It is interesting and inspiring to think that a farmer – one who never traveled widely, who had little formal education, and who, after raising his older children on other folks’ farms, fighting boll weevil and depression, had to move his large family to a small mill town – manages in 2007, seventy-five years after his death, to still exert a positive influence. We have a wonderful heritage – one of which I am enormously proud.
My own father, who died 20 years ago, left an indelible mark on his children and innumerable other people because of his authenticity, generous spirit and the force of his personality. [See my sister’s blog, Daddy’s Roses].
Two very different men in temperament, from two different eras, who lived very different lives in extraordinarily different circumstances, but each had profoundly positive influence – proving once again that it doesn’t take wealth to leave an inheritance. Here are principles that work:
First, to be a great dad, a man must be a person of character and integrity. He should lead a life of transparency that enables him to be a steadfast example for his children. The Book of Kings in the Bible has more than a dozen examples of evil kings in Israel – men who did evil things “like their fathers before them.” Children absorb their father’s values. George Herbert, back in the 1600s, recognized that “one father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” A father should not “provoke his children to wrath.” Instead, he should lead them “in the paths of righteousness” through his insightful advice and concern for their spiritual well-being.
Second, to be a great dad means loving his wife unconditionally. One of the most important things a father can do for his children is to love and respect his wife (their mother) and to model husbandly dedication and responsibility. Often, people complain about the Biblical expectation of wifely submission, but I’ve never heard anyone criticize the Biblical injunction that a husband should love his wife sacrificially “as Christ loved the church” – which means dying for her.
Third, to succeed as a father, a man must give his children unconditional love, too. When his children inevitably face difficulty and unfairness, a father has the opportunity to show sympathy while teaching his children not to wallow in self-pity. He can teach them to govern their emotions and move on. Most importantly, fathers can teach and illustrate that God is in control and that He loves them and wants the best for them, too.
Fourth, a terrific father must be totally reliable and absolutely trustworthy. When he says he will do something, barring extraordinary circumstances, he must do it. His promises must be true. It is a wonderful gift when fathers can be trusted and when they give the gift of themselves to their children. The Book of James describes “good and perfect gifts” as coming from the Father. James refers to the Father as one who “does not change like shifting shadows.”
Fifth, a father who wants the best for his children will correct them firmly, with consistency. The Bible constantly refers to God as “Father.” It is remarkable how children’s attitudes toward God reflect their relationship with their father. It is easier to believe in God, the Heavenly Father, when one’s earthly father loves unconditionally and is consistent, approachable, firm and reasonable. Like the Heavenly Father, earthly fathers are instructed to discipline with an “easy yoke” and “light burden.”
Sixth, any man seeking to be a great dad must strive toward wisdom, discernment and good judgment. The Scriptures warn parents against “provoking their children to wrath” (Ephesians 6:4). Fathers who make foolish statements, decisions and actions are not good examples for their children. One pastor estimates that only half of the children of Christian dads also become Christians; that’s how important a father’s influence is. That estimate points out, though, that other factors are equally important.
I remember hearing Dr. Howard Hendricks, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, describe his father’s influence. He said that his dad was not a Christian, but he was a man of integrity and wisdom. Dr. Hendricks shocked me by saying, “If I had to choose between a Christian dad who wasn’t a man of integrity and a non-Christian father who was, I’d choose the non-Christian anytime.” After seeing the results of the inconsistency, bad judgment and emotional distance of some Christian fathers, I can better understand Hendricks’ statement.
Seventh, a man who wants Godly children must be intentional in teaching them about God. The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy stresses the importance of teaching “when you sit at home,” “when you walk along the road,” as well as “when you lie down and when you get up.” Further, we are told to tie God’s principles to our hands and bind them to our foreheads. We are instructed to “write them on the doorframes of our houses” and “post them on the gates” into our yards. In other words, we are to utilize every means at our disposal to teach our children about God’s Word and His instruction about the Christian life. It helps if the father can find opportunities to teach from real-life experiences and to communicate forthrightly about his own struggles and his own experiences in walking with Christ. In such ways, a father can invest himself wholeheartedly in his children’s spiritual development.
These seven principles are ways that dads can earn William Wordsworth’s accolade, “Father – to God himself we cannot give a holier name.”