Hurricanes and pistols may not be typical words used when describing little girls, but Chris Tomlin is a native Texan, and he loves the fact that his oldest daughter, Ashlyn, has a fiery spirit. “I think one of my jobs as a dad is to foster that spirit,” says Tomlin. “A lot of parents will try to do things to break that in their kids, I don’t want to do that. I want to let her be that ball of energy, but at the same time learn how to be respectful and understand how to put others before herself.”
Tomlin also tells CCM Magazine that he and his wife Lauren have bestowed a couple of nicknames on Ashlyn, Pistol and Cat-5. “Like a Category 5 hurricane, she is full on,” he explains. “Right now, she dresses in ‘uniform’ every day, and that uniform is usually her Cinderella dress. It doesn’t matter if it’s clean or not, I can’t put any other kind of clothes on her—she loves that dress!”
Coming from a household of all boys, Tomlin admits that he is still trying to figure out “this whole female world,” as he puts it. The Tomlin’s just gave birth to their second girl, Madison, just eight months ago. “I feel like I’ve jumped into the deep end, for sure,” adds Tomlin with a laugh.
CCM: What makes your girls different from one another?
Chris Tomlin: They’re totally different. Madison is only eight months old, so, it’s a little hard to know how her personality is going to develop. Ashlyn is just an absolute joy, an amazing spirit, and full of life. Whenever she is in a room, everyone knows it. She is very social and energetic, it’s incredible. [Laughs] She sleeps so hard because she goes all out for as long as she can—I just love that. I love the spirit in her.
Madison seems to be a bit calmer. It’s crazy how [Lauren and I] can be the same parents, have one of our children come out wired so differently. But we can already tell that Madison also has a sweet spirit, mainly because she’s always smiling! She can be a little feisty too, but she displays more of a calm, sweet spirit that’s different than Ashlyn’s. It’s still a little early to know where Madison is completely headed because she’s so young.
CCM: You mention that you feel you’ve been “thrown in the deep end” in a household of girls. How is that shaping who you’re becoming as a father, and what is most surprising to you?
CT: No one can prepare you for fatherhood. I was single for a long time, longer than most. I got married at age 38, and had my first child at 39. I can only speak for myself, but I feel the longer you’re single, the more self-absorbed you can become. Your world, for the most part, is just you. I’ve always said that you grow up when you get married, but I learned that you really grow up when you have a child.
People used to think I was arrogant when I was single because when someone would say, “Being a father is the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” I would respond by saying, “You need to get out more!” In the midst of the opportunities in getting to do all of these amazingly wonderful things the past few years, Ashlyn was born and I hit the floor.
I have never experienced that kind of love and power in my life, it’s almost impossible to explain. It knocked me out, and nothing compares to it. Having kids represents a whole different level of responsibility, and it takes away any notions of “life going as planned.” When you’re by yourself, your day can typically go by as you’ve scheduled it, but that no longer exists with kids in the picture. In terms of perspective, however, I think that’s a great thing to have. Even if you’re best intentions are for it not to happen, when you’re single, life is usually just about you.
I love how having kids, and living life with their best interests and plans as priority, is shaping me. When you’re a dad, things often don’t go as planned and you’ve got to learn how to mellow out in life and roll with the punches. It is a very good lesson for me to be learning. I feel like I’m a much more relaxed person now.
CCM: What do you think Ashlyn has learned from you so far?
CT: That she matters, that she’s very special, and that she’s very loved. I try to do as many things as I can to relate to her and be on her level. I want to be in her world and do the things she loves to do, and by this I think she can understand that she is a person of worth.
In a way, I also think she knows who she is, which is amazing for a three year-old. What I mean, is I feel like she’s confident in who she is now, and she knows who to come to when things aren’t going her way, or when she’s frustrated or scared.
CCM: How do you envision instilling examples of the truth and love of their Heavenly Father into your girl’s lives?
CT: That’s a great question, because the power in that is found in the balance of the two. Actually, when you consider Jesus, you also add grace into that equation. If you ram nothing but truth down their throats, and there’s no love in it, it can be very harmful. If you’re constantly saying “I love you’s,” and implying that they can do what ever they want, then that’s not real love. So, being truthful by instilling discipline—as opposed to acting as just a best friend of-sorts—while leading and guiding them with grace and love, is how I try to approach fatherhood. I think if you can accomplish a healthy balance of those elements, you’re children will grow to have more respect for you.
One thing I have come to realize about being a dad is that it’s the one thing in life you can’t stop doing. You can stop playing music, stop being married, stop doing your job and go to other things—you can even stop your own life—but you can never stop being that person’s father. You are going to be their father forever, whether you come or go, and that’s huge. It’s a massive responsibility, but what an amazing gift that God has given all of us as fathers. That’s the one thing about becoming a dad that has impacted me the most.