Father & Daughter, Enigma Photos
Early in my marriage, my life changed dramatically. We were a small family of three, and our two year old was about to have a baby brother. Living in a large city like Chicago was difficult as a family and so we decided to move to the more manageable city of Grand Rapids. We were hoping to have Julie stay home full-time and this was a major motivation in moving. However, before I had one interview, she had two great job offers. We were pressed into deciding what to do, especially since we had a baby on the way in just three months. Should Julie work full-time and I become a stay-at-home dad? Eventually, we decided to try it as a trial-run. That decision dramatically changed my life. Even though I was only a stay-at-home dad during my years in seminary, we would not have changed that decision looking back. That decision threw me into many days and nights of wrestling with what it meant to be a man and a father. It also challenged me to look at God as a father and how he related to me in that way. But there are many views out there who want to sell you on what it means to be a father. With all this, we are thrown into a quagmire of questions: what is a father to be? Is he the leader? Is he a breadwinner? How is he there to support his family? Is he to be the patriarch? What exactly is he to be?
It is not simply the loss of fathers, but the loss of the idea of fatherhood and of our belief in the importance of fathers. We no longer have a distinctive “cultural script” for fatherhood. When I become a father, what have I become? What am I to do in that paternal role? How should it alter my life and habits? A society in which there are no culturally given answers to such questions is one that may experience grave difficulty drawing men into the role of fatherhood and its accompanying tasks and burdens.
–Gilbert Meilaender, The Eclipse of Fatherhood
When it comes to this question of fatherhood, we have a two pronged problem in our culture. The first is this—our culture offers the counsel that fathers are unnecessary. There is a view that is largely prevalent that it is not important to be a father. As an example, did you know that in the U.S. that nearly 40% of all children do not live with their biological dad? The second problem is that many in our culture simply do not know how to “dad.” We have grown up with a vision of fatherhood that our culture has given us that is false. We need to move away from these ideas and discover what the biblical vision for fatherhood is.
So what is it like to be a father biblically speaking? Scripture has a tremendous amount of references to fatherhood. First, Proverbs 1:8 says, “My son, listen to your father’s instruction, And don’t forsake your mother’s teaching.” This is a verse that is spoken over and over in this book of wisdom and throughout the Bible. Fathers, as well as mothers, are to instruct their children about every avenue of life: practical, spiritual, emotional, sexual, financial, physical. Because this theme is repeated over and over; the Scriptures lead us to believe that this is a top priority for fathers. One of the main traits one would think of as fatherhood is one of disciplinarian. This is a half-truth and is a word that can be fraught with problems and misconceptions. The Bible actually prefers the label teacher. Fathers are to teach their children about all of life and in this it is essential that they are around and available to give their children practical as well as spiritual instruction.
In the New Testament, we also find instruction in what view we need to take of fatherhood. Even though this passage is speaking of the leadership of Paul toward the Thessalonian church, implicit in these verses is the roles inherent in being a father.
You are witnesses with God, how holy, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved ourselves toward you who believe. As you know how we exhorted, comforted, and implored every one of you, as a father does his own children, to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (I Thessalonians 2:10–12)
By dissecting the verse, first, fathers are to exhort their children. From the Latin hortari, we are to encourage our children. Fathers need to press their children into greatness, to reach beyond themselves for something more in their lives. With this, we become are our children’s loudest cheerleaders. Likewise, we need to attempt to mold our children into who they are to become. These verses show us a God who gives us good things. We need to provide for our children in the abundance that we ourselves have been given. A good father is a “blesser,” sanctifying his children with a generous spiritual inheritance.
Next, fathers bring comfort to their children when they are wounded or have failed. When our children falter, we need to show empathy and patience, because just like them we also fail in great measure. Along these lines, as it relates to comfort, an interesting twist is found in the book of Ephesians, “You fathers, don’t provoke your children to wrath, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We are not to be too rough; we are not to intensify an already difficult challenge for them. Obviously, God in his foreknowledge knows the emotional composition of many fathers and understands that sometimes we can be too demanding. He instructs us to lead, but to not push so hard that we shove our children away. The use of ‘nurture’ here is an interesting word. One typically thinks of this being a motherly trait, and yet God instructs fathers to do the same, just as he nurtures us.
Lastly, we are to implore. Again, it is helpful to look at the root of the word. The word is taken from the Latin implorare, which means to do something in weeping. We need to be on our knees for our children calling out to our great God for help. Our hearts need to be broken for our children, praying without ceasing for them. As a way of relating this, often, my best times with God are when I am by myself on a golf course. This is easily one of my best times for prayer where there is lots of alone time and silence. One July evening, I remember walking down a fairway and crying out to God for my sons.I simply implored him, “You need to be their Father, because I am not doing a very good job!” Remember to implore God to help you be a father.
Whether you are a father or mother, these are difficult times to figure out what you are supposed to be in terms of being a parent. Our culture is such an amalgamation of ideas concerning what is the best way to raise our children. In the 20th century, we went through a string of ideological, cultural changes that has shaped and confused us. What it means to be a mother or father is very different from just thirty years ago. Today, we live in a vastly different environment in being a parent. Class rooms today are filled with latch-key children who go home to one parent. In many homes, children are raising themselves, because of a lack of parental leading. Today, media and entertainment shape are children like never before. The significance of the internet is unending, and as we know, can be dangerous. But there is hope. Most importantly, we have a Father, who we can imitate, and who can teach us how to lead our families in a way that brings about something special and long-lasting. Make no mistake about it, husbands and fathers have tremendous responsibilities. Simply put, there is no higher calling for a man and is one we need to pursue like nothing else in our lives.