Focus on the Family

The Power of Fathers

by John Blase

As I watched the movie with my children, there were the usual suspects: a cute little girl, a dog and a father who didn't know he had a daughter but was about to get his chance at redemption. Throw in some Elvis Presley tunes and competitive professional sports for dramatic effect, and you've got one of those feel-good movies that tugs at your heartstrings while tickling your funny bone.

Throughout the movie, the main character kept saying, "the power of the father." What started out as a phrase to help him stay focused in his newly discovered role became something more: the belief that a father has the power to give his children something that no one else can. And while this film was no Old Yeller or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it did manage to successfully ask, "Do children really need a father?" Even in the midst of Hollywood dips and turns, the answer was clear: Yes, there really is a power that only a father brings to his children.

Any time I see a film that even remotely acknowledges such a truth, I'm thankful. Much of our media do not believe a father to be necessarily beneficial, and those that include dads in a script often portray him as an absolute idiot. It's sad, really. Actually, it's a disgrace.

The pattern established in the beginning was this:

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)

A man would leave his father and mother and take a wife. They would be fruitful and multiply. The children would benefit from both parents, as each one would bring different and necessary facets to the child's life. This was the pattern, the divine design.

I realize the phrase power of the father might stir up less-than-desirable reactions from some. Power is a word that can be used for good or evil. But just because some have and will abuse the reality behind the word, there's no need to write it off. God's Word clearly indicates that men — fathers — bring power to the parenting relationship. The woman brings life; the father brings strength. There will be days when a mother brings strength to things and there will be days when a man brings life. But the abiding pattern, the divine design, gives power to the father. The question, as always, is, "How will the power be used?"

I hope this series will cause you to stop and ponder a little — or maybe a lot. A father's presence means something to a child. The permission a father gives differs from that a mother offers. It's not necessarily nice to point, but a father had better set nice aside from time to time and point out a few things along the way. If he doesn't, then who will?

As a father, you may read these articles and think, My father never did those things for or with me! As a result, these words may bring pain to the surface. Please remember that if we don't seek to transform our pain, we'll just transfer it to others — often our sons and daughters.

The love of our heavenly Father can redeem any pain and transform it into something strong, solid and powerful. Fathers, we all get a second chance — maybe many chances — at redemption. There may not be canned laughter or the dramatic lighting of a Hollywood movie, but a redeemed father's power might just make the difference in a little girl or boy's life.

The Power of Presence

Sometimes, a parent needs to set his own lifestyle aside and take advantage of the opportunities we have to spend quality time with our kids.

by John Blase

"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…" – Philippians 2:5-7 (NASB)

I recently found myself in an uncomfortable situation. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, in way over my head. The reason for my anxiety? The Nintendo Wii. My son turned eleven and scored a Wii for his birthday and it was time for dad to take a turn. I was given the controller and in no time at all lost all my "lives" and allowed the virtual galaxy to run amuck. For some reason (age possibly?), I just couldn't get it.

My son was quite gracious in the moment. Dad, it's o.k. Just sit with me and watch and you'll get it. I know you will. And so I did. I sat and watched and sat and watched and sat and watched. I still don't entirely understand how to maneuver somebody called Mario, but I'm only forty-one; I've still got time.

Another moment like this occurred back in December. Not a lot of anxiety in this one, but I had to sit down. My daughter asked me to look through a catalog with her. Just sit with me, dad. This’ll only take a minute. She had circled a sweater that caught her eye and wanted to make sure it was on my holiday radar. And so I did. We sat and looked at every page until we came to the reason for our sit-down. The correct size and color were emphasized, followed by a hug around the neck, a kiss on the cheek, and something like you’re the greatest dad ever! These daughters. Smart, huh?

So, one afternoon after work, I journeyed like a magi to the appropriate store and rattled off the correct item number, size, and color to someone who looked every bit of twelve. The girl-clerk seemed impressed at my vast knowledge of this particular item of clothing. Wow! How do you know so much about this? I told her it came from sitting and listening and flipping pages and stuff. She said cool.

Moments like this seem to be popping up all over my fathering landscape. Moments where I’m reminded of something called the power of presence. Maybe you prefer "stopping to smell the roses" or "being there." Potato, potatoe; same thing. Now, lest you think I'm the greatest dad ever, rest assured that for every moment when I've stopped to smell the roses with my children, there have been twice as many moments where the roses had to take a back seat to my own, "more important" little world.

But kids are gracious and I'm learning. I'm learning how utterly vital it is to them that I, the father, set aside my adult privileges and sit for awhile and humble myself and enter their world. I don’t have to get the high score or even like hoodies; I just have to be there, with them, my presence passing along something to them that may be real close to that word L-O-V-E.

Incarnational fathering. An intentional setting aside of the me in order to enter into the them. And in that moment or moments, it's not necessarily what I say or do, but that I'm there. Now we all know there are moments of action and trailblazing and preparedness that children desperately need from their father. However, I believe there are just as many moments when they long for a power from us that comes primarily from our presence; humbling ourselves, like Christ our example, and entering their worlds. You could call it "fathering in the image of God" – the greatest Dad ever.

Sometimes, doing something for my kids and getting it over with (quickly) so I can get back to what I want to do is nothing more than a broad road to ruin. The narrow road, the one that leads to life, it's not doing anything but being there, physically present, and resting in the promise that the Father up above is looking down in love and He's got the whole world in his hands.

Fathers, don't overlook the power of your presence. Power via humility. It doesn't make a lick of worldly sense. But it may just make an eternal difference in the lives of our sons and daughters.

Just sit with me dad. It'll only take a minute

The Power of Perseverance

God doesn’t expect parents to get everything right. But He expects us to keep trying!

by John Blase

"As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy." – James 5:11 (NIV)

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines perseverance as "persisting in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement." Whew! Some days that sounds awfully close to my definition of fatherhood. There is a subtly dangerous idea floating around out there that sees real fatherhood as a succession of victories; crossing the fathering finish line as some Olympic Athlete to be presented with the gold medal of DAD. That idea not only sets up all earthly fathers for a fall, but it also shoots the truth of the heavenly Father's providence right in the foot.

What if real fathering looks like crossing the finish line more akin to a Velveteen Rabbit instead of an Olympic Athlete?

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby."

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (Doubleday, 1991)

What do you do when you raise up a daughter in the fear and admonition of the Lord and then one day during her 15th year, she whispers through tears, "Daddy, I'm pregnant"? I mean really, what do you do? If your fathering model is the Olympic Athlete, then you've just been disqualified from the race. I mean, what kind of father allows his daughter to get pregnant? But if you see fathering in a Velveteen Rabbit kind of way, then you persist in that undertaking in spite of opposition or discouragement; also known as perseverance. As disappointing and confusing and heart-wrenching as that moment is, you hold her close and whisper through tears, "I love you, my daughter. God will carry us through this." And because God is full of something called compassion, then that child she's carrying may bless generations to come, like Moses, or that child may just bless your heart beyond your wildest imaginations and you'll wonder what you'd do without that child in your life.

What do you do when your youngest son asks for his inheritance early and sets off to a distant land, turning his back on you and all you hold dear, which is essentially saying, "You might as well be dead, Dad; I don't need you"? I mean really, what do you do? If victorious fathering is your benchmark, then you might as well leave the keys with the older brother and go off under a tree and wait for the vultures to start circling.

But if Real fathering is the desire, then you persist in the enterprise in spite of counterinfluences; also known as perseverance. As lonely as that moment feels, you turn around and take out the trash or pay the mortgage or feed the sheep or sweep out the barn. And while you keep doing what fathers do, you stay aware that perseverance must finish its work in you so that you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 5:3,4). And if you keep entrusting yourself to the Good Father, then there's a chance, always a hope, that one of these days, when you least expect it, there will be a knock at the door that you'd know anywhere. And you drop the trash or trust the sheep to find some grass for the time being, and you run willy-nilly-velveteen-rabbity through the house and out the door and fall to your knees in the grass you've persisted to mow because that's what fathers do, and you whisper through tears, "My son who was lost has now been found; he was dead, but now he lives."

I realize that may sound too good to be true, but if we fathers persevere, then no telling what the Lord may bring about. Don't forget, the Lord is full of something called mercy, which endures forever, and forever can persevere beyond young prodigals or jealous older brothers or pregnant-too-soon-daughters, death or life, angels or demons, the present or the future, or any powers, height or depth, or anything else in all creation.

Gentlemen, being faithful in persevering as a father can find you standing before the Father one day, with hair loved off and droopy eyes and shabby joints. You’ll hear Him whisper through tears of pride a phrase that's worth more than gold: "Well done. Enter into your rest."

The Power of Permission

Fathers must recognize and exercise the "Power of Permission," a vital discipline not only for the child's development but also for the parents' peace of mind!

by John Blase

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 
Ephesians 6.4 (NIV)

"Don't run!"

"No, you cannot have an iPhone!"

"There's no way you're having a sleepover!"

"No! You're not going outside wearing that!"

There's nothing wrong with saying "no" to things. Sometimes, there is no way she's going outside wearing that, and no, he doesn't need an iPhone. On the other hand, permissive parenting always says "yes" even when it's not appropriate. Instead, your kids need to see you as a father with the power to withhold permission in their lives. At times, "withholding" has the power to exasperate.

I was looking through our family photo albums one day and noticed something striking in our kids' baby pictures. In pictures where their mom was holding them, she always held them "in" – in other words, their body would be turned toward her. Always. However, photos where I held them, I always had their bodies turned "out" so that they would be facing the world at large. Always.

I'm not a psychologist, but it seems that there's a reason for the difference in the way men and women hold their children. A mother keeps the child close, sheltering and protecting. A father keeps the child close as well, but he gives permission to step, run, fall or stumble headlong into the great big world. I believe you dads are the primary permission givers. You're the one who has the power to say, "Yes, I believe you can!" or "Well, I don't know, but why don't you give it a try?" This isn't to say that mothers can't give permission as effectively. But when it comes from a father, it's different. It just is.

Here are two examples, one with my son and one with my daughter. I gave my son permission to wear shorts this spring. Now, we live in Colorado, where April is sometimes very similar to December. If the decision had been up to his mother, she would not have let him wear the shorts, choosing to parent out of a desire to shelter and protect. As his mother, to not feel that desire would deny who God made her to be. But I decided to let him wear the shorts, thinking, Well, son of mine, it's only going to be maybe fifty degrees in that big old world out there, but why don't you give it a try? If you freeze your brains out, then you'll probably learn a valuable lesson, so go for it.

My son is in the early throes of puberty, and he needs his father to give him permission at appropriate times to step, run, fall, stumble headlong or freeze his brains off in this great big world. It's a very powerful piece of the puzzle he's putting together in these years of growing into manhood. I was giving him permission to do something that was powerfully connected to the man he hopes to one day be.

I am also called to do that for my daughters as they grow into womanhood. A couple of months ago, I gave my daughter permission to cry. She experienced a loss, and being the middle child she was, well, she was caught in the middle. She didn't want to do the first-born-be-mature-tough-it-out thing and she didn't want to lose-it-completely-like-my-baby-sister-does either. What's a middle girl to do? I sat beside her and held her and said, "It's o.k. to just cry about it." And with my permission, she did. I chose to hold her "out" to face the world while still holding her close, and drew from my fatherly repository of country music lyrics: [How can I help you to say goodbye? It's o.k. to hurt, it's o.k. to cry. Come let me hold you and I will try.] Daughter of mine, it's hard being in the middle and it probably always will be, but I understand that, probably more than you know, and sometimes when things or people on either side squeeze you, the you in the middle, then it's best to just let the tears fall, so go for it. It's o.k.

I was giving her permission to do something that was powerfully connected to the woman she hopes to one day be, although sometimes it's hard to hope that from the middle. My "yes" was permission to not be conformed (Romans 12:2) to what this world holds for women (where vulnerability means weakness) and instead to see how a vulnerable heart is an essential part of becoming an Eve, a life-giver, one who shelters and protects as God intended. Her mother could have done that just as effectively as I did, but coming from her father, it was different. It just was. I cried with her, and then she asked if it was too cold to wear shorts in February in Colorado.

I said go for it.

Men, you can give permission without being permissive. There's a powerful difference between the two. There just is.

The Power of Perception

Training up a child in the way he/she should go doesn't mean ignoring their natural gifts. Take time to understand and perceive your child's ways, so that you may guide them to be who they are meant to be.

by John Blase

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22.6 (NIV)

All too often the phrase "in the way he should go" has been interpreted to mean the ways of godliness or righteousness. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that emphasis; however, that's not what this proverb is aiming for. An error in perception, or the way we see this verse, ends up causing an error in the way this verse is applied.

The words "in the way he should go" are taken from a Hebrew phrase that literally reads "according to the tenor of his ways." Here's what it looks like:

Train up the child according to the tenor of his way,
and when he is old he will not depart from it.

Here's how this plays out. The temptation is to use a "one size fits all" approach to parenting; in other words, everybody is treated the same. Resisting that temptation allows for each child to be perceived, or seen, for the ways in which God created them. An awareness of their disposition or individual character then guides you in how teaching and correction are approached. It helps you to know how best to help them become who God created them to be.

My wife and I have been blessed with three children; a son and two daughters. And believe you me, each one of our three is d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t. But they all have a common request of their father: Dad, look at me. The power of perception. Dads, when we look, what do we see?

There are the obvious differences between boys and girls. The book of Genesis clearly speaks into this: He [God] created them male and female. The literature is abundant these days on the differences between the two. Miss seeing that first important distinction and you’ll miss much about your children and they may quite possibly miss much about themselves.

There are also the telling differences that show up as a result of birth order. It's silly to straight-jacket your kids into some behavior due to their birth order, but it's just as silly to dismiss it outright. Those birth order books sell because there's something that rings true in them. Think about the birth order examples in scripture: Jacob the trickster and hairy, firstborn Esau; Joseph the dreamer and his jealous brothers; Mary who wanted nothing more than to "be" while Martha was always compelled to "do."

And then there are those subtle differences that take a sharp eye to spot; they're what the Hebrews referred to as "the tenor of his ways." This is where it takes courage to be a father to your son or daughter, for I'm talking about looking and listening and noticing, otherwise known as "paying attention." And like the first word of that phrase (paying), it'll cost you something. Not being willing to pay that price may be what Paul was warning about when he wrote, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children" (Eph. 6.4). How many times have you heard an exasperated adult voice bemoan, "My father never really saw me?" Yeah, a bunch.

Do you remember the story of Adam, the first man? One of his duties was to see each created animal and then name them. There was a power inherent in his naming of each one. That same power is available for fathers today. We're not naming rhinos or beagles, but we do have the opportunity to really look into the lives of our children and name what we see.

Does your daughter have artistic gifts? How about buying her a Georgia O'Keeffe book and reading together about that southwestern saint? Or maybe your son loves to sing. You're not sure where that came from but the point is he loves it and furthermore, he's pretty good. Do you have the courage to name what you see? Can you encourage him and support his efforts to develop that gift? Or maybe your daughter adores animals. Is there anything truly wrong with having a pet turtle, a beta fish, a dog, and maybe even a rabbit? Truly looking into her life may reveal a heart that is gentle towards God's creatures and you, Dad, may see it when no one else does. She desperately needs you to wield your God-given power and help her grow into who she is. Who else is going to do that?

Gentlemen, remember what they want and need: "Dad, look at me."

The Power of Pointing

It's important to demonstrate to our children how to be, and how things work, and what things are. We always set an example to our children, and we need to explain the world to them — point them in the way they should go.

by John Blase

"It's not nice to point."
- Mama

It's important for a father to draw his children's attention to things outside themselves. That's why, with all due respect to Mama, it's OK to point. I think she'll understand.

The lines that follow are from Wendell Berry's The Hidden Wound. First, Berry is describing Aunt Georgie, an influential figure from his childhood:

She was always showing you something: a plant, a bloom, a tomato, an egg, an herb, a sprig of greens. Suddenly you saw it as she saw it – vivid, useful, free of all the chances against it, a blessing – and it entered shadowless into your mind.1

Berry talks also about his grandfather, pointing out hired hand Nick Watkins:

He admired him…and was always pointing him out to me as an example: "Look a yonder how old Nick sets up to drive his mules. Look how he takes hold of the lines. Remember that, and you'll know something."2

Berry was graced to have grown up in a world populated by phrases like "Look a yonder" and "Look how" and "Do you see that tomato?" He lived a life in the present that was sculpted by the power of pointing to the past. There are many who describe Wendell Berry and his writings with one word: wise.

Fathers, the power to point is accessible to us in two ways. We've got to look first and then have the presence of mind to point it out to those entrusted to us. This doesn't happen overnight; it's a gradual learning, especially if you did not have an Aunt Georgie or Grandfather Berry in your life. But just because something is gradual doesn't mean it's impractical or unattainable.

So first we've got to be looking ourselves. Are you aware of your surroundings? Do you pay attention to things outside of yourself? Are those railroad crossing instructions – Stop. Look. Listen. – a routine part of your day? Living this kind of a life involves slowing down. There's no way around it. Now if you're like me, you've already got lots of people telling you to slow down and savor life. Most days that seems utterly impossible; there is so much good to do for those we love. But if you're like me, then you also know the truth of the saying that "good is often the enemy of great."

Fathers, we'll blink and they'll be graduating from college, walking down aisles and stepping into marriage, welcoming their own children home from the maternity wing. Sunrise, sunset. It goes so fast. The lyrics to Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle should haunt us all; our children might grow up to be "just like me." If you're going to slow down, then carpe diem; today's the day to begin. Don't run yellow lights. Turn off e-mail on the weekends. Whatever you need to do, do it.

I firmly believe the last thing a father needs these days is another voice yelling, "You're not doing enough!" Some days we don't have time; some weeks we're gone on business trips; some moments we miss things right in front of our noses. What's a father to do?

If you noticed, the showing/pointing people in Berry's life were not always his father. Berry's grandfather filled that role at times, as did his Aunt Georgie. I, in no way, want to diminish the power that you have as a dad in pointing out people and places to your children. I hope you won't diminish it either. At the same time, I want to encourage you to make certain that your children spend time in the presence of others you know that possess the power of pointing. I'm not sure it always takes a village, but there are days when a Grandfather Berry or an Aunt Georgie are indispensable to our children remembering and learning and knowing.

Gentlemen, you don't always have to do it yourself. I just want to point that out.

1Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound. North Point Press, San Francisco, 1989, p. 73.
2Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound. North Point Press, San Francisco, 1989, p. 23.

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