own father, and our kids could be shaped by our vision or somebody else’s vision, but we have so much influence. We are so influenced by the values that are around us that are shaping that. There’s sort of a culture that we’re going to live in either way.

And so we need to create a culture that are.. We can design whatever culture that looks like. And there was a guy that James Clear talked about that sort of designed an entire family culture around chess. So I just want to read you guys a little bit about this guy. His name was Lazlo, and this was about the, Polgar sisters. So Lazlo successfully courted Clara. These guys are from, I think, Bulgaria or from Hungary, maybe Budapest. Lazlo successfully courted Clara and within a few years, the Polgars were parents to three young girls, Susan, Sophia and Judith.

Susan, the oldest began playing chess when she was four years old. Within six months, she was defeating adults. Sophia, the middle child did even better. By 14, she was a world champion. And a few years later, she became a Grandmaster.

Judith, the youngest was the best of all. By age five, she could beat her father. At 12, she was the youngest player ever listed among the top 100 chess players in the world. At 15 years and four months old, she became the youngest Grandmaster of all time, younger than Bobby Fischer, the previous record holder. For 27 years, she was the number one ranked female chess player in the world.

The childhood of the Polgar sisters was atypical to say the least. And yet, if you ask them about it, they claim their lifestyle was attractive, even enjoyable. In interviews the sisters talk about their childhood as entertaining rather than grueling. They loved playing chess. They couldn’t get enough of it. Once, Lazlo reportedly found Sophia playing chess in the bathroom in the middle of the night. Encouraging her to go back to sleep, he said, “Sophia, leave the pieces alone,” to which she replied, “Daddy, they won’t leave me alone.” The Polgar sisters grew up in a culture that prioritized chess above all else. Praised them for it, rewarded them for it. In their world, an obsession with chess was normal.

And so one question I want to ask you guys is, what do you want to be normal about your family’s culture? I don’t think a lot of dads realize how much influence they can have over what that actually looks like, or how they would define normal as a family. And so to hear about these sort of extreme examples.. And we’re not advocating go out and come up with some incredibly extreme version of a family. These extreme examples really help you understand the kind of team, or the kind of uniqueness about a family team that can even emerge. I’d never heard of a family team quite like this one. And so I’m curious, what about that [inaudible 00:03:13].

Yeah, I think what I love is Elliot, and because having read the book too, this is a really good picture, and especially how we got the kids’ feedback. Once they were adults, they loved it. And I think there’s this constant tug of war as parents, especially driven by the Holy Spirit where you kind of are speaking their future into existence and seeing things, and kind of pushing them and nudging in areas that they might be resistant to at first. The obvious example of this is like music lessons with kids. They usually hate it, whatever, but then you need that stage before you become a genius piano player, or it’s your life, or your job, or your vocation later.

And then there’s that tug of war about saying, okay, I’m forcing my particular. I think where sometimes people in the West get this wrong is a lot of the dads with sports that do the.. what’s that word I’m looking for.. live vicariously through their kids and want to put that on their kids.

So there’s this constant tension that you have to be at the feet of Jesus, kind of asking and listening to. But I think as long as you’re really an obedience to the Holy spirit, then you know, when you’re just putting your baggage and past, and future and stuff on them, and if you’re not doing that, then I think, yeah, you need to realize it’s actually what you said the best way to do this is as parents, I think we shepherd and focus our kids’ energies in a particular direction. And I think a lot of times we can because the blank slate theology that we believe psychologically so much in our culture, we inherently sometimes believe that, that’s wrong to push our kids in a certain direction. Now study them and know where you think you see their future. But then if you see their future going this way, nudge them in a certain direction, create a certain culture, give them certain tools. Stretch them because that’s actually how kids grow and their brains develop, and they become really, really successful leaders.

And so that’s what I love hearing this story is that sounds like the dad did that. They loved chess. So then he nudged them and focused that energy towards chess. And he shaped them and he guided them so then they became a culture of chess players. What I love too, and same with like the William sisters with tennis. It was all of them. I think sometimes we do the opposite again in the West of, okay, you play piano, you play baseball, you become an artist, you do this. And there’s a level of that, of course, you’re not just going to make every single kid do the same thing, but there’s a level of, that’s an incredible, awesome family team, because now you have a culture. A culture of chess making. Now they’re sharpening each other. Now they play against each other. Now chess is the culture of the family. And that I think is something huge. Of what is that overarching thing that you kind of want to.. Listen to the Holy Spirit, but then impose in a gentle, nudging focused way on your family. Because I think that is the job as the father.

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