From the Disney Channel to Malcolm In the Middle (I date myself!), pop culture refuses to affirm fathers and fatherhood. Far too often, fathers are painted as either weak-kneed clowns or overbearing abusers. Sadly, these caricatures are pictures of the failure of fathers in our country. Today, fathers are often absent. Because of this, many (both children and adults) are hungry for the affirmation that fathers are meant to give.
Because of the shortcomings of many fathers, too often we have lost the taste for true fatherhood. When we see men of courage, conviction, and humility, our culture tends to react negatively (after all, "gender stereotypes" have become subjects of a cultural witch hunt in recent years). But fathers have an incredible impact on their families and community. Here are three concrete ways to reacquire a taste for fatherhood.
Step 1 – Recognizing the Glory of the Fatherhood of God
God describes Himself as a Father. This is an incredible fact that should cause us to think carefully about what it means to be a father. God is the model of righteous fatherhood for us. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians call out to “Our Father.” Our Father is the one who is to be respected. He gives us daily provision. He protects us from the evil one. His kingdom is coming.
Good fathers with a biblical parenting outlook provide peace for everyone around them. When I think about growing up, there were so many things that I never worried about because I had a good father (and mother). I never thought about where my next meal would come from. I never wondered what would happen if my clothes wore out. God is cultivating His people to be sort of like children in a good family (only - hopefully - more thoughtful and thankful than I was as a young man). When we come to the Lord’s Supper, the Father has made provision for us. We usually just eat a little bread and get a sip from the cup, but it points to the perfect provision made for us by Christ and the perpetual provision that is going to be made for us in God’s presence. God is a father who provides.
Step 2 – Restoring the Joy of Sacrificial Provision and Protection
For dads, the model that God provides should cause us to reflect on and enjoy the tasks that we have. Just as God provided a "once and for all" sacrifice for us, we need to provide a regular sacrifice for our families. We do this by restraining and curbing our desires and by providing for the needs of our family. Often, I think that this sacrificial part of fatherhood is where dads can lose focus because our culture tends to focus on personal fulfillment.
Godly dads need to step back and rethink joy. When you make a sacrifice for your family and provide for them or protect them, think about what you have done. You can practice this mindset even when you are doing mundane things like paying the electric bill or purchasing life insurance. When I am going about these menial but meaningful tasks, my family (other than my wife) really does not know what I am doing, but I am caring for them. I am providing for them. Thinking about these things makes the sacrifices feel so much better. The sacrifices dads make both provide for and protect their families.
Step 3 – Rediscovering the Concept of Respect
Men crave respect. In the book Love and Respect, Dr. Emerson Eggerich points out the fact that marriages go wrong because we fail to recognize that men want respect. How can we get a good picture of respect when the word (and concept) is so misused or misunderstood in our day?
The principle that helped me gain a feel and hunger for respect is this: hang around men who are older and more accomplished than you are. Men who have made tireless sacrifices to accomplish substantial things really inspire respect. Talking with men who have practiced making sacrifices for their families, their churches, their community, and the needy helps men to see a living vision of what they should long to become. Hanging out with men who have been involved in incredible events like the D-Day invasion is also helpful. It makes one want to live up to the standards that they have reached.
This works for any age. Have young boys spend time with solid young men who are strong leaders, athletes, workers, musicians, or students. Often, attending a Christian school and being actively involved in a diverse church family can give your kids this opportunity. Help them see what their next step looks like.
Moms and wives can really help their husbands and sons at this point. When your husband does something special to provide for or protect your family, let him know how thankful you are that he would sacrifice himself for you. Make sure that your children see this thankfulness. Your sons will be instructed by the example of what you value. Your husbands will be refreshed by your respect for their hard work.
A reaffirmation and a renewal of Christian men living sacrificially is perhaps the most important practical first step to restore sanity to our culture. Fathers who sacrifice themselves for their wives and children provide a model and picture of God’s love to our culture—a picture we desperately need.