Fatherhood has seemingly fallen in stature in recent times. In the not too distant past fathers were perceived as the breadwinners, disciplinarians, defenders, and overall rulers of each family. Women and children both were relegated to a subservient role in the household. Fathers spoke and the rest of the family obeyed.
In our more enlightened age women have asserted their rights to a more meaningful role in family, civic, and economic affairs. Many wives now have jobs and contribute a sizeable portion of the family income.
Even more recently children’s rights have become the issue of the day. Nearly every politician is an advocate of children these days.
In these changing times, fatherhood seems to have taken on a somewhat negative flavor. In too many cases the father is seen as abusive, possessive, vindictive, and generally non-essential. Of course, the father is still biologically necessary, but he is not required for the day to day functioning and viability of the family. In fact, in many cases the unit appears to be better off when the father is absent, just to relieve the family of the tension of his presence. The many single mothers raising their children seem to attest to the fact that a father in the family is not required or even desired.
It’s a troubling time to be a young man trying to sort out one’s role in this life. What is my role as a man in society? What is my role as a father? I believe that much of the seemingly random violence perpetrated by young men is direct result of the confused role of men within our society. The old stereotype says that men take the lead, but how do I lead if I am despised or at least rendered superfluous by prevailing opinion.
Many would point to the Bible as our source of direction. Look at the Old Testament characters like Father Abraham. How did they live and act within their families? What can we learn about fatherhood from knowing that God is spoken of as our Father or the Father of us all? Acts 17.
Of course, a cursory review of the Bible examples might lead us to conclude that the old “Father Knows Best” approach to fatherhood was the correct one. Old Testament fathers definitely did rule over their families, and the picture of God under the law is one of judge and ruler. It is the perfect picture of fatherhood when the children are small and immature, needing constant guidance and correction.
The overriding question though is whether we live in a day of infancy or an age of maturity. Galatians 4 says that when we are children we are no better than servants, but at maturity the relationship changes. Ephesians 4 indicates that the people of
In our own lives, fatherhood must be a changing relationship. It cannot remain stagnant throughout the growth and development of our families. Each stage should be faced in anticipation of the next phase. Fathers who alienate their children during the early formative years have a doubly hard time in establishing that co-equal relationship which is required in their child’s maturity. In their adulthood, the greatest compliment our children can make of us is to claim us as friends. We no longer rule over them, we live with and through them.
In a public service advertisement, a well-known actor admonishes parents not to try to be friends with their children but rather to set rules and boundaries. The message says be a parent, they already have friends. This is the appropriate message for children at a certain age, but it is not always the appropriate message. Guidance must give way to acceptance.
God’s role as the strict father had a purpose but that purpose has been superceded by his role as the one who draws all men to him in a face to face relationship. God’s role as the Father was preparatory. It prepared mankind for a state of spiritual maturity. It was never meant to be an eternal Father/child relationship. Man is meant to grow up and to know his father not as one to be feared but one who is his dearest friend. The lessons for physical fathers is powerful. Prepare your children to be your free of your guidance and in so doing you will be a true father. The goal of fatherhood is maturity and freedom for the children.