I am conflicted by Father’s Day (and I think that may be the first time I’ve ever described myself with that word!). My Dad died when I was just shy of 21; and, despite his faults, I regret never really getting to know him as an adult, never really knowing he was proud of me till I found a clipping of me that he carried in his wallet, and never having him just to be there over the years.
Then, I’m single, never married, and never fathered a child. I admire and, just a little, envy the great fathers I’ve met, but Father’s Day has little relationship to my life. I often try to cruise through the day without giving it much thought, except that it doesn’t work. This year, as always, thought of fathers kept me company all day.
This year, I decided to preach a bit. Men, you who’ve helped to create lives, you are not disposable or redundant. God used two parents to create life because he knew that it takes two to adequately parent a child. Single-parenting is a sad aberration whether by accident, by a man careless with his pleasures and then walking away from his responsibility, or by a woman who foolishly thinks she can cover both jobs. No matter how much some would like to make men and women the same, we are different; children don’t get what they need without the full benefit of both male and female nurturing and influence in their lives. Despite the Herculean efforts of some single parents and the amazing resiliency and adaption of some children, the most blessed and together people I’ve ever known came from homes with wise, loving mothers and fathers. Despite the imperfections we all bear, regardless of the weaknesses of sin in each, the love of Christ pouring through the hearts of moms and dads together makes a huge positive difference!
Dads, you are NOT the ridiculous stereotype inflicted upon us by the dominant culture, unless you choose to be. Neither intelligence nor wisdom are reserved for women, nor are women automatically more loving. Man may be the provider/protector and woman the nurturer, but both can become selfish, neglectful parents. Courts may lean toward mothers as more important, but observe grown children who’ve been adopted or abandoned, and they’re as likely to be looking for a dad as a mother. Small children learn to be male or female by watching their same gender parent, and I believe that is right. Older children learn about the opposite sex, first, in their relationships with the opposite gender parent. So, papa, your boys need your example of godly manliness, and your daughters need you to see what kind of real man they will want to marry some day. Abuse either obligation, and you’ve harmed your son or daughter deeply. The scars of physical and sexual abuse are more obvious, but the scars of neglect and the absence of acceptance and love are also genuinely devastating.
After working at a family-oriented radio station through the years when “family ministry” was growing rapidly, I realized that all the teaching and advice about good parenting was leaving some some parents feeling inadequate. Before that, I had an elderly gentleman in my church ask if he had failed his children, all of whom had been divorced. At a small mother’s group where I’d been invited to share some of my thoughts on the uniqueness of the individual (more on that in a moment), their questions finally lead to my over-arching conclusion, relevant to all these situations. As obvious as it may seem, fathers, love your children. Learn and understand what you can, follow the wisdom you gain, but don’t cripple yourself with uncertainty or self-doubt or regret. Just love your child, passionately, mercifully, unwaveringly, and unconditionally. Don’t worry if they’re not like you; don’t trouble yourself if they seem like pale reflections of mom or dad. However they appear, they are unique is so many ways, and they need to know and be encouraged to be who they are, who they are gifted to be, who are worthy of your love. They learn that when you love them unconditionally and delight in the person they are.
We live in the day of the narcissist, the self-affirming, self-loving, self-centered person. Why the notion arose that we need to tell people to love themselves I will never quite understand. Unless a child has been damaged by self-absorbed, self-serving parents (or perhaps teachers) most of us have more self-centeredness than we need. Why does God speak so often through the voices of his prophets and apostles with the command to love, except because we tend rather to love ourselves. Much that we declare as love is nothing but disguised selfishness. The measure of a man’s love for a woman is not what she does for him but what he desires to do for her. Why is there so much divorce? It comes from the inevitable result of two self-absorbed people discovering that their partner is not making them happy. It almost makes me feel ill when I hear a young woman or even a teen wanting a baby to love her. Once the standard of a parent’s love was a willingness to sacrifice anything and everything for their children; now many think of parenting as one of an assortment of comparable choices that will lead to fulfillment (for the parent!).
Men, boys, your sperm is not merely an inconvenient side effect of sex. Women, men are not just sperm donors. Men who sire children should become loving fathers. The process of conceiving a new life is truly miraculous, and studying the biology from conception till birth is an astounding confirmation of that miracle. I have my doubts about birth control, but I’d prefer not conceiving a child over destroying one. Abortion is an ugly, life-destroying, affront to the God of life! I can sympathize with parents who find they have a severely malformed child or a woman who has conceived through the unwanted attentions of a man, but those uncommon exceptions get used to justify an acceptance of all abortion. I don’t accept it, especially as nothing more than after-conception birth control. Our bias should always favor life, especially innocent life, and no life is more innocent that that which has yet to be born.
Fathers, you commit a great sin if you persuade, cajole, or even force a woman upon whom you sired a child to get an abortion. To be honest, I doubt that our sex-saturated culture is a happier one; lives lived for sex, especially if parenting is not a goal or desire, have little with which to find satisfaction. Sex without love or sex as a method of finding love leads to emptiness and dissatisfaction…and, sadly, unloved children. You also commit a great sin by forcing your attention on a women whether a child is conceived or not, but you compound the offense if you press for the destruction of a child you didn’t want. I don’t consider an abortion a suitable method for assuring that every child is a wanted child; I consider it to be one sin multiplying the offense of another.
Your greatest responsibility is to love every child you create. I am disgusted when I hear of a parent who tells a child, “We never wanted you.” What a horrible, cruel, almost unforgivable thing to tell a child! I wonder at the hardened heart that could so casually crush the tender heart of a child. I feel pity for such a person, but I feel more sorrow for the child with a hear broken by such awful words.
Unexpected, unplanned—whatever the circumstance, a parent’s highest privilege is to love their child. As one who has loved the children of many others, from the United States and from other countries, I truly cannot understand a parent who does not or will not love their son or daughter. I admire those who step up and love the children of others, through adoption or simply befriending and mentoring. I have a former refugee student that I’d have adopted had I been able, and I still consider adult adoption as a very real possibility. You men who have children already have that privilege. Shame on you, if you neglect or abandon it!
I am tempted to list some of the fathers I have admired and appreciated, including a few who have filled fatherly roles in my life. I will not because I don’t want to leave anyone out. Let me describe a few examples (I’m not disparaging the role of moms, but it was Father’s Day). One was a coach who was so careful to separate his role as coach from his role as father, and today he has two fine grown sons. Another has three grown sons and a daughter who are a credit to his consistent Christian faith. Yet another has only daughters who are in no rush to find a man till they find one as good as the one they call, “Daddy.” As I think of each one, a bunch of others come to mind, but I must at least mention the father whose child messes up, big time, and their father forgives, not by trying to erase concequences but by assuring the child that he is still loved, just as our Father in heaven does.
I have had the somewhat rare opportunity to be an older man to a younger one with a missing father, and I’ve been able to be a wise adult friend to a teenager temporarily at odds with a parent. My experience suggests that “fatherly (or grandfatherly) love” can be expressed by any man. I know of a dad who became almost a father to the kids in his neighborhood, his home a “safe place” and a sanctuary from things outside. Another home welcomed their sons’ friends and several foreign students, a pattern I’ve seen often (and, yeah, this takes willing dads and moms!). Men who are willing to be surrogates and mentors can bring healing to those whose own fathers were dead, gone, or inadequate. Even being host to exchange students can benefit kids who may discover in an American family beneficial qualities that are at least different from if not absent in their own homes (Yeah, working in a plug for my work as an exchange student coordinator, but it’s true!).
So, to you fathers who are doing great work at loving your children sacrificially, passionately, and unconditionally, one their behalf I add my thanks. To you fathers who have been inconsistent, now is the time to step up; you have no greater responsibility (not even pastors or missionaries!). To you men who pretend that making a baby is an accident, no big deal, or God forbid proof of your manhood, rather than promising God’s judgment (one we all must face though I’d rather face it with Christ as my advocate), I prefer to challenge you with the opportunity you’re missing. One of my former students recently had his first child, and I was struck with the pure joy in his face at realizing the miracle he held and the privilege that was now his. Finally, to those of you who have urged the destruction of an unborn child, my heart breaks for you, and I pray you will seek the mercy and grace of God.
Two of the most manly things I know are being a loving father to your children and being a loving husband to the woman who shares responsibility for them.
To all of you, then, happy fathering!