When it comes right down to it, fatherhood is a series of moments. The role of a father is constructed of bite-sized chunks of time that help define us and shape our view of the world around us.
Sometimes you know what they look like in the moment.
Sometimes you barely notice them until weeks or months or years later.
But then one day, you’ll look back and realize how important they were. And maybe you’ll think like I sometimes do, “that was something special. Something critical. That was a moment.”
Hopefully, we all have moments connected with our fathers. Some memories illustrate what kind of men our dads were and others point to what kind of men they should’ve been.
And like it or not, those moments shape how we think about fatherhood itself. Sometimes they can set the bar for us, show us what it means to be a dad. Sometimes they can serve as cautionary tales.
What is the Role of a Father?
The Bible so often refers to the Lord as “Father” that we sometimes forget how significant that word really is about describing the nature of God. We understand that God is the Father of all creation, “from whom all things came and for whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
Of course, we understand He’s Jesus’ Father. But we forget God asks us to call Him Father. Through both Him and His Son, we can get a pretty good glimpse at what the role of a father should look like.
“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” Jesus asks in John 14:9. Then Jesus goes on to say, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
So, what sort of Father do we see?
At times, we see the sort of dad I longed for throughout my childhood. This is the image of a father by which everyone else in my life fell woefully short.
Yet, God loves us more deeply, more powerfully than we can imagine. And He showed us this love through sacrifice: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). He remains utterly dependable in His character and in His affection for us. He’s always with us.
When I consider those attributes of God, they make Him sound, in a way, like a strong oak or a jolly father. God really is a great example of what a father should be. And if our own fathers failed us, we shouldn’t let those failures obscure the role of our ultimate Father.
Responsibilities of a Father
Not long ago, a Christian speaker admitted to his audience that his son was in prison for burglary.
“But,” he said, “we’ve done a great job as parents.” The crowd looked puzzled. “Because actually,” he added, “he was born an ax murderer.”
Naturally, the audience laughed. It’s a great line. There’s absolutely no truth in it, but it’s a great line. And in its own weird way, it hits the heart of what we’re supposed to be doing as parents.
Parents are teachers. And from the day our kids are born, we’re on the job. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re teaching. Our kids learn how to smile and laugh and talk simply by watching and listening to us, and they figure out quickly that screaming is a great way to get some attention. And as they grow up, they continue to learn from us by observation.
But often, we do give our kids very intentional lessons. We encourage them to walk, and potty train them. We train them how to hold their silverware correctly and how to drive. But I believe we have a more fundamental and basic lesson to teach our kids.
Navigate family life with grace and love!
Role of a Father Compared to a Mother
Imagine you and your wife are looking at a big modern sculpture, but you don’t get a chance to walk around and see the whole thing. You look at it from one angle, and your spouse views it from an entirely different angle.
Once you get back together and talk it over, you have a better chance of figuring out what the sculpture really looked like. Because together you saw more of it than either of you did alone.
But what if you got together and disagreed with what each other saw?
You saw a long, thin, yellow sculpture. And so, your wife’s testimony that she saw something green that bowed in the middle strikes you as preposterous.
“You’re wrong,” you both say to each other, trying to prove how wrong your spouse really is.
Sometimes our reality gets confused by our perspective. It gets even trickier when the reality involves our role as a father.
A lot of couples have trouble figuring out this reality. Mom has a very different perception about Dad’s failures, and Dad has a very different perception of Mom’s failures.
At times, these arguments illuminate real problems, because lots of dad out there really don’t chip in nearly enough around the house or spend enough time with the kids. And yes, I am guilty of that.
Lots of moms might be guilty of several household sins themselves. But most often, it comes down to a matter of perspective, and the arguments don’t do anything to uncover the truth. Instead, they just throw more dirt on top of it.
Couples need to find a way to get on the same page, to come to a consensus on where the weaknesses really lie. The earlier you can do that, the more effectively you can learn from it and work together in uncovering reality. Then, the more effectively you both understand your reality, the better you can teach your children about that reality.
Is this easy? No way. My wife and I are still working on it. Yet, there’s comfort in knowing that it’s always a work in progress.
Role of a Father in a Family
Of course, it gets better.
It gets easier and more rewarding to spend time with your children. But to get to a level of comfort, it takes some time. Just as your children need hours with you to feel appreciated, you need to spend those hours with them to learn how to become a better father.
Your kids don’t come with instruction manuals. There is no easy template to follow to raise them well. Each child is a little different and requires a different part of you.
My boys are a great example of this.
Troy is very physically affectionate. He thrives on physical touch. He shows his love for me through that physicality, and so I show it to him in the same way.
Trent doesn’t need as much physical attention. I hug him because I want him to appreciate it and remember it, but he doesn’t need it. More than anything, he needs my energy and attention.
And so, I must modify my mode of parenting to fit his needs. Troy needs to feel my touch. Trent needs to hear what I have to say. I figured out what my boys most need only by spending time with them.
So much of parenthood is about being aware, about observing what your children need. You need to study your children. Learn how they act when something bothers them.
Also, fathers need to become sensitive to what their kids do well and where they struggle. Or when to lend a hand and when to let them loose.
No parenting book or website will tell you how to do these things. It comes only with time and attention. And that time and attention will pay huge dividends, I promise you.
It’s Never Too Late
I know I’m not alone in wondering. Some men reading this live with the pain of a damaged relationship. Others still wake up with a hurt inside them. Maybe they had a hard relationship with their own father.
Maybe you hurt your father. And now that you have children of your own, you long to reconnect, but you don’t know how.
It’s never too late, not if we have breath in our bodies. Our relationships may have bent. They may even have broken. But with time and effort and a whole lot of forgiveness, we can mend them. There is hope!
There’s still a chance to reconnect with your father. There’s still a chance to be a good dad in your role as a father.
The above excerpts consist of content adapted from the previously published novel: The Good Dad by Jim Daly and Paul Asay, published by Focus on the Family.