11. Dad’s Many Hats
It was thirty minutes later than usual when Harry Hasselmore turned into his driveway after work. The contracts his boss requested at the last minute had given him a late start for home and he had gotten caught in that miserable freeway traffic jam. The heat was unbearable and his head was splitting. A good dinner and a quiet evening of relaxation--that’s what he needed.
“What are those bikes and wagons doing in the driveway?” he fumed to himself. “I’ve told those kids a thousand times to put them where they belong.” Harry spied the kids in the neighbor’s yard and screamed, “Get over here and put these things away. You kids are getting more irresponsible every day.” It didn’t seem to matter that their friends were standing there listening to his embarrassing tirade. As they crossed the yard, Harry spied the rip in Ralph’s jeans. “Look what you’ve done!” he yelled. “You kids must think I’m made of money.”
Leftovers for dinner didn’t help his disposition much, and he grumbled through the whole meal. It never occurred to him that Helen had used considerable creativity and much time to make those leftovers appetizing and save him some money. And then the kids--their manners were always atrocious but it was particularly annoying tonight. Harry rose to the occasion in this characteristic manner: “Don’t eat so fast. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Will you please stop smacking your lips. Do you have to lay all over the table? Stop this confounded bickering at mealtime! Can’t you kids give me any peace?”
He had just sunk into his easy chair with the newspaper when Joanie said, “Daddy, will you fix my doll house?” “Not tonight,” he snapped. “And besides, if you were more careful with your things they wouldn’t get broken.” He didn’t notice the hurt on her face as she walked slowly to her room.
Just about then Ralph came bouncing in. “Hey, Dad, wanna play catch with my new ball?” “When are you kids going to learn that I have more important things to do than play, play, play?” Harry growled. It had been a long time since Ralph had asked his dad to do anything with him. It would probably be quite awhile before he asked him again.
“Harry, I must talk to you about the children.” Helen was finished with the dishes now and desperately needed his advice on what to do about the children’s latest malicious neighborhood prank. “Look, Helen, get off my back, will you? Whatever it is, I’m sure you can handle it. Now leave me alone tonight.” While the day may have been a little worse than usual, Harry’s attitude was not much different. He was becoming increasingly irritable and impatient, and while not realizing it, he was systematically destroying his family. His wife was getting discouraged and depressed, and his children were becoming more and more of a problem.
The Bible reveals that Harry holds the key to correcting this tragic situation. You see, not only has God set us a perfect example of fatherhood to follow, he has also said some pointed things in his Word about a father’s responsibility in the home. But until Harry opens his mind to these truths and expresses a willingness to obey them, there is little hope of improvement. A father’s role is not an easy one. It is momentous and many-sided. We must understand the many hats dad wears and learn how to wear them.
First of all, he is to be a leader. Nowhere is that more succinctly stated than in the divinely established qualifications for an elder in the church. “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, NIV). That word manage means literally “to stand before” and therefore “to preside over.” God has placed fathers in the family to take the lead. God’s authority in the home centers in dad.
In many cases, dad thinks he is the head of the house, and mom may even let him believe it. But in reality she manages nearly everything. Most of the time he doesn’t even know what’s going on. Sadder still, he may not even care. He likes the arrangement that way because it takes the responsibility off his shoulders. She decides what the children can or cannot do. She checks on their schoolwork, talks to their teachers, and signs their report cards. She helps them work out their problems, teaches them what they need to know, and takes them where they need to be. Dad is little more than a disinterested bystander who yells at them once in awhile to make his presence felt. And the result is calamitous.
Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between a weak father figure and a child’s problems in areas such as character, conduct, and achievement. Those who work with teens in trouble invariably discover the lack of an adequate father image in the home. There are indications that the majority of men who fail in executive capacities come from homes with unsatisfactory father figures. When dad abdicates his position of authority in the home, mom usually assumes the role she was never intended to have. The unhappy combination of a disinterested father and an overbearing mother can drive children to run away from home, enter early and unwise marriages, or suffer emotional difficulties and personality deficiencies.
Dad must take the lead. But what is involved in properly managing a family? For one thing it means taking the lead in providing physical necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Paul used masculine pronouns in referring to these kinds of things when he said, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8, NIV). Mother may work, but the primary responsibility for meeting the family’s needs falls on dad. Indolent fathers who refuse to accept this responsibility need to heed this severe indictment.
That is only the beginning, however. He also takes the lead in instructing the children--interpreting the great events of our day in the light of the Scripture and teaching them how to live in conformity to God’s Word. The Psalmist refers to this fatherly function. “For he gave his laws to Israel, and commanded our fathers to teach them to their children. . . .” (Psalm 78:5, TLB). The Apostle Paul likewise mentioned it. “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11-12, NIV).
Father should take the lead in conducting times of Bible study and family worship, in encouraging family involvement in the ministry of a local church, and in establishing the family’s testimony in the community. Far too often dad just doesn’t care about spiritual things and mother takes the lead, leaving the kids with the twisted notion that the church is a woman’s world and spreading the gospel is women’s work. When dad becomes the source of spiritual strength in the home, children and youth begin to get serious about the Christian life.
In the final analysis, properly managing the home means overseeing everything. That doesn’t mean dad is a dictator, running everything with an iron hand, making every decision and doing everything himself. As a godly manager, he prayerfully considers the feelings of others and his decisions are for their good rather than his own. He recognizes his wife’s abilities and encourages her to develop them and use them to their fullest extent. But she makes sure that he is aware of what is going on, and that he approves. And to be assured that he is in charge, that he has final responsibility for the smooth operation of the household, and that he will faithfully discharge that responsibility, brings a great sense of security both to her and to the children.
Not only is father to be a leader, however. He is to be secondly a lover. He must love his wife with an unselfish, forgiving love, a love that transcends all loves but that for Christ himself. Somebody has suggested that the very best thing a father can do for his children is to express a Christ-like love toward their mother. The idea is biblical. Paul exhorted husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). When God established the institution of marriage he said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, KJV). Children would come, but a husband and wife should always enjoy a very special closeness to each other.
Simply stated, Dad, that means that after the Lord himself, your wife comes first in your life--before you, before your boss, before your friends, before your Christian service, even before your children. And those very children will be the beneficiaries of your faithful adherence to this principle. Your love for their mother, openly expressed, will give them a sense of satisfaction and security that nothing else in this world can provide. They may groan and cover their eyes when you take her in your arms and kiss her, muttering something like “Oh, brother, here we go again.” But deep down inside there will be a warm glow of contentment. Mom and dad love each other.
Some husbands and wives live only for their children and they never really get to know each other. One day, all too soon, the kids are grown and gone and mom and dad are left staring at each other like total strangers with nothing to say, toying with an uncontrollable urge to meddle in their children’s marriages. Meanwhile, the kids are feeling the psychological pinch of over-dependence on their doting parents. Their adjustment problems in marriage are enormous, and the pulls and pressures from home make it even more difficult to work them out. Psychologists have verified that parents who enjoy a loving relationship with each other have the best prospects for untroubled and resourceful children who establish successful marriages of their own.
So, Dad, take your wife out for dinner periodically. Bring her something that says “I love you.” Spend time talking about the things that are burdening her. Be sensitive to her needs and live to meet those needs. Help her with her chores. If she’s had a particularly hard day, cheerfully take over and encourage her to go out for awhile. Don’t knock her or argue with her in the children’s presence. Be demonstrably affectionate toward her in front of the children. How else are they going to learn how to love?
The most frequent answer I received, when I asked college students in what way they felt their parents might have failed them, was lack of love between their parents. One girl wrote, “No affection was ever shown in our family, my father toward my mother or my parents toward us. I know I can’t blame them totally, but I am not a very warm, receptive person.” Some had never seen any open expression of love between their parents and were suffering from emotional malnutrition as a result.
One of the best things you can do for your wife is to park the kids someplace and get away by yourselves for a few days--just the two of you. Constant responsibility has a tendency to drain us, physically and emotionally. God can give us grace to handle the pressures of life, but he may want us to use our common sense and get away from them periodically. Jesus recognized that need. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:30, 31, NIV). It is often easier to evaluate a situation and see ways of improving it when you stand off from it for awhile. Being apart will help you renew your spirits, remove the little tensions that tend to build up in the confinement of a house, and give you time to understand each other and an opportunity to clarify your goals and purposes for the children. It will draw you closer to each other and closer to them. And there is nothing at all wrong with looking forward to the day when the children will be on their own and you will be able to enjoy each other, alone.
The third major role a father must play is that of disciplinarian. King Solomon revealed that it is the father who corrects or reproves his son (Prov. 3:12). Paul reminded those fathers who aspired to be elders to see that their children obeyed them with proper respect (1 Tim. 3:4). Furthermore, he addressed fathers in that great passage which outlines the broad spectrum of child-training: “And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, NASB).
Why did Paul direct this exhortation to dads? As we noted earlier, the first half of the exhortation may be addressed to them because they are more prone to the harsh and hostile aggressiveness that angers and exasperates children. A fatherly rule by force and fear breeds the same personality and conduct problems as no father image at all. It may produce an angry rebel who lashes out against society, or a guilt-ridden misfit who feels unworthy and rejected. We need to heed Paul’s advice to the Colossians: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, that they may not lose heart” (Col. 3:21, NASB). Good discipline begins with self-discipline, not with a loud mouth or a lot of muscle.
But the positive side of the command is directed to fathers as well: “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” We are driven to the inescapable conclusion that dad is ultimately responsible for the entire process of child-training. He is accountable even for what mother says and does to the children. He answers to God for everything that happens in the home. As God’s authority figure, he must know what is going on and be in control.
This has some obvious practical ramifications. For one thing, dad should handle the discipline when he is home. In most cases, mother has the job of child-training all day. When dad walks through the door, she should know that her shift is over. He will protect her from many of the pressures and problems she has grappled with alone through the day. Furthermore, since she has represented his authority while he has been out of the house, he must support her and uphold her before the children. And in view of his many hours away, he must spend time talking to her about what has happened, offering Spirit-directed advice and help. That is a tall order, but the end is not yet.
The fourth role God would have every father fill is that of companion. That doesn’t mean pal. Some fathers have made fools of themselves palling around with their kids and trying to do everything they do, often to the embarrassment of the younger generation. By companion I mean comrade, confidant, and friend. Who can deny that fathers generally are alienated from their children in our society. Isn’t it interesting that in the last revelation from God in the Old Testament era, the prophet Malachi announced concerning the forerunner of Messiah, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers . . .” (Mal. 4:6, KJV).
While this passage still awaits its final prophetic fulfillment, it illustrates what God’s grace can accomplish even today in restoring a cherished relationship between fathers and their children. God wants them to be of one heart, one mind, and one soul. That will require time spent together, with open communication and intimate communion. Boys and girls both need time alone with dad. It might be in the form of lunch or dinner out together, a picnic, a hike, a fishing trip, a tennis match, or any other fun experience that will provide opportunities to talk and get to know each other. Mother can help by not demanding so many material things that dad must work day and night to pay for them, and consequently never see his children. She can also help by not begrudging dad’s time alone with the children. But with the time available and mother in full sympathy, it will simply be a matter of disciplining himself to do it. An ideal occasion for communication and companionship with younger children is at bedtime. Dad needs to lay down his newspaper or turn off the TV and put the kids to bed periodically. He cannot afford to miss the opportunity for informal romping, meaningful conversation, and spiritual input available in those moments before they are tucked in for the night.
A boy particularly needs to know his dad. Dad represents the man he will become--the husband he will be to his wife, the father he will be to his children, the provider he will be for his family, the leader he will be in his church, and the witness he will be in the world. He needs an example to follow, a model to identify with, a dad he can be proud of. Sons tend to repeat the pattern set by their fathers in marriage. That’s a fearful thought, isn’t it? Give your son a good standard to emulate. Sometimes when the father image is weak or missing, a boy tends to cling to his mother too long. When he is grown he looks for a wife who will continue to mother him, and the next generation marriage is a disaster. Dad, spend time with your boy.
We all know that death and divorce have robbed many a boy of his dad. What do we do in those cases? All through the Bible God encourages a unique concern for the “fatherless.” That emphasis may reaffirm how vitally important this father image is. Studies have shown that substitute fathers in organizational relationships can go a long way toward meeting this emotional need of boys. Christian men need to open their hearts to fatherless boys.
Daughters too need to know their dads. A girl learns from her dad what men are like. He represents the husband she will one day give herself to, the father of her children, the authority figure she will submit to. It has been observed that a girl often subconsciously seeks a husband like her father. So, become the kind of husband you want your daughter to marry. Then cultivate a warm and cordial relationship with her. It will help her adjust successfully to the husband God gives her. If you deprive her of your companionship, the resentment she feels will be transferred to other men, even to her husband. And the weight of your failure will rest heavily upon you for years to come.
Isn’t all this too much for one mere mortal man to be and do? Yes, it is. The demands on his time will be relentless. The drain on his emotional resources will be unending. But the last role God requires of a Christian father will provide him with the strength to become everything else God wants him to be. He must be a man of God.
A father’s authority to manage his home comes from God. But he cannot exercise that authority properly unless he subjects himself to the authority of God. Paul explained to the Corinthians that just as man is the head of the woman, so Christ is the head of man (1 Cor. 11:3). Some men are not fit to manage their homes because they are not in submission to the Word and will of Jesus Christ. They can never be all that God wants them to be so long as the flow of his power is restricted by sin.
Jesus taught us the secret of living in fellowship with him just as a branch lives in the vine. Then he said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7, NIV). The formula for our success as fathers is filling our minds with God’s Word, then spending time in his presence seeking the willingness and power to obey it. As we grow in his likeness we shall fulfill our roles with wisdom. “I have told you this,” Jesus added, “so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11, NIV).