We dads see it in our lives so easily. We think about the cliché that we know is a cliché for a reason. Dad works too many hours. Girl longs for a male figure to show her the respect, honor, and love she needs especially as an adolescent. When dad doesn’t meet those very real needs, girl finds them in wrong, destructive places. Sometimes it sets her on a life course from which she never truly recovers.
Yeah, each story has different nuances, twists, and turns. Inevitably, however, the stories have the same beginning and the same end. Dad isn’t there. Girl ends up in destructive life circumstances. It’s not just girls that suffer from a lack of attention and/or misdirected attention from dad. It’s the boys too. There’s a reason why it’s said that all sons are on either one of two journeys. They either (a) try to live up to their dad or (b) try to make up for their dad. We dads think about stuff like this.
It’s not because we’re neurotic either. Really smart people have been studying the importance of dads for a while now. In her book Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and Food, Margo Maine argued that father hunger (caused by father absenteeism) leaves the daughter navel gazing and seeking her self-esteem in external sources like her peers. Of course, thought and study of a father’s influence far predates Margo’s book in the 90’s. It was Sigmund Freud who said about 100 years ago, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
None of this is academic for us dads. It can’t be for any dad who loves his kid. And I do love mine. I finally understand quotes like, “There is nothing that moves a loving father’s soul quite like his child’s cry.” It’s not just her cries that get me. I love her current obsession with Minnie Mouse. I think she has the best dance moves this earth has ever seen. I’m ridiculously proud of her when she asks to use the potty. And I can barely stand it when she says, “daddy.” Her mommy is my queen and she is my princess.
So yeah, we dads think about this stuff. We can’t have little girls or grown up boys who are starved, searching, and hurting for dad. And if I know anything about my God, he can’t have that either.
So tonight on my quest for a godly fatherhood, I grabbed Luther’s Small Catechism. Incredible work. I’m constantly stunned by its wonderful simplicity. I’m finally figuring out after 33 years of life that simple is about all I can really handle. And I turned to this little section called the Table of Duties. It’s a handy dandy little book of instructions for various roles. I found the one for parents and read, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. (See Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21.)”
Yup. That’s it. Startling, isn’t it? Fathers play this outsized, huge, enormous, insert-your-own-adjective-here role in the lives of their children and yet God is incredibly quiet on the subject. Two don’ts and only one do. That’s it. Don’t exasperate. Don’t embitter. Do bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. That’s it.
There’s no explicit message about dads providing for their kids. There’s nothing that says you should date your daughter. There’s no instruction to make your son belly laugh once a day. There’s no word on letting boys be boys. There are no tips on iPad usage with toddlers (Boy would I love that. She just said iPad for the first time this week. We’re in trouble!). There are two don’ts and one do. Don’t exasperate. Don’t embitter. Do bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
You know why? I think it’s pretty simple actually. Those two don’ts are two things we dads must NEVER EVER do. Why not? It not only ruins our relationship with our kids. It ruins kids. Bitter kids spite dads who then try to teach them the Word. Exasperated kids can’t hear - I mean really hear - from their dad exactly what God so desperately wants them to hear - God’s message to them through their dad. Don’t embitter. Don’t exasperate. Do ALWAYS, ALWAYS bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
That’s not to say that dads aren’t busy doing other things too. God assumes they are. They have compassion on their kids (Psalm 103:13). They discipline (Proverbs 3:11-12). They carry (Deuteronomy 1:31). They exhort and encourage (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). God wants and is assuming that we as fathers are doing many things for our children. But he’s taken the time to give us only two don’ts and one do that are specific and explicit to how dads are to relate to their children.
And that’s what brings me back to Sanctus Real. It is a moving and powerful song. I really do like it. It lays out a narrative that is all too real. Men fail as leaders of their family. The commands are simple and short. Don’t exasperate. Don’t embitter. Do bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. I’ll get personal. When I hear that my soul says, "Ouch." I have failed my princess. No, that’s not true either. I have failed God’s princess. And, I, more than anybody else should know better! That’s why I can’t get through the song without a fighting back a tear.
But I need to tell you dads that the song is incomplete. It’s one verse short. It asks the question, “(Father) won’t you lead me?” And never answers it. That’s something I might forget do. It’s not something God would ever forget to do. He always answers questions like that. ALWAYS.
Because that’s what our Father does. He’s a Father to us fathers.
When we pose the question, “Father, won’t you lead me?” He immediately answers with the gospel. He tells us that he is strong precisely because and when we aren’t. He tells us that he was, is, and will be an ever-present Father for us and our children whether we are present or not. And get this: he promises that the same brokenness that we pass on to our children and, sadly, even cause our children at times is forgiven in his Son, Jesus. And as if that weren’t enough, he promises to roll back all that pain, reverse it, and heal it through Jesus’ final and complete Messianic kingdom that we often call heaven. I can’t wait!
I’ll tell you what fellow fathers. Let’s head to the gospel this Father’s Day. It is an incredible grace to be a father. So influential. So powerful. So important. It probably can’t be overstated. That means that at least for me I need a whole truckload of grace from my Father in Jesus Christ. And the gospel tells me I’ve got it.
For what it’s worth, below is an alternate ending to the song spoken from our Father to fathers.
I’ll lead you with strong hands | I’ll stand up when you can’t | Won’t leave you hungry for love, | Chasing things that don’t fill up
I’ve shown you I’m willing to fight | I’ve given the best of my life (Jesus!) | So you can finally come home | I’ll lead you ‘cause you can’t do this alone.