Never before has there been a day or a culture in which fathers have faced greater obstacles than in our day. It has never been more difficult to be a good father than it is now. Look at our culture and you’ll see evidence of this everywhere.
The crisis is not just that there is an absence of fathers, it’s that there is an absence of a belief in the importance and nature of fatherhood. So this Father’s Day we will talk about a few myths that are prevalent in our culture, and then talk about things fathers can do if they want to be successful fathers in this day and age.
Happy Father’s Day!
I know some of you this morning have experienced a fair amount of joy and gratitude because of the years you’ve spent with your father.
I also know that for some in this room there has been a fair amount of pain, either because of the loss of a father, or because there was a lot more ambivalence in that relationship, or a lot more difficulty or heartache.
So I want to talk today to the dads who are among us, because I believe that increasingly we live in a society where dads struggle.
We may be physically present, but we often wrestle with really being there.
We’re often preoccupied.
We get distracted.
We have things on our mind.
We withdraw into an emotional cave.
We have a hard time paying attention.
We walk through the door, but sometimes we’re just not home. We’re not really home.
This was in an article in The Boston Globe. I’m not making this up. It’s quoted in a book by a guy named Dave Barry.
A father in Massachusetts had his two children with him, and he was loading them into his car. He did (give him credit) remember to strap his twenty-month old daughter into the car. But the amount of concentration required for a guy to remember this type of childcare detail can put a lot of strain on his mental equipment, so he went into acute “guy memory lapse” and forgot that he had placed a carseat containing his three-month old son on the roof of the car.
As he accelerated onto Interstate 290, he sensed that something was wrong when, according to The Globe, he heard a scraping sound on the roof of the car.
This is classic guy behavior, Barry notes. He doesn’t notice that he has only fifty percent of his total children inside the car with him, but he does notice that his car is making a funny noise.
Anyway, the car is going about fifty miles per hour when the carseat containing the three-month old boy sailed off the roof and landed on Interstate 290, where the it skidded safely to a stop with the boy unhurt.
So this story has a happy ending… except, of course, that this particular guy had to tell his wife what happened. I bet she rolled her eyeballs into the next state.
And as a clincher, do you want to guess on what day this event happened? It was Mothers’ Day.
Guys often wrestle with, even if they’re physically present, actually being there — doing something more than just showing up.
Now very often, very different messages get sent to mothers than get sent to fathers.
Often in our society, in books that are written and messages given, mothers get a lot of sympathy. They get commiserated with. The basic message that goes to mothers is that motherhood is an overwhelming task. So it’s no wonder if you feel swamped and stressed and overwhelmed. You just need to ease up on yourself, lower the expectations, accept reality — it’s an impossible job.
Very often, those are the kinds of messages that mothers get.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for Mothers’ Day messages like that. I think they’re good things. But very often dads tend to get preached at, on Fathers’ Day and in books and so on — “You should be doing more. Your priorities should be different. They’re all wrong. You ought to be more like moms are.” ..those kinds of messages.
Dads tend not to get a whole lot of sympathy.
I want to give you a few interesting statistics.
The average American father typically is equally as or slightly more free at expressing verbal affection as the average American mom.
The average American husband actually spends slightly more time doing domestic chores, if you include yard work and auto maintenance, slightly more time doing domestic chores than the American wife who works an equal number of hours outside the home.
The American father, on average, gives non-disciplinary physical touch to young children more times a day than the average American mom.
Those are pretty interesting statistics. Unfortunately, I just made them all up. I did. But they’re pretty interesting.
I believe that never before has there been a day or a culture in which fathers have faced greater obstacles than in our day.
I believe that it has never been harder to be a good father than in it is now, and I think you can just look at our culture and see evidence of this all over the place.
And the crisis is not just that there is an absence of fathers, although there is.
There is, in our culture, an absence of our belief in the importance and the nature of fatherhood.
So I want to talk this morning about a few myths that I believe are prevalent in our culture, a few myths about fatherhood that keep fathers from being fully home; and then after that talk for just a couple of moments about things that fathers can do if they want to be successful fathers.
A few myths, now, about fatherhood in our day, and the first one is this:
Fathers are optional relationships.
The first myth about fatherhood is the myth that fathers are optional relationships.
And I want to say very clearly this morning that God’s plan is not that fathers are optional. Fathers are as non-optional as mothers are.
Now I want to pause, having said this, and say something very, very clear this morning.
I want to just take a moment for us together to recognize the fact that in our midst are many single parents, particularly many single moms, and they face a monumental task.
And Fathers’ Day can often be a painful day for people in this position because life is difficult enough, and when they hear talk about how indispensable fathers are, it can make it that much more difficult or even demotivating.
So I thought it would be appropriate for us to just take a moment to stop and recognize those of you who seek to raise and to nurture and to support a family as single parents in God-honoring ways.
You face a Herculean task, and your perseverance and your faithfulness and your determination in the face of overwhelming obstacles is an inspiration to all of us and is honorable in the sight of God.
And you need to know you are heroes. You need to know that you are heroes. And it just makes it that much more important for all of us to recognize about fathers that fatherhood is not about being an optional relationship.
A well known celebrity who decided to become a parent without having a father in the family said: “Men are pinch-hitters. What’s the big deal?”
In other words, the father’s just a pinch hitter, just to be there when the mom, who is the regular player, is unavailable.
You see, this kind of thinking is popular in our society.
Quick survey here. For those dads who are here in this room — would you just actually physically raise your hand for a moment and put it down.
Now how many of you in your family ever went through a phase, at least for a single day, where at least one child preferred mom? Any other dads besides me go through that?
How many of you sometimes would rather be with the child’s mom than your own self?
Often it can be discouraging to fathers or lead them to underestimate the important role that they play in the life of their children.
And very often it’s a time-limited thing, it’s a function of the way time gets spent. It’s a phase that children pass through… and I just want to take a moment to note that you are indispensable to the life of your child, because God planned it this way.
There’s a verse in the Bible, from the book of Ephesians (a letter Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus), and there’s a statement there that’s addressed to fathers.
This is what Paul says:
And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In other words, Paul’s assumption is that fathers are intimately involved, by necessity, in the raising of children. So that when he talks about the process of shaping a child’s life, he naturally addresses fathers.
In our culture, fathers often think of themselves as spectators in child-raising. But it has not always been so.
200 years ago, when child-raising manuals were written, generally they were addressed to fathers.
200 years ago, in American society if a couple went through a divorce, custody of the children almost always went to the father, because there was an assumption that dads were intimately involved in raising their children.
They were involved in passing along life skills that would enable their children to live and function outside the home.
They were involved in preparation for marriage, and very often in the selection of a life partner.
They were involved in the moral and religious education of their children.
If you are a father, you bring unique gifts to the life of your child. God did not make you to be a pinch-hitter. You are not an optional relationship.
Alright, the second myth that I believe is widespread in our culture is that:
The workplace has changed to meet the needs of the new father.
The myth is the workplace has changed to make fathering easy. The workplace has become more father-friendly, it has changed to meet the needs of the new father.
Now the dads that I talk to are very aware of inflated expectations for fathers in our day.
In the older generations alive today, the only thing that tended to get talked about was that a father was supposed to provide materially for his children. But today the bar has been raised.
Dads are supposed to be as successful as ever, but they’re also supposed to be skilled in verbal intimacy in their marriage, they’re supposed to be psychologically informed about the stages that their children will go through, they’re supposed to be developmentally-appropriate nurturers just as mothers are. The bar has just kept getting raised and raised and raised.
And the myth is that the workplace has adjusted itself to cut some slack to dads so that they can be well-rounded fathers.
But the truth is that we still live in a world where a man’s self-esteem will largely be boosted by career advancement.
We still live in a world where it is primarily achievement, promotion, job fulfillment and so on that gets rewarded in men in our culture, not what kind of father he is.
Fathers don’t very often make the headlines for success in our day.
So to any man who says he’s going to invest himself in the task of fathering, you just need to know you’re going to have to swim against the tide of our culture.
The implicit cultural view is that becoming a mother will totally change a woman’s life, but that fathering is something that a man can do kind of on the side in his spare time, and it should not be allowed to impede his drive for success.
If you’re going to be a dad in our society, given the way that the reinforcement structure works, you need to see fatherhood for what it is. It’s a costly deal. It’s a costly deal. There’s just no way around that.
But it is also a heroic and noble endeavor. It is a call for the very best that you have to give.
It’s not a hobby. It’s not something to do on the side. It will call for your best intelligence and for your finest judgment and for your heart. It will require a very tough decision of a man to say, “I will devote time and energy to what is valuable over what will bring me external rewards.”
You need to see fatherhood for what it is. The workplace has not changed to produce automatically good dads.
Alright, the third myth… first one is fathers are optional relationships. Second one is the workplace has changed to make fathering easy. The third myth is:
I will receive regular feedback on how I’m doing as a father.
This is a difficult one because most men in our culture tend to be feedback junkies. We grow up in a kind of performance-based world where we can measure how we’re doing based on our win-loss record in sports or our GPA in school, or when we get into jobs our profit and loss margins.
Those statements just become part of our daily world. We like hard, objective numbers that tell us where we are in the standings. We get satisfaction from things that are concrete and measurable.
But in fatherhood game, the data is very messy.
We’d be more comfortable if the fatherhood game could be scored and be made into a kind of competitive sport — “I’m in third place right now, but two more fishing trips and I should qualify for the fatherhood playoffs.” Something like that.
Now when you become a father, you make an investment, and you may not see the payoff, the return on that for many years. You may never see it.
It requires the patience to keep on playing without knowing the score. And that’s very counter intuitive for most of us.
It means that very often you’ll go through long stretches of time where you don’t really know how well you’re doing. You don’t get immediate feedback. It’s just the way the fatherhood game works.
Alright, these are a few of the myths we face as fathers. Now I want to spend the rest of our time this morning talking about what are some things that people do when they want to win at the fatherhood game. How do we become fully present?
And hopefully this will be helpful to everyone who wants to be fully present to the people they love, but especially these are for dads.
The first thing is this… if you want to win at the fatherhood game, the first thing is:
Learn to love the journey.
Learn to love the process of being a father.
This is difficult because many of us tend to be outcome-oriented versus process-oriented. That is, we tend to focus on objectives and goals and end results, and our attention is on the destination.
And if you’re an outcome-oriented person, then your goal is to minimize the process — you want to produce the required result with the least expenditure of time and energy.
But childhood does not work that way. Childhood is about the journey. The journey is the gift.
So that, for instance, when it’s bedtime, often in my mind I will think, if one of my kids hands me a book to read to them, “Okay, how many pages are there and how many words per page, and how can I read through this as quickly as possible? And maybe I can summarize bits of it so that I can skip a few pages.”
A child doesn’t work that way, doesn’t think that way.
And so my challenge is instead, for however long or short the time may be (and it may not be all that long), just to be fully there. And to think about this now as kind of a gift, to build a bridge, to learn about my child, to disclose my heart.
Learn to love the journey.
Now a real practical thing that this means for fathers is don’t fall into the habit (and this often can happen) of habitually deferring to the mother. Don’t fall into the habit of deferring to the mother.
Very often around a house, “Ask your mom” becomes kind of a standard phrase. It’s the default mode of dealing with eating habits or clothing styles or screen time or sleep patterns or so on.
So this morning I want us to have a moment together of father empowerment, okay? Just a moment of father empowerment right now.
I’m going to say a few statements, I’m going to ask all of the fathers here to repeat them with a sense of power.
And so, moms, if you’re here, just kind of butt out for a minute because this is just for fathers.
Dads, you may want to clench your fists or something that will give you a sense of power now as you say these.
Alright fathers, we’ll say these words together. Here’s the first one:
“I can decide what’s for snack.” You can do it, you really can. Alright dads, let’s say it together. No moms. “I can decide what’s for snack.”
Here’s the second one. It’s about power for fathers now, fathers having a whole new realm of empowerment. “I have a say about bedtime.” Okay dads, all together, “I have a say about bedtime.” You have that power.
Here’s the third one: “WWE Friday Night Smackdown is developmentally appropriate.” Okay, you don’t have to say that one.
The truth is that the ability to choose wisely for a child, the ability to make wise choices about a child’s life is not a magical thing. It’s not a result of some kind of mysterious maternal instinct, nor is it a product of some kind of inside track to power that goes to the one that gets to make all the decisions.
It is based on knowing your child. It’s simply based on knowing the child.
And so part of the task of being a father is to think about fatherhood as something that you learn how to do over time. Fathering is something that you learn how to do over time.
Biological fatherhood may happen in an instant, but real fathering, fathering the way God Himself fathers, is something you learn by doing.
And the more that you practice it, the more skilled you will become at it and the more joy you will receive in it.
And dads tend to understand that kind of thing, and so you need to think about fatherhood now in that category — it’s something you can learn to get better and better at as you practice it, just for its own sake.
Another thing that goes along with this is coming to: Understand your unique gifts as a father.
First thing to do is learn to love the journey. Secondly, understand the unique gifts that you have to offer as a father, because you have something to offer your child that’s irreplaceable.
God has not put you where you are by accident. And very often, what you have to offer will differ from what a mother has to offer.
Now it’s not universally true and I’m not suggesting that this stuff is all biologically based, but very often the kinds of gifts that a father will bring will be different from the kinds of gifts that a mother will bring.
For instance, both moms and dads tend to think about a part of their tasks as protecting their children, but they look differently at protection.
Moms tend to think about protecting their children in terms of safeguarding them. So for instance, a mom will say if she sees her children playing with sticks with other kids, “Put down those sticks. Don’t play with sticks, because if you play with sticks you will probably poke an eye out.”
Mothers are always concerned with eye removal when it comes to sticks. Never a lost tooth, never a broken jaw, always eye removal… although it’s a fairly rare thing.
I’m 48 years old. I have never met a person with only one eye and asked them, “How did you lose your eye?” and have them say, “Well, I was playing with sticks, and… You know the story. You know how it goes.”
But mothers are always concerned. Number one reason you should avoid playing with sticks is eye removal.
Fathers, on the other hand, understand that playing with sticks is often a critical developmental task, and their job is to teach their children the one right way to play with sticks, so that if someone’s eye gets poked out, it won’t be yours.
Dads tend to think about protection not so much as safeguarding but in terms of preparation. They’re invested in protecting their children, but they will think about it — again, not universally but very often — in terms of preparation.
And so for them protection will often involve things like challenging and stretching their children.
The point of all of this is simply to say, whoever you are, you are a non-optional relationship. You have something to offer your child based on who you are that your child won’t get if you don’t give it, so you need to understand your unique gifts.
And then, the final thing I’ll mention this morning… And I don’t know how to highlight this one enough.
Open your heart to your child.
If you’re a dad, don’t keep your heart a secret. Find ways to value your child and make sure that your child feels loved, because every child hungers to know his or her place in their father’s heart, and that hunger never goes away. It never does.
Deep inside every human being there is a hunger to know about the place in the heart of your father.
Some of you know that place, and it brings great gratitude and joy.
Some of you have never been given that gift, and maybe you never will, and there’s an ache inside of you to be loved like that.
So I want to say to the dads here — open your hearts. I want to encourage you to do it even though it might feel awkward, because the magic in something like that is not that you do it with eloquence or smoothly, it’s that you address a hunger that goes about as deep as any hunger can go inside the human spirit.
And you need to know if you’re a father and you have a child in this world, it’s not too late.
Fathers tend to underestimate the role they play in the hearts of their children, and if you’re a dad, you’re likely to think that your child, especially if your child has grown up, that your child has friends, activities, or a full life, and that you’re someplace on the margin in your child’s life.
If nothing else, you need to understand this: That for better or for worse, by your presence or by your absence, you stand at the heart of your child’s world.
And if your child is still in this world, it’s not too late to let him or her know.
And if you’re a child here this morning, and your dad is around, then I just want to encourage you not to wait to express your love for your father.
Now your dad may be flawed, and it may be that there are other things that need to get expressed by way of honesty or confession or forgiveness… or maybe there needs to be a period of time before something like that happens, but I want to encourage you to think about the possibility, if you’re a child, that it’s time today, some way or another, to open your heart up to your father.
Most of all I want to express a fundamental truth the writers of Scripture teach. You need to hear this truth, whoever your dad may be, or may have been — there is a God in Heaven, and He is so filled with love and tenderness towards you, that Jesus teaches us to call Him “Abba,” which is a word which means something like “Daddy.”
And one day, the door will open between all of His children and that heavenly Father, and then there will be no more separation, and then all of God’s children will know the strength of arms that do not fail, and they will be home with their Father.
Let me say a prayer and then the band will come lead us in a closing song.
Now, God, for all of those here to whom this day brings great joy and gratitude, we give you thanks.
For all of those here to whom this day brings a fair amount of pain, we ask your comfort and healing.
And most of all, God, we acknowledge and honor you for giving us the kind of love and the kind of tenderness and concern that the greatest father who has ever lived on this earth is only the dim shadow of. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Blue Oaks Church