What It Really Means To Be a Father

With Father’s Day this year I am reminded of a story I heard a long time ago.

It was nearly Mother’s Day, and there was a warden of a prison that heard about a program that would provide inmates with free Mother’s Day cards to send to their mothers. Thinking about how his own mother would feel if he or his brothers were in prison, the warden thought this would be a good thing to try. So he brought the program into the prison. The results were astonishing. Within an hour of the cards arriving at the prison they had run out, and there was still a line of prison inmates two miles long waiting to get their card to send to their mothers. They quickly ordered in more cards, but they simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. The warden was impressed by this outpour of love that these seemingly hardened criminals had toward their mothers.

The Mother’s Day card program was such a success that the warden thought to himself that he would do the same thing the following month for Father’s Day. He made sure to order a lot more cards in, remembering the surprising turn out for Mother’s Day. He got everything in place and put the cards out for the inmates to fill out. The results were even more shocking than the first.

Not a single Father’s Day card was sent. Not one.

I don’t know if this was a true story or not. It may be, but it also may have just been a fictional story meant to illustrate the nature of Fatherhood, a parable if you will. Regardless, I think it illustrates some striking truths about what it means to be a Father.

For most people, Father’s Day is a day to give a shout out for their Dad’s, calling them the “World’s Greatest Dad” (According to my news feed today there are approximately 32 million fathers out there which hold that title). It’s a day to generally express appreciation for one’s Father. And that’s a good thing.

But for me, as a young Father, with two little boys, and a little girl on the way, Father’s day is a day for me to reflect on what it means for me to hold this awesome title.

The story above, whether it is true to not, illustrates a general truth about the difference between Mothers and Fathers. Mothers are almost universally loved and adored. And so they should be. What mothers have to go through, both physically and emotionally, to bring us into this world and raise us should most certainly be revered, respected, and adored. But it is interesting that even mothers that may not have done a terribly tremendous job are for the most part still unconditionally loved by their children all the way to their graves. There is something about the bond that comes from 9 months in the womb that stays with someone forever. Father’s on the other hand, can lose that love a lot more easily. The point of the story above was that all of the criminals, nearly without exception, blamed their Father’s for their hard life, leading them into crime and punishment, but not their mothers. There is certainly something different about how people relate to their mothers than their fathers.

I know there are exceptions to this rule. I’m sure there are people out there that feel more affection for their Fathers than they do their Mothers. And I’m sure there are people who had particularly abusive Mother’s that has left nothing but pain and bitterness. There will always be exceptions of that sort. But I think if you were to take a poll, you would find that by and large, people have a higher “approval” rating of their Mothers than they do of their Fathers. I think there are two reasons for that.

Firstly, Fathers have probably failed more than Mother’s when it comes to raising children. It’s a cold hard fact of biology that Fathers are not as “connected” to their children as mothers are. And as such many Fathers throughout history have abandoned their families.

Secondly, human beings have a deeply ingrained desired for love and acceptance from their Father. A desire that simply cannot be met by their mother, no matter how loving or caring she may be. I think this desire stems from our innate need for relationship with our Heavenly Father that God put in us when He created us to be in relationship with Him. This longing that our Heavenly Father is meant to fill, imprints itself on us a similar longing for relationship with our earthly Fathers. Indeed, God created earthly Fatherhood to be a mirror to reflect God’s Heavenly Fatherhood. Mothers are crucial and vital to the physical, emotional, and spiritual growth of a child. I’m not diminishing that importance one bit. But there is something unique about a Father’s ability to demonstrate what Fatherhood means, so that a child can learn about their Heavenly Father.

And when a Father fails at that, the consequences can be disastrous.

Fatherhood is so crucial because a Father is, in a very real way, tasked with the job of showing Godliness to their children. We are supposed to reflect God’s character in all that we do. We are supposed to love our wives and our children the way that God loves His people. We are supposed to provide for our families the way that God provides for His children. We are supposed to teach our children the ways of Godliness just as God teaches us through his Word and His Holy Spirit. We are supposed to discipline our children the way that God disciplines His children. We are supposed to be faithful to our families the way God is faithful to us.

When a Father fails at any of these he doesn’t just fail to give a child the love, provision, guidance, or discipline that the child desperately needs, but he lies about the character of God. He teaches his children that Fathers are not to be trusted. Few things will drive a wedge between a child and his Heavenly Father, than the broken trust of an Earthly Father.

This is why the correct response for man when he hears for the first time that he is going to be a father, is terror.

That’s what I felt when my wife first told me she was pregnant. Don’t get me wrong, I was also elated, excited, overjoyed, awestruck, and a million other emotions. But buried in there amidst all those other emotions, was terror. Not terror because I was afraid of my “life being over” or the sacrifices that I was going to have to make for the sake of my children. The terror that I felt, and still feel sometimes, is the terror that I will mess it up. God has temporarily entrusted my wife and I with the souls of our children. We are both tasked with loving, and caring, and teaching our children to grow up into faith with God. But as their Father, I am uniquely tasked with not just telling them who God is, but showing them who God is.

I’m terrified that I will mess that up, because their souls could very well hinge on how well I show them God. I’m terrified every time that I am not fully attentive to their needs. I’m terrified every time I lose my temper with them and do not show true grace and mercy. I’m terrified every time that I let misbehavior go unchecked and do not give them enough discipline. I’m terrified, not because of their temporary happiness or unhappiness, but because their eternal souls are on the line, and I am uniquely positioned to screw that up, more so than any other person.

Dad’s these days have a bad rap. They are constant portrayed as idiotic buffoons, reckless and stupid, that are not to be taken seriously. It is no surprise that our society as a whole is rejecting God. We’ve rejected the importance of Fatherhood, it’s only logical that we would then reject our Heavenly Father as well.

But I won’t let what society, or the media, tells me about Fathers dissuade me from what I know to be the truth. I know that I am called for a sacred purpose. It is arguably the most awesome responsibility every bestowed upon man. It is a responsibility of infinite proportions.

So this Father’s Day, while everyone else is thinking about and appreciating their Father’s (as they should), I will think about what it means for me to be a Father. I will, with great humility, go before the throne of God and throw myself down before Him and beg Him to give me the fortitude to be the Father that I need to be. By the grace of God I will resolve to best Father than I can possibly be, not so that someday my children will post a tear-jerking picture of me and them on social media and dub me “The World’s Greatest Dad!” as nice as that would be. No, I will resolve to be the best Father I can be because I know that someday my children will stand before the judgement throne of God, and how I am as an Earthly Father will have a huge impact on how they stand before their Heavenly Father.

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