The Importance of Fathers — A Spiritual Foundation for the Family
Fathers have the awesome responsibility of laying a spiritual foundation in the home. But what does that mean, exactly? How can you be the dad your family needs?
As a young boy, my life was virtually devoid of positive male influences, spiritual or otherwise.
As a result, much of what I’ve learned about healthy fatherhood came later in life, through the influence of mentors and, most importantly, the study of Scripture. Fathers can learn so much about what to do (and what not to do!) by looking to the Bible and learning from the example of our Heavenly Father.
With that in mind, here are six ways you can set the spiritual tone and be the dad your family needs.
Nearly 20 million children in America—that’s almost 1 in 4—live without a father in the home. Sadly, children in this situation face unique challenges. Statistically, they’re more likely to grow up with financial challenges and more likely to drop out of school. Boys from fatherless homes are more likely to be involved in a violent crime, while girls are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers. In addition:
A father’s involvement matters, and the earlier the better. But physical presence is only part of the equation. In many homes, the father is still on the scene in a technical sense, but emotionally absent. And again, research shows that children suffer when fathers are unable or unwilling to engage with their children on a meaningful level. In contrast, children thrive when they have involved fathers. For example, one study revealed that teens who described their fathers as “involved” or “highly involved” were 98 percent more likely to graduate from college than those who reported minimal father involvement.
Statistics aside, even fathers with the best of intentions will struggle to feel like they’re consistently and sufficiently “there” for their children physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As a result, this may leave some fathers feeling like they are bad parents. Yet, dads don’t need to be perfect, and in fact, they can’t be perfect. But the more they’re able to be an active, positive presence in their kids’ lives, the more those sons and daughters will be able to understand the heart of God Himself, who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Although we often read about how important it is for fathers to serve as healthy role models for their sons, a dad’s relationship with his daughters is no less important. A young girl’s sense of self is closely tied to her relationship with her father. That’s why it’s critical that dads validate their daughters throughout their childhood. How do they do that? By being present for important events in her life (sports, school plays, birthdays, etc.). By spending quality time with her one-on-one. By giving her appropriate physical affection, even during the teen years. And by asking her questions, soliciting her input, and treating her as an equal.
Early in your marriage, you probably learned that your wife sometimes wants you to just listen to her when she’s frustrated, rather than having you jump in and try to solve the problem. The same is true for your daughter. She wants to be heard. She wants to be understood. There will be times to offer guidance and feedback, but there will be many other times when it’s important to simply listen. You’ll soon discover that you can learn a lot from your daughter’s female perspective on various issues. Celebrate and affirm her in that!
A father’s role in the life of his son is paramount. Common sense and decades of solid research testify to this. Dr. David Popenoe, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, puts it this way:
“Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers… provide protection and economic support and male role models. They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.”[i]
Dad, if you want your son to grow up to be responsible and engaged, to respect women, and to demonstrate the Christ-like qualities of a servant-leader, it’s up to you to set the standard! Again, you don’t have to be perfect in this regard. In fact, it’s better if you allow your son to see you mess up sometimes and if you own your mistakes. But don’t underestimate the singular importance of your influence on him. Finally, note that what a family needs from dad is different from what is needed from mom . You are unique and indispensable!
Our society’s view of manhood is severely broken. In the absence of involved fathers, a generation of boys has grown up not knowing what it means to be men. In that void, numerous problems have emerged, whether in the form of toxic masculinity or of men who simply can’t or won’t launch into the real world. They won’t step up, they won’t commit, and they have no idea how to support themselves, let alone a wife or family. A son needs his dad to show him how it’s done.
[i] David Popenoe, Life Without Father, (New York: The Free Press, 1996)
We know from Scripture that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). As fathers, we should do the same. Some dads, especially if they’re the primary breadwinner, want to be Mr. Fun-and-Games when they’re at home, leaving it up to Mom to be the enforcer, the bad cop. This is a mistake. Your family needs to see Dad apply the rules at home consistently.
Don’t let the noble desire to create quality, fun time with your kids turn into an excuse not to discipline them when it’s appropriate to do so. They need you, as well as their mom, to help them understand that there are consequences for certain actions and behaviors at every age and stage. Take heart in the knowledge that “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
On the other hand, if life was just about keeping the rules, God would squash every one of us into dust. But He’s not just a God of justice—He’s a God of grace and mercy and forgiveness. As dads, our families need to see us model this same spirit with our kids when they fall short of the mark, and even after they’ve been openly defiant.
This delicate balance between discipline and grace will look different depending on the ages and personalities of your children. Some kids need a bit more structure and “black-and-white” thinking in order to stay on track. Others will thrive more when mercy is extended rather than justice. The more quality time you spend with your kids, the better understanding you’ll have of when to exercise discipline and when to extend grace. It’s never an either/or proposition.
One of the best ways a man can create a strong spiritual foundation in the home is to love his wife! Your kids will be more likely to grow up to have healthy opposite-sex relationships outside the home if you will model it for them while they’re still a captive audience.
This is a prime area where identity and values are “caught” more than “taught.” If you want your sons to treat girls with respect, don’t give them a lecture—consistently treat their mom with respect! Likewise, if you want your daughters to be attracted to men who are humble, kind, and gracious, model those behaviors with your wife every chance you get. Your wife will appreciate it and your children will think you are a super dad.
Being the dad your family needs will not only benefit your marriage and your parenting, it will give your kids another chance to see the deeper meaning of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
Being present, understanding the unique needs of daughters and sons, exercising discipline, giving grace, and loving your kids’ mother—that’s a daunting list for any man! Don’t be afraid to mess up from time to time. Your family doesn’t need you to be perfect, Dad. That isn’t the goal; the fact that each of these practices points to the attributes of God Himself proves that we’re not up to the task on our own. We can’t be like the Almighty. Rather, through prayer and humility, we can endeavor to point our children to Him in big and small ways every day.
When you’re present, they’ll be reminded of the God who said, “Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
When you’re attuned to the different needs of your daughters and sons, you’ll spare them the frustration of a one-size-fits-all approach and will be better equipped to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
Furthermore, when you discipline them, they’ll get the message that “whoever loves discipline loves knowledge” (Proverbs 12:1). And when you extend grace, they’ll understand that God “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities… As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10,13).
In addition, when you love their mom, they’ll see a faint glimpse of the unbreakable bond between Christ, the Bridegroom, and His bride, the Church: “What therefore God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:9).
Finally, when you practice dedication and commitment as a dad, you’ll point your family, albeit haltingly and imperfectly, to a Heavenly Father who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
And that is the type of dad your family needs!
© 2019 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. First published on FocusOnTheFamily.com in October.