What does it take to be a father? A dad? (A note at the beginning: I am not posing the question here for those biological fathers with no desire for anything are more.) This is for those who have a deep down desire to be the best dad they can be or to be the best father they can be. The answer to this question, is universal. It matters not if you are a salesman from the southside of Chicago, a beef farmer from Bozeman, MT, a machinist in Mexico City, a linguist from Luzon, or a pediatrician from Prague, the answer is the same.
I believe there can be a distinction between father and dad. It’s possible, I think, to be a dad, a good dad and not truly fulfill the role of father, while the reverse is also true. One can be an amazing father and not truly be a dad. Neither of those things are bad, they are just, different. Some succeed at being a dad and a father which is truly a God-given blessing. To help you understand what I mean, I need to define dad and father and the distinction I see between them. I would venture to say that a guy with multiple children may be a father to some, a dad to others and both to even others.
Okay, maybe it seems like I am just… splitting ‘hares’…. But read patiently what I propose and see if it does not ring true.
Allow me to begin with a maxim or two which I believe must hold true for my argument to succeed. At the end of your invested time reading this, I trust you will find encouragement for either your role as a dad/father, your spouse’s role in those capacities, or perhaps even what you hope your dad/father could become with the right direction and counsel.
The first maxim is the person striving to understand the roles of dad/father longs to be the very best of those that he can be, motivated by his deep love for his child/children.
The second maxim then must be that the person, who is looking to fulfill such a dire need in the lives of their children, has (or is seeking) the spiritual awareness of his own role as a son of both an earthly father and a heavenly Father.
Definitions: a dad is someone whose love for their children is unquestioned by them and by those who witness their interactions. Some may see him as doting on his children but the biggest gift he is giving them is his time and, with that, his attention. Someone may claim they give their children lots of time; but, if the entire time they are together he is on the phone talking to someone else about something else or checking the latest ball scores, he is not there. The rule must be: Wherever you’re at, be there!
A father deeply loves his children but, people, who watch their interactions, wouldn’t say it is over-flowing or the first thing they would notice. He gives careful time and attention to the details to teach and instruct, to guide and encourage his child to think in very discerning ways. He helps his children to make the best decisions possible based on the known variables at hand. This is his focus.
This ‘father’ may seem very pragmatic, even stand-off ‘ish’ toward his children. There are probably not many warm, fuzzy moments; but, in all practical aspects, father knows best and wants the best for his children. It is his love for them that drives him.
Is it possible to be both, as was described earlier? Dad to one, father to another and maybe a combination package to others? Certainly! Such is most likely seen when a man has a son and a daughter. Based on his own upbringing, he may see strikingly different roles and expectations for the children based on their gender and that is not necessarily wrong. The key is for dad/father to navigate the mind of the child to understand how God has wired them and what expectations God may be placing before them for their own futures. Dad/Father is not to be a mold maker but an artist at a potter’s wheel. No real challenge there, right?
Not long ago I saw a bumper sticker which read, “I am a SUPER HERO – I’m a DAD!” That has got to be one of the most dangerous statements I have ever read. The person who sees themselves as trying to be a good Dad/Father desires to really be that super hero. He believes that super hero is exactly how he wants to be seen by his children. He also wants to feel like he is a super hero for his children. The youngest of the children may certainly see their dad/father as that super hero (more likely the dad than the father) and that is what they expect their dad to remain.
Can you hear the crashing of the marble statue as it tumbles violently off the very high pedestal upon which it was placed? Can you hear the cries of the youngest child when the crash happens and can you imagine the incredible heartbreak of the dad who now sees himself as a failure? There’s a superhero who wants to retreat to the Bat Cave permanently. Men, we are not super heroes. We are men, sometimes strong. Sometimes weak. Sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Yes, I know, I said this piece was to be an encouragement. So far, not so much. Hang on.
Many years ago at a police training on reducing stress, the speaker made the case for reducing stress by reducing the distance between expectations and reality. Let’s face it, the ten-year-old who really truly expects Santa is going to give him a $3,000 X-Box gaming system with chairs and wide screens but in reality gets a Mini-Retro Gameboy going for just under $14.00 on Ebay is not going to be all smiles on December 25th. That doesn’t mean the Mini-Retro Gameboy isn’t the perfect gift for this boy and something with which he can have a lot of fun; nor does it mean that maybe in some parallel universe, the $3,000 system might not have been the wrong gift either. It is just that reality did not meet expectations. When that happens, the door is open to disappointment and discouragement.
‘My dad is a perfect super-hero who will never do anything to disappoint me nor will he ever let anything bad happen to me for my entire life and he will always be there for me’ is about as dangerous an expectation as our ten-year-old’s expectation of a $3,000 X-box. The only difference is: there was a very slim possibility the ten-year-old’s expectations might have come true. After more than sixty years of life, now more than forty of them as a parent, and based on the truth of Scripture, I can absolutely guarantee you that the expectation of always present super-hero is not going to come true.
Dad’s and Father’s die. Sometimes they get divorced. They sin – though often not intentionally or certainly not with the expectation of hurting their children; but, they do screw-up. Maybe they just forgot, worked late on the night of the father-daughter dance or maybe, the hurt they never wanted their child to feel actually came and dealt a staggering blow to that son or daughter. No matter how much he wanted to, Dad didn’t see it, couldn’t prevent it or fix it.
Hey Dad – hey, Father… guess what… that’s life. You aren’t a failure. You… according to the diagnosis of experts… are human.
Hey son, daughter… you who are so completely blown away by how your papa failed you. Guess what… that doesn’t change who they are or how much they love you. It means they are human – not superheroes. It’s a good thing, too. Because at my size and age now, if I tried to change clothes in what purports to be a phonebooth today, (if you can even find one), I would either strain myself in ways I shouldn’t or I would get arrested!
I love movie analogies. If you have read any of my work, you know this to be true. So, I cannot leave this one alone. The wisdom comes from a near-sighted, somewhat scatter-brained, fish who suffers from short-term memory loss and has a voice that sounds an awful lot like Ellen Degeneres. Dory, the little blue fish in the movie Finding Nemo listens as Nemo’s father, Marlin, tells how he is crushed by his failure to protect Nemo. I want to give it to you here just as www.quotes.net has it, this is perfect.
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
So, you want to be a great dad? A great father? You want your parent to be great? Let’s go beyond a blue, artist rendering of a fish and learn from the Bible, specifically from the Apostle Paul, about family relationships. He instructs, in two different letters to the churches about the relationship between children and parents. He begins both the same way with the commandment for children to respect or honor their parents. In Ephesians 6, Paul restates the commandment from Genesis to include the promise that comes with it. The first such promise attached to a commandment says, “Honor your father and mother…that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (emphasis added) A good idea, ‘ey? But what does he write about fathers
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (ESV) The first part seems a little strange, doesn’t it? What would a father/dad do, intentionally, to anger his children? Saying ‘No’ is always a big inducer of anger, particularly in teens; but the father’s purpose wasn’t to intentionally anger the child. In this fourth verse of Ephesians 6, Paul is writing to say, ‘don’t push your children’s buttons because, if you do, you are not modeling Christ and second, you’ll fail at getting them to listen to instruction from you on following Christ. When Jesus was a boy, Scripture tells us, “He grow in wisdom, stature and in favor with God and man.” A great example for how we are to help children grow. One thing is certain, your children will learn a great deal more by what you do than what you say.
If you are to be the potter at the wheel helping to shape your children, they must be malleable. First, though, you must be willing to surrender your heart to the wheel for God to work and shape you. As He works in you, your actions will reflect Him, and your children will see the Christian life lived out in you. In those times when you long for an answer and receive none, these are the times to model patience and trust in God.
Remember, your children are God’s children first and they are a work in progress. God has His hand on them. You have the joy of helping in their growth. God is also working in you and in them to bring about what He wants to see in you and your family… that which glorifies Him.
When the heavy burdens of fatherhood weigh heavily on your shoulders, know that you do not carry it alone. Christ has given you the Holy Spirit to work with you and in you to help in every step. Talk to Him, lean on Him, and spend time with Him in prayer.
Whether you see yourself as either a father, a dad, or some combination of the two; know that for thousands of years dads have been making good and bad decisions in raising their children. They have navigated some of the same territory you either have or will. May you realize the wonderful blessings of the role you have been given and, if this has encouraged you in any way, share those blessings with your children. May you have the joy of being with them as they begin to navigate the same waters!