One of the most terrifying moments of a not-yet-married man’s life is meeting his girlfriend’s father.
The much-anticipated introduction is an unending fountain of humor for friends and family, but it’s more often an occasion for horror for the young man. What will dad say? What will he ask? Will he be armed? The moment is a mountain to overcome in almost any relationship, but I believe it’s a mountain we, as Christians, can capture for the good of the daughter, the suitor, and the father.
May I Marry Your Daughter?
Part of the problem is trying to understand a father’s role in his daughter’s pursuit of marriage. In today’s ideal scenario, she brings home a guy the whole family can love, and the rest is matrimony. But as good as ideal sounds, it’s hard to find that picture in the Bible, and ultimately it’s far too simple for most not-yet-married realities anyways.
What if dad isn’t all that involved in her life? What if her parents aren’t believers? How about if she moved and met her man far away from home? What if she’s still single at 25, 30, maybe even 40? These kinds of complexities can make honoring parents, setting expectations, and finding husbands feel hopeless.
As a trend, dads seem to be less and less involved in their daughter’s dating. It actually makes for a dangerous situation because God means for spiritual headship and leadership to be a more seamless handoff, not this disjointed affair that leaves the young woman spiritually and emotionally uncovered from age fifteen until her wedding day. We’ve relegated dads to a last-minute interview before engagement when God meant for them to be active, available agents of wisdom and safekeeping. And I don’t mean policemen. Foolish dads relish the gun-bearing, tough-guy role. The wise dads relish the opportunity to develop a real, intentional, grace-and-truth relationship with the man who might be tasked with caring for their daughter for the rest of her life.
Where’s My Dad?
In the first pages of Scripture, we find that great love story of Isaac and Rebekah. Completely apart from Isaac, Abraham sends another guy off to find his son a wife. Some code words and a camel ride later, Isaac and Rebekah are tented and covenanted in love. Anyone who’s tried and failed to get married reads that simplicity with at least a little bit of longing.
So is that how we should get married today? Wait for the day dad sends her to Minneapolis on a camel? My dad doesn’t even have a camel. While we can certainly learn about love and marriage from Isaac and Rebekah, I don’t think God intended it to be a manual for getting married in twenty-first-century America. I do think, though, that we may be facing greater evils in our Christian homes today than handpicking fathers.
The options could be described like this: In one case, a daughter’s father picks her husband (an arranged marriage). In a second scenario, dad approves a husband, affirming her wisdom and choice. Another step down, dad concedes, disagreeing with her choice but passively supporting her decision to marry anyway. Finally, and tragically (and most often in our day), dad disappears. The daughter marries a man without dad. For whatever reason — distance, disagreement, divorce, disinterest — dad is out of the picture, and the wedding happens anyway. He might attend, but he had nothing to do with the union.
But what if there was another approach? If dad has typically picked, approved, conceded, or disappeared — what if instead dad discipled? What if a daughter’s father took some responsibility not just in vetting a young man, but in investing in him and preparing him to make much of Jesus in dating and marriage?
Six Tips for Discipleship in Dating
Five years ago, this was nowhere on my radar. But the faithful father of a girl I wanted to date modeled some things for me I’d never experienced before. It wasn’t elaborate or scripted or forced. It was just regular, intentional, and real. The relationship with the young woman didn’t end in marriage, and that was hard, but God used the dad to mature, correct, and encourage me. I have lots of affection, respect, and appreciation for him, and we’re still friends today.
If discipleship — or “dating” your daughter’s boyfriend — sounds like it might be a more effective method than what you’ve tried (or intended to try), here are six pieces of counsel for engaging young men interested in your little girl.
1. If you wait for the talk, you’re too late.
I think most men wait for the suitor to come knocking, asking for the daughter’s hand in marriage. Don’t let it get that far without you. There are too many blessings to be had before she’s a fiancée. Trade the last-minute interview approach for a real relationship of your own with him. Trade distant, hands-off fear tactics for some faithful, down-to-earth discipleship.
Nothing will help you discern if this young man can love your daughter more clearly than a relationship. And nothing will be better for him long-term, whether or not he marries her. Pithy parables or intimidating mandates or climactic conversation (really) can be helpful, but so much more can be accomplished over time together.
Let your first couple conversations be mainly about him, and not her. Demonstrate that you really want to get to know him, not just scare him away. Learn his story. Ask about his hobbies. Study his relationships with his friends and family. Don’t be too proud to take some notes while you do. It probably should be said here that you might consider giving the daughter you raised the benefit of the doubt that maybe she picked well, at least before coming to any quick conclusions. At the same time, remember that even with the “good guy” a resume can’t replace some regular contact. She’s worth it — her faith, safety, and well-being — to spend some time seeing him for yourself.
2. There are sharks, but there are a lot more stupid, but well-meaning fish.
If you talk to some Christian dads of daughters, you’d think every young man was a drug lord, pimp, or terrorist. This happens for two reasons. Dad might have the perception that every man is a walking caricature of the most discouraging trends today — laziness, selfishness, sexual immorality, entitlement, and worse. Or dad might have an unbalanced or unfair standard — the guy who graduated top of his class at the age of eleven, started his own business, built the brand new building for his church, and single-handedly rescued a third-world country from a corrupt regime (or something like that). Dad might unfairly be expecting a lifetime of wisdom, maturity, independence, or faith from a twentysomething.
Either way, fathers need to hear that there are lots of young men who have believed the gospel, been rescued from much of the worldliness around them, are demonstrating trajectories of the fruit of the Spirit, but are still immature. This kind of immaturity might be a reason to press pause on a relationship, or at least slow things down, but it should not be an excuse for dads to withdraw altogether. What if these dads leaned into these young men at this point? What if they came alongside to offer loving wisdom, accountability, and counsel?
Without a doubt, there are sharks — some in very good disguise — who are serious threats to your daughters. We, as the church, need to be vigilant — and train our girls to be vigilant — to identify and guard them from such men. At the same time, there are a lot of good men who simply need to learn and grow. It might be dangerous for your daughter to try and take this on within the context of a romantic relationship, even if she’s spiritually mature. But it would not be dangerous for you to spend at least a little time investing in him, naming areas of need in his life and development, and then providing some appropriate support to him in his growth (even if his immaturities mean he can’t date your daughter right now).
3. Make a man through modeling.
Have her boyfriend in your home. And I don’t mean just once for dinner. I mean welcome him into your family with some regularity. Let him see you love your wife and children. Model manhood for him — the manhood you want to see in his relationship with your daughter. And remember that your home is probably the safest place for them to get to know each other, rather than out and about on their own without loving boundaries and accountability.
More and more often, boys have never seen a man lead and love his family like Christ has led and loved his bride. A lot of them have never even had a chance. And you could be that chance for them, whether or not they ever see your daughter down the aisle. By doing so, you’ll serve and protect your daughter in all kinds of new ways — and not just your daughter, but any other young woman he would date or marry.
4. Don’t hide your failures.
As you model, you’ll discover more the broken and flawed example you really are. You’ll want to hide it — that’s not how I want him to treat my daughter — but don’t. If marriage is about our perfect love for one another, none of us is qualified and none of us is safe. But if marriage is about showing Jesus’s love for imperfect people, our flaws in marriage will help fulfill its purpose, not undermine it.
If he’s going to address his or her mistakes or shortcomings in their relationship with the gospel, he needs to see what that process looks like. Otherwise, it will look like the marriage might collapse if one of them disappoints the other. Your failures (and confession and repentance) as a husband and father will help prepare him to be a better, more humble, more Christ-like husband and father.
5. Daughters, if this sounds scary, you might need to break up with the boy.
Girls, if you’re terrified to have your Jesus-loving father more involved in your boyfriend’s life, that is a red flag for your relationship. Depending on the reason you’re afraid, you might even need to break up with him. God has given you a father for your good. God wants to love you and keep you and protect you and provide for you through this man. And if your father loves your heavenly Father, God will use him to guard and grow your heart for Jesus. As awkward as it might feel at times, make this a qualification for a man wanting to pursue you, that he get to know an older godly man that you know loves you, preferably your father.
6. Dads don’t have to be dads.
Some of you may have been reading and becoming more and more discouraged. Unfortunately, physically or functionally, there are a lot of fatherless daughters in the world, and in the church. You might have lost your dad as a child. Disease, an accident, addiction, violence — there’s no easy way to lose him. It hurts, and it keeps hurting.
But our God is not only a God for the fathered. More than anyone has in history, he loves the orphan, those abandoned biologically, as well as those who’ve been left spiritually. And he has wonderfully provided men to father when fathers can’t or won’t.
They might be a grandparent, pastor, uncle, family friend, neighbor, or just a godly man in your church. In your average, Bible-loving evangelical church, there are very likely faithful, Jesus-following, older men who can help you walk through this relationship. They can love you and your boyfriend well, and lead the two of you toward safety in your intimacy and clarity about the future. Perhaps point them to an article like this to help them help you.
Men, consider this a call to arms. Too many of our young women are giving themselves away to unworthy men because there’s no worthy man in their life to tell them differently. Their craving to finally be loved might cause them to make unhealthy compromises, but it’s far less likely if someone loves them enough to know what’s going on and keep them from destroying themselves.
Fathers, there really is another more effective, more loving, more fruitful way for you to care for your daughters in their pursuit of marriage. Be willing to take the initiative with the young man early on, and then be willing to follow through with some practical, gracious, firm, consistent disciplemaking. Our young women need this kind of love from you, and our young men need the kinds of examples and mentors that will help make them mature pictures of Jesus in their marriages and families.
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