What does it mean to be a good father? What does it mean to be a bad father? Let me first offer some assumptions about fatherhood so that I neither lead you astray nor steal away your time. It is challenging to be a good father without first being a good husband. Even though I am for full inclusion in the church, marriage is more than an important step in the selfless parenthood journey. Learning to love your spouse (regardless of how your tradition defines spouse) in a covenantal relationship is important groundwork for learning how to love a child. Falling into love is real and exciting and breathtakingly wonderful, but love that is sustained in sickness, health, wealth, poverty, good times and bad is a love born out of a holy commitment when spouses offer selfless service to one another. Marriage isn’t 50/50. It is 100% all the way.
Learning to serve and love your spouse prepares you for serving and loving the baby who offers nothing in return, except for the crying, diapers, uncomfortable feedings, and sleeplessness. Eventually you get to do some pretty cool things with your kids like camping, t-ball, recitals, driving lessons, and prom (maybe I should have ended the list sooner?), but those early days are trying. Really trying. If you haven’t learned to love your spouse who can (and should) reciprocate your devotion, then is it is quite difficult to love a baby who is only in need.
The second step in being a good father is patient selflessness. The example you set creates a framework from which your children understand the world. With that said, children aren’t perfect reflections of their parents. Obviously when they do well it’s my fault, and when they screw up it is clearly the teacher’s or coach’s fault right? This weekend I enjoyed seeing my oldest daughter in a dance recital. Near the front a screaming child was becoming a bit of a distraction. The mother tried her best to quite the young child, but nothing was working. As a pastor I don’t mind a screaming child. Some churches would mortgage their sanctuary to hear a child’s voice overpowering the organ. I was fine until I heard another parent yell from the middle of the auditorium, “Take the kid out. It’s called sacrifice.” It was at this point that I was aggravated—not at the child, but because of the pompous arrogance of the heckler making matters worse. It was obvious that the one who didn’t know how to act in public and the one who needs to learn sacrifice was the boisterous parent. What lesson did that parent’s child learn that day?
Finally, a good father listens. A good father really listens to his children. I don’t mean taking their advice (good Lord, no!) or letting them be the center of the universe (good Lord, no again!) but one of the most hurtful feelings is dismissal, the feeling that you really don’t matter. Taking the time to close the computer, put away the Xbox (it was for the kids anyway, right?), and not run out the door on the next hunting excursion shows your children that they matter to you. You already matter to them (at least before they are teenagers). That’s not the point. Through taking the time to show your kids that they matter they will begin to learn what it means to “Love thy neighbor.” What a world this would be if we could just master that single rule.
I’m not the perfect dad, and neither are you, but through learning to love, living in patient selflessness, and taking the time to listen, maybe we will begin to understand why Jesus called God, “Our Father.”