One of the saddest trends in American life is the demotion of fatherhood to secondary status. While a mother’s love is rightly acknowledged as one of the strongest and most mysterious forces in the world, a father’s love is often treated as weaker and less significant. While mothers are rightly praised for their virtues, fathers tend to be the butt of jokes.
Think about it. If you were to form your opinion of fatherhood through the examples presented on television, you would think fathers are pathetic characters who play a relatively insignificant role and deserve to be the butts of endless jokes. About the best treatment fathers get is to play the role of a likeable dimwit (think Homer Simpson, or Phil Dunphy from "Modern Family"); other times they’re sex-obsessed derelicts (Charlie in "Two and a Half Men"); perhaps most often they’re simply mulish idiots (think Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Peter Griffin from "Family Guy," or Frank from "Shameless"). There are some exceptions, but it is a good generalization: as a culture, we seem to want to roll our eyes at dad.
Even in the church the difference between Mother’s Day sermons and Father’s Day sermons can be amusing. On Mother’s Day, we appreciate the mothers and tell them how amazing they are, and rightly so. But on Father’s Day, we often poke fun at dads and tell them how much room they’ve got for improvement.
Little boys and girls don’t know or care how important their daddy is in his career or social life. As far as they are concerned, he is at the center of the universe.
I’m glad that, from a young age, my mother taught me to view things differently than that. Of course my father had flaws and imperfections. Of course, there were things about him I didn’t appreciate. But he was my father, and he was a pretty good one.
Now that I am a father myself, I understand that any dad worth his salt is already acutely aware of his own flaws and failures, even if he doesn’t always let on. But I also understand that God chose me, and imperfect men like me, to play indispensable roles in the lives of our families.
A man can be the least influential man in the world in his career or social life, but the day he becomes a father, he becomes the most important man in the world for that child. Little boys and girls don’t know or care how important their daddy is in his career or social life. As far as they are concerned, he is at the center of the universe.
That is why sociological studies show that a father’s presence leads to better academic performance, makes them more likely to graduate from college and experience fulfilling romantic relationships. When a father is present, a child is less likely to exhibit anti-social behavior, experience depression, succumb to peer pressure in relation to drug use, become incarcerated, or live in poverty. In other words, fathers really matter.
Given the fact of a father’s influence, how can fathers be good stewards of that influence? There are three especially significant ways that a man—no matter how imperfect he is, regardless of how many failures he has tucked into his belt—can be a great father.
A father can protect his children. He can protect them from bodily harm through his physical presence. He can help protect them from psychological harm by affirming them during their moments of fear, anxiety, and insecurity. He can protect them from relational harm by guiding and overseeing their relationships and dating habits. He can, and he should.
A father can provide for his children. Even though most of us are not wealthy and cannot provide extravagantly for our children, we can provide food for the table and clothes for the closet. But we can provide other things also, that are often neglected. We can teach our children how to work, instill in them a sense of responsibility, help them with their schoolwork, and play with them during their downtime. The greatest wealth we give to our children is intangible.
A father can point his children to God, who is the prototype for fatherhood (Ephesians 3:14-15). Unlike earthly fathers, God the Father has no flaws or imperfections. So the best thing a father can do is to point his children back to him continually as the Good Father who will never fail them or let them down. (In fact, my four year old son’s favorite song is entitled, “Good Good Father”.)
So, on this Father’s day, let’s thank our own fathers for the good we’ve seen in their lives. And for those of us who are fathers, let’s thank God for the opportunity to play a significant and irreplaceable role in the lives of our children. Let’s do our best to create a shelter of protection and provision within which our wives and children can live freely and happily under our care. Most importantly of all, let’s point our children to God, the only Father who has no imperfections and who will never let them down.
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.