By Bill Delvaux, Crosswalk.com
As we approach Father’s Day, it is always worthwhile to consider the unique influence of a father. I love hearing the stories of those whose fathers were engaged and affirming, giving something so precious to their children.
At the same time, I am reminded of many others whose lives have only known fatherlessness. The tragic consequences of absent or abusive fathers mar these children in countless ways.
So to help explain why fathers are so crucial, here are three unshakable reasons why God created them.
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Reason #1: The father calls out the sexual identity of his child.
Our core sense of identity is sexual. God created us as male and female. That’s the first truth we learn in the Bible about us.
The primal code stamped onto every soul is gender. We cannot escape viewing everything through the gender lens, nor should we. But something so primal is also fragile.
Gender is not just found in physical differentiation, but also in emotional makeup and spiritual orientation. These more intangible qualities are made manifest in the body, but because they are intangible they are vulnerable. A child’s sexual identity is not something inherently owned. It has to be called out by another.
This is the awesome task God has given to fathers.
Of course, a child needs the mother for basic love and nurturing from infanthood on. But when it comes to the feeling of being male or female, the child needs the father. Boys instinctively look to their fathers to be the masculine presence they need. The unconscious hope is that the father’s masculinity will rub off onto the son. This longing arises as he seeks to separate from his mother, especially during early adolescence. What the father can offer is the otherliness of masculinity, giving the boy the onramp needed to feel at home inside of himself as male.
Girls also look to the father, not the mother, for their primary orientation as female.
The mother will still hold the crucial card in showing the daughter what femininity looks like. But it is the father who will call it out of her. Every daughter longs for her father to see her as beautiful and worthy of love simply for being female. As the girl enters adolescence, this becomes even more critical. Whatever she did not hear from her father, she will begin to scavenge for in other young men her age.
So how does the father call out the sexual identity of his child? By affirmation and engagement. The affirmation is the word. A father can affirm a child’s sexual identity in the ordinary circumstances of daily life. Here are some examples. For the boy: “Way to go, big man. You are my strong one.” For the girl: “I love you, beautiful. You are such a princess.” Although simple, the power of these words cannot be overestimated.
They pierce right to the heart of a child and call out the latent man or woman.
The engagement is the deed. When a father initiates time together, it communicates to the child their value as a beloved son or daughter. It doesn’t matter so much what they are doing together. It could be any skill the father can teach or any interest the child may have.
The point is to be doing it together.
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Reason #2: A father is the pacesetter for the faith in his family.
The statistics are sobering. When the mother is a believer but the father is not, the children are not nearly as inclined to stay involved in the church. But when the father walks with Christ and leads his family that way, the children will be much more rooted in the church as they grow older. The father not only calls out the child’s sexual identity but sets the tone for their spiritual acuity as well.
Of course, mothers can and should play their part in talking about Christ to their children, using teachable moments throughout the day to bring up spiritual realities. There are also wonderful stories of a mother’s winsome faith opening up the heart of a child to follow, despite an absent or antagonistic father. But those stories tend to be the exception. God designed fathers to be the pacesetters for the faith in their families. It is an awesome privilege and responsibility.
But many fathers abdicate their role here to the moms, the churches, or to Christian schools. Sometimes they have no vibrant faith in Christ to pass along. At other times, their faith is real, but they feel incompetent to teach or lead spiritually. I certainly felt this way when my two daughters were young. I came from a family where I had no modeling of a father doing this.
So here is what I suggest to young fathers. It’s what I learned along the way:
Keep it simple. What do I mean? Gather the family after dinner, open the Bible, read a short passage, ask everyone what it means, and pray together. That’s it! It can take all of 5-10 minutes. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to do this. And if you need more structure, there are tons of family devotional resources out there.
As they get older, you can add more. Share stories of how God has worked in your life. Talk about how God is growing you presently. Then let them take the lead in the devotional time. Although simple, the power of such conversation cannot be overestimated, nor the ritual of gathering together before God.
The seeds of faith are planted and watered here, along with warm memories of emotional connectedness.
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Reason #3: A father represents God the Father to his children.
We live in an age of massive gender confusion. This is a tragic by-product of the loss of transcendent values in the culture.
The secularization of the Western world has been going on for centuries, where the self becomes the only objective reality.
The objective reality of God has been seemingly removed from both public and private discourse. And with that loss, transcendent categories of good, beauty, truth, glory, as well as masculinity and femininity, have become marred and blurred.
But something awesome happens when a father steps into his children’s lives, affirms their sexual identity, gathers them for Bible reading and prayer, and speaks of his faith to them. In these simple acts, he is pulling back the iron curtain of secularism and opening up a portal up into God’s presence.
And the light that streams down through that opened portal is the light of God the Father, the One who longs to engage and affirm those children.
Often without realizing what he is doing, the father has formed an emotional template within the child’s heart, one that is patterned to be open and receptive to God the Father. All of his providing and affirming and engaging and disciplining were just introductory. God the Father picks up where he can no longer go and leads his children onward into life with Him.
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A Final Word of Encouragement
I close with this encouragement. No father I know feels that they have got this fatherhood thing down. I certainly have never felt that way. And none of what I have implies that we must be perfect fathers.
The reality is that the best of dads will make plenty of mistakes. But that’s okay. Even with our fumblings and failings, God will still use us to point our children to Him.
But what do we do with all those mistakes? When you say or do something to one of your children that grieves the Father, confess it to Him and then go and ask forgiveness of the offended child. Trust me, they will be so willing to forgive, and the bond between you will become even stronger.
This Father’s Day, if you are a father, take time to give thanks to God for the awesome privilege of being a father. Then trust Him to empower you on the fatherhood journey ahead.
Finally, ask Him to reveal more of His love for you as a son in Christ. Allowing Him to father you will give you the priceless wisdom needed to father your own children.
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