There is a ubiquitous story told in prison ministry circles that speaks to the state of fatherhood in our day. One year, a group decided to provide cards for inmates on Mother’s Day. The response was overwhelming, as nearly all the inmates showed up to sign and send cards to their mothers. The event was so successful that the group decided to do it again on Father’s Day.
Almost no one participated.
The point of this story? Well, it depends on who you ask. However, at the heart of the discrepancy is fatherlessness, both in terms of the men who are absent from their children’s lives (a major indicator of future incarceration, and a whole host of other maladies), and in terms of the culture’s slow, steady slide into the abyss of radical feminism and anti-masculinity. It’s a two-edged sword; fathers are not there, and the culture argues increasingly that they are not necessary. In the midst of it all are men, both young and old, who are walking into fatherhood amid the confusion and degradation, trying to figure out just what it means.
Fatherhood Expands Your Sphere of Influence
Fathers are incredibly influential, both directly and indirectly. Children were created to respond to the influence of a father. A man can have a complete lack of influence in his personal and professional life, but the day he becomes a father, all of that changes. Children neither know nor care how influential Dad is outside the home. As far as they are concerned, he is the most influential man in the world. This is true regardless of a man’s intentions, or even his presence.
I had no idea how much my father’s absence influenced me until I became a father myself. At that moment, and from then on, I began to see how not having my father in my life had shaped me. Even in his absence, his influence was unavoidable. This is important for new fathers to know. As the old saying goes, “much more is ‘caught’ than taught.” In other words, your children won’t just learn the things you teach them intentionally; they will glean much more from the things you have no idea you are teaching. This includes your mannerisms, sense of humor, temperament, and habits, to name a few. Even your presence (or absence) is influential. This truth is echoed in the wisdom of the Proverbs: “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways” (Proverbs 23:26).
Don’t forget those watching eyes!
Fatherhood Expands Your Dependency
The result of knowing this should not be debilitating fear, but humble faith. Fatherhood is a great equalizer. Every father knows he is not equal to the task. There is so much about ourselves that we want our children to ignore and/or avoid, but we know they won’t. Thus, our only hope is God’s grace. We are utterly dependent upon the Lord to maximize the positive influence we have on our children, and minimize the negative. Our prayer is always, “Lord, give them my faith; not my faults.” However, we know that’s not how it works. Our negative influence is real — from the sin nature we pass down, to the sins we model. So, again, our only hope is the cross.
The tendency is to stick our chests out and take credit for the “good” things our children pick up from us, then turn around and cry, “I don’t understand what went wrong!” when they mirror our faults. However, both instances are opportunities to turn to God in humility and worship. The fact is, my children could glean nothing but the “best” I have to offer, and they would still “[sin] and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). What they truly need does not come from me at all. What they truly need is for the God who saved me to redeem them by his grace, and to rescue them from, among other things, my frailty and sin. Hence, the greatest influence I could hope to exert is that which points my children beyond me to the one who saves.
Where Does That Leave the New Dad?
Are you a new father who has done everything wrong? Pray that God will be gracious to your child in spite of your sin. Are you a new father who has done everything right? First, pray that God will crush your pride and make you realize that you really haven’t done everything right. Then, pray that God will be gracious to your child in spite of your sin. Then sit back and enjoy the ride! I promise, it will go much faster than you imagine.