My father gave me the greatest gift anyone can give another person, he believed in me – Jim Valvano, American basketball player.
Father’s Day is observed in several countries, typically the third Sunday in June. One popular church liturgy for Father’s Day prays for “young fathers, newly embracing their ‘vocation’” – a word that delightfully recognises that fatherhood belongs at the level of a profession or calling.
A Church that too easily re-reads ‘Our Father in Heaven’ as ‘Our Mother in Heaven’ (or ‘Our Heavenly Parent’) risks seminarian escapism where a seminal exposition on fatherhood is the crying (often literally) need of the hour. It is not just the domestic and institutional abusers that almost always point to a multi-generational failure of fathers but the crumbling of justice and nationhood across the world at the hands of violent men that are symptoms of the same.
The closeness and constant communication between the Father in heaven and His Son on earth indeed represent the most mature and loving father-son relationship. And both Son and Father offer the same, extreme love to sinful (John 15:9, NIV), (2 Corinthians 6:18, NIV).
Fatherhood is not rocket science: the simplest of good men can understand it, and children can sense it. So, a basic understanding must be simple before it is scholarly.
Stringing together the word F-A-T-H-E-R as an acrostic will, one hopes, make the character required of a father easier to remember and to relate to. It is worth adding here that this teaching is for all with family or managerial responsibility. This author, with two grown-up sons, would state unhesitatingly that many of the major challenges in the world can be traced to the poor role played by fathers, and likewise fathers really being fathers can remedy many problems.
F – Forgiving
Yes, a father can be ‘faithful’ and a ‘friend’, but the model Father – our Heavenly Father – is in relation to sinful humans, first, forgiving. Selwyn Hughes, the late and long-term writer of the Every Day with Jesus daily devotionals, wrote, “Some time ago, while dining with a group of ministers, I was asked: what do you think is the biggest single factor that causes spiritual shipwreck in the lives of God’s people? I hesitated, for many things sprang to mind – jealousy, dishonesty, impurity, prayerlessness, etc – but one thing stood out above all the others: an inability to forgive.”
Jesus repeats this character of forgiveness multiple times in his teaching (Mark 11:25, NIV). God often allows people to face the consequences of their follies, but He Himself never punishes His sons and daughters. Following this model is the challenge before every father. By looking to the Heavenly Father, every earthly father can learn how to be forgiving, yet not overlooking sin.
A – Available
The father of the ‘prodigal son’ was a forgiving father (Luke 15:17-20, NIV) yet, he remained available and waited anxiously, as the safety net that fathers are meant to be in a world full of dangers and sins that nonetheless must be faced.
A parent’s age-inappropriate, controlling behaviour can prevent children from growing up into the abundant life that is theirs to inherit. However, watchful fathers and father figures, while watching, must converse with their children through many teaching moments.
The other extreme of powerless behaviour is the ‘absent father’ – the epidemic of which is destroying family life across the world. The presence of an interested father figure is known to be the best restraint against a life of crime. Getting fathers to be fathers is the solution – and only fathers can lead the change in society.
Psalm 147:3-4 (NIV) models the Father’s – and thereby every father’s – availability. The Father who made the universe knows and cares about my broken heart or body.
When a father spends time dedicated to the child, there is a palpable peace in the child that then stays with him/ her for the rest of the day. Dinner times and family prayer times are equally important. Reading up and attending training, on how to be a good father, is necessary for fathers.
In one such wonderful book, a father is quoted on his decision to avoid jobs that meant too much travel or too many hours. It was a priority that appealed to me since that was my priority placed before God. It told me that such a decision was godly even if it would not look ‘manly’.
T – Teacher
When my first son was born, my only desire was that he would know the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. I had no ambition or aspirations to impose on the child. Priority for God carries in families, and it is never too late to start. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19, NIV)
Teaching is primarily, example. A father who guides his children to read the Bible must himself be visible reading the Bible daily and reading or telling Bible stories to his children from a young age – and living by those words. A well-known saying is: “Do not be concerned whether your children will do what you say. Be concerned that they will do what you do.”
H – Human
A close young relative confessed to years of temptation that he was going through, perhaps feeling also that this confession was going to mark the end of something in his life – even the end of his salvation. It was a huge relief to him when I responded with love, explaining to him that these were temptations that I also struggled with. They were not what lost salvation – they were what made Christ’s salvation essential, yet not to be taken lightly. Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) speaks of a God who became human.
What makes parenting work is a mystery, which needs prayer and God’s grace, and the flesh-and-blood availability of the parent over the years. This is God’s model. Wherever one invests, there will be a return. If one invests in children’s lives, there will be a return.
E – Encourager
There is a saying, “Encouragement is the oxygen of the soul.” Jesus spoke of the Friend, the Holy Spirit, who would be the constant source of encouragement from God the Father (John 14:16-17, The Message).
Specifically, on encouragement in education, research suggests that a father’s involvement in his children’s education and school lives is a powerful factor in the children’s academic achievement – even if he himself has only limited schooling.4 It is the father’s interest that matters, even in families in which the mother is the more capable teacher or disciplining force. This is a unique influence of fathers – as different from mothers – not only on sons, but also on daughters. Fathers are a source of courage for their children – and they need oxygen, too!
R – Reasonable
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord (Isaiah 1:18a, ESV) is what God himself offers His children. How much more is the call to earthly fathers to be gentle and open in communicating with their children?
It is only in a spirit of openness that authority and limits can be conveyed, especially as the children grow older. A useful principle is that the lines are immovable on moral issues; however, on other matters like styles, or sensible education and career choices, it is best to allow freedom as much as possible. As has been the theme throughout this piece, availability of a parent almost as an older friend, even for grown-up children, is more important than tight control (Ephesians 6:4).
Fathers are expected to be big enough to catch their children when they fall or are at risk. All Christian life is a balance, and how much to control and how much to let go is indeed like a tightrope walk. Once one has set out on the line, and the walk of a child’s life has started, looking back and looking down are not options. Looking forward with hope and looking upward for strength, guidance and forgiveness are the only ways to abundance!