How To Be A Good Father

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Father’s Day isn’t supposed to ring the same note of terror as Mother’s Day. As Mother’s Day dawns every mother is invited to be the savior of the world, but also to secretly indulge in terrible self consideration–moving silently in celebration between self loathing, envy, gratitude, and a desire for the day just to be over. And that was just me. Father’s Day ought to be an easier time. Men aren’t plagued with self doubt, are they? You just hand them their stick of jerky on the way out of church, shake their hand, and there you are.

But every kind of identity and person has been thrown into confusion in this new age. While Father’s Day seems to be playing it quiet all over social media, it can’t escape the troubled waters of modern self qualifying trauma. Being a man is no piece of cake, and being a father isn’t any easier than any other identity or calling.

Because the great tragedy of our times is that we still do need men, no matter how much we prefer to believe that we don’t. If you want to depress yourself, google ‘statistics, fatherless’ and there’ll be an endless supply of heartbreaking numbers for you to peruse. When the father isn’t around, lots of things fall apart, things that might not appear to be so essential at first because of the incredible strength and competence of the average modern woman. The man, even if he doesn’t speak much, and doesn’t do all the things you want him to do, by his very presence has an outweighed impact on the lives of people like his own children. When he goes away, many of the necessary threads that hold a person together unravel.

And truly, Father’s Day, like Mother’s Day, is a moment, whether anybody wants it or not, to look at the heartbreaks associated with the fatherly half of humanity. Fathers are human too, and that means that they sin, and fail, and don’t live up to the ideal of what every culture and community thinks they should be. In the west, just as there seems a crisis for women in many different directions, the crises for men, and for fathers, is intricately wound around every aspect of our cultural ennui.

What is a father supposed to be? And if he isn’t, what does that mean for all the people in his sway? What hope is there if he fails?

The best way to discover the answer to these questions is to look not at the world, nor inside oneself, but to God, and to the revelation of himself in the scripture. In which there are many examples of terrible fathers. Indeed, when I think to myself, where is a good mother in the Bible, I immediately think of Mary. But when I ask myself, where is the good father, instead of looking right at Joseph, which makes a lot of sense, I often land on David, who, in many ways, was a complete disaster. But who is actually more helpful because of how much he said, and how much of his life we have to look at.

Joseph’s quiet, steady provision and care is not very inspiring. What was he thinking? When did he die? What was it like to endure many years of silent humiliation? What was his life with Jesus like? If only he had said more than ‘Yes.’ It was one of the most important moments in all of human history, but it’s not very, how shall I say, nuanced.

David, on the other hand, is singularly modern in his way of being–unfaithful to one wife (preferring to have many rather than one), lackadaisical in his child rearing, strong in battle but occasionally weak in moral character–in a word, far from perfect.

And yet, the thing that is most compelling about him, all these millennia later, was his intense devotion to God, his willingness to publicly express his love for his Savior, and to act impulsively and courageously out of the wellspring of his heart, which was, as the Bible says, ‘after God.’ His strength was not his own, it was dependent, shaped, directed by a repentant love for his maker.

Which is what we need, from fathers. We don’t need perfect mothers. Truly, we do not. We expect them, but we don’t need them. Likewise, we don’t need perfect fathers. We don’t need a cookie cutter picture of masculine fatherhood any more than we need an idealized picture of femininity. Fathers should be whoever they are. They should have space to breathe, to act, to make decisions. They shouldn’t be crowded into one kind of way of being. Most of all, they should be welcomed to stay, to remain, to come into the life of the family as a full member. And, if they want to take it a step farther and be a good father, they should have the freedom and encouragement to seek after God.

Because God likens himself to a father. We’re meant to address him as such. “Our Father,” we pray altogether, even when it seems he has been very absent, invisible as we sit facing in the direction of his Son. We can’t see him. But we might, sitting in the dim, broken, trouble of life, gnawing perhaps on a scrap that was meant for a pig, remember him, long for him, consider that he held not a single possession from us, but sent his only Son, his Son whom he loved, into the world to draw us back to himself. You might sit in your pew, this morning, or your plush chair, and stretch out your soul, might run in your spirit, all the way back to the Father. There you will surely find a feast, a rest, a joy.