Calling Dads Back To The Basics
“Father knows best,” according to the old adage. Yet today’s culture seems to promote the idea that fathers know nothing. While a tragic number of men are missing in action where their families are concerned, others long to become the leaders and role models Christ calls them to be. How can dads reclaim their positions of godly influence? To explore this complex and emotionally-charged topic, George Paul Wood, Enrichment executive editor, interviewed Roger Gibson, senior director of Adult and Family Ministries for the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Mo.; Carey Casey, CEO of the National Center for Fathering in Kansas City, Mo.; and Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo.
So often interviews about fatherhood start off with the negative, and I thought it would be better to start off by laying some more positive foundations. Why are fathers important?
CASEY: God gave us the name father. Not belittling women or mothers in any way, but He gave us His name; He gave us His heart. In Malachi 4:6, the last verse in the Old Testament, God said He would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, or the land will continue to be cursed.
He is just so excited to be our Father. And dads really do love their kids and want to help them.
STANTON: The beginning point is that God reveals himself as Father, but as His Father [i.e., Jesus’ Father]. As I often say, that’s just not motif. That is actually who He is, and that’s His heart toward us.
It takes a contribution from a male to create a new life, but fatherhood is so much more than that. And fathers contribute to the life of a child — boys and girls — in very unique ways, ways that moms simply cannot. That’s not because of any shortcoming in moms, but God created us male and female to show forth His image. Divine characteristics exist in a woman’s femininity and in a man’s masculinity. Those are first demonstrated in creating new life, but also raising that new life to maturity — to real, full humanness — and helping little girls become great women and little boys great men. Dads are just irreplaceable.
What do fathers contribute to the spiritual well-being of their children?
GIBSON: When we have our children, we desire for them to grow up and be lovers of Jesus. We always hear about helping a child be self-confident, but we really raised our family based on God confidence and John 15:5. We taught them you can’t do anything apart from Him.
I really wanted my son to know what it means to become a fully-devoted follower of Jesus. I want to raise up my daughter to become a Spirit-empowered woman and to know what a godly man looks like so she can expect that of the men in her life.
STANTON: Children, particularly our sons, need to see a dad who is strong and can take control of a situation. But when he approaches the Lord, he’s also humble and respectful. And he’s humble when he has to apologize to somebody. He’s a servant.
Those are powerful sermons to our kids on so many levels. For the girls, it teaches them respect: “My dad respects me; he honors me; he respects other women. He respects my mom the most.”
But for the son, it’s teaching him how to be. And he wants to do it not so much because it’s right, but he wants to do it because he saw his dad do it.
In 1996, David Blankenhorn published Fatherless America. In that book, he wrote, “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation.” We’ve talked about what fathers contribute to the overall well-being of their children physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. What harm does fatherlessness impose?
STANTON: The research is large, diverse, and robust. In every important measure of child well-being for boys and for girls, fatherhood plays a very positive role.
A child who lives without a father is significantly more likely to live in poverty. Fatherlessness impacts graduation rates, school performance, psychological and physical well-being, criminal involvement, teen pregnancy, college attendance — and on and on it goes. Fathers play huge roles.
CASEY: And when you look at what’s happening in a lot of our urban communities, where so many babies are born out of wedlock, you see poverty, a high dropout rate, and girls being pregnant as teenagers. So that’s why we really have to battle and fight for fathers to be involved in their children’s lives. Even if they’re divorced, they are not off the hook.
Churches, as well, can step up. Men can provide father figures to children in their neighborhoods and communities.
In the late 1960s, political leader Daniel Patrick Moynihan was probably the first person to identify this problem. But I think Blankenhorn spoke with sort of a landmark book. Has there been any improvement in the situation since Blankenhorn wrote, or has the fatherlessness crisis gotten worse?
STANTON: In terms of numbers, it’s crazy and sad. When Moynihan came out with his report in 1965 (and I would encourage people to go online and look up the Moynihan report) the out-of-wedlock childbearing rate in the African-American community was 25 percent. Now it’s up to 75 to 79 percent. In the Caucasian community, it’s around 29 percent. And the numbers continue to get worse.
The good news is the fatherless rate is not rising as fast as it has in the past. But we have to do something to turn these numbers around.
What are some practical ways Christian men can become better fathers?
GIBSON: One of the greatest things we can do for our kids is have our home be a marriage-centered home. A dad needs to be sure his marriage is a priority and that his kids know his relationship with his wife is not only of utmost importance to him, but his commitment to her is for life — until death do us part.
Kids benefit from having a mom and dad who are happily married and in a relationship with God. Sons get to see how a husband treats his wife and honors her. Daughters get to see what a godly husband looks like. And he is leading the home not only in loving his wife, but also in being a spiritual mentor in the home — a home that is sharing what it means to love God and to love others and as you love yourself. And those are the greatest commandments.
Another area that is really important for Christian men is serving. I’m a big proponent of family missions and going out and serving together. When the kids are serving and seeing dad leading and mom happy, it really does a lot for their spiritual growth.
What about Christian men who are, for instance, divorced from their children’s mother or never married, and when they have become stepfathers through remarriage? What do those men need to keep in mind to be good fathers?
CASEY: It can be a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. A blended family still needs to have that same priority of making sure that the ex-wife and the new wife are honored so the kids can again see that marriage is to be honored by all and that marriage is a good thing. God created and ordained marriage. So even if the marriage has been broken, kids still need to see that it is an honorable thing.
What can Christian men do to serve fatherless kids in their churches and communities?
CASEY: Think about the greatness of what God set up in life. Number one: marriage, the institution and the covenant of marriage — before He ever made the Church. But then He made the Church for us to assemble together to learn from Him.
The divorce rate in America is just astronomical, which we all know. There are so many fatherless children, and those children are looking for love. They’re going to look somewhere. If we’re going to curtail fatherlessness in America, we have to look beyond our borders. The church has a great, great opportunity. And so we have to be about the community. We have to be about coming out of the four walls.
We have a program here at the National Center for Fathering called Watchdogs. Dads of students take one day out of the year where they’re at their kids’ school. And there are kids there that don’t have a dad, but they see this man walking the halls, reading to his kids, things of this nature. So there are great opportunities for us to volunteer. That’s what has to happen in America. We don’t have to spend a lot of money, but we have to be there to serve. I firmly believe the local church is the mechanism God wants to use to help the fatherless in our communities.
Should men be looking at particular institutions where they can really make a difference in the lives of kids, especially fatherless kids? Are there subtle biases against men being involved in elementary education or these other things?
GIBSON: We need more men present where children are — healthy men. I really learned that when I was Uganda. I had a Ugandan man asked me, “Why do you men send women to do your work?”
What he was referring to is just being around to mold kids and children. More of us men really need to be present.
How can the church promote better fatherhood practices through its various ministries?
GIBSON: For men to get involved, they need to feel needed. They need to feel that they’re part of the solution. The number one question men in church ask is: Now that you have me, where are you going to take me?
So in the spiritual development of a man’s life — as his heart is developing more to be a reflection of Jesus — the church can set up programs, ministries, and opportunities where men are needed. I got the privilege of leading a mission trip. I went to Ethiopia five years ago, and it broke my heart to see the lack of men in Ethiopia. And what really got me was knowing that four out of every five orphans are orphaned because of poverty. There is a mom, and there is a dad, but dads are not around.
In Uganda, where the pastor asked me why American men send their women to do their work for him, we started a ministry called “Man Up and Go.” The whole idea is just answering the call to go and love on the fatherless. When I first started Man Up and Go, I was hoping to have at least 12 guys step up to the plate so I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have to cancel the trip. But my big prayer was to have 15 guys: “Lord, if we could get 15 guys, that would be awesome.” God blessed us with 30 guys. We went from orphanage to orphanage, and widow to widow, and just loved big on the kids.
I really feel God did that. But when we started promoting the need, we said, “If you love to play, they just need someone to play catch, play with cars, and love on them.”
Men signed up. I was amazed. So that’s where we need to start doing a better job with recruiting Christian men. We need to see who is in need and let men know their help is wanted.
CASEY: I really believe that men have the goods. Of course the culture dictates many times that we’re seen as buffoons — as if we don’t measure up, we’re absent. And so there’s the negativity out there. I think from the pulpit we need to communicate positive messages and the great need of men or fathers to step up and to see that the priestly role we have is really needed — that we are somebody, and that we are the ones who are supposed to be the leaders.
And then, as we meet together, we need to encourage one another. When you lose a job, be in a group where other men can see it and say, “Hey, let me help you recreate yourself as far as a job.”
If you are going through a divorce, don’t hide it. There’s shame and guilt that comes when there is a divorce, but other men can help support you. When somebody gets injured, you go see the trainer. They try to get you back on the field. And we need to do that as men and not let one another fall by wayside.
Any final thoughts on fatherhood?
STANTON: The bottom line for dads to understand is 98 percent of it is just showing up. A dad just being on the field can make all the difference in the world. My dad was pretty involved in our lives, but it was typically on his terms, doing what he wanted to do. But one of the best memories I have is every two weeks, we would cut the yard, edge, clean up, and he would take us over to the 7-Eleven, me and my brothers. He would get us all Slurpees, and we would go back home and sit under the tree and cool off and just talk.
Now my dad didn’t think that was any golden fatherhood moment for him, but it was rich for us because we just got his time. It wasn’t built around anything “special.” It was just being with him. And you know, it’s not rocket science. It’s just being there and giving your kids your time.