Father’s Day—some are grateful it’s just one day.
There are many fathers who have heaped unbearable burdens upon their children with unrealistic demands. To you, this day reminds you of failure, not measuring up, not being who dad wanted you to be. For others, dad subtracted meaning from your life. Your dad just cut out on you, left mom for another woman, a career mistress, or never entered your life at all.
How do you respond to your father while edging out on the ice of fatherhood yourself?
Others see Father’s Day as an opportunity to honor someone they’re grateful for every day. Dad reminds you of warm approval, strong godly character, firm discipline, and vibrant faith. You don’t know how good you got it but you know it’s good. Fathers possess incredible power over their children, for good or for ill, and a new generation of Christian fathers are emerging with very poor role models. Is it possible to redeem your patriarchal past? How do you respond to your father while edging out on the ice of fatherhood yourself?
What to Do with a Not So Great Dad
St. Augustine had great mom and a not so great dad. Throughout his Confessions, (a Western classic every Christian should read), Augustine reflects on his mother’s prayerful faithfulness and his dad’s worldliness. In a passage in Book 2, he extols his father for providing for his education in literature and rhetoric. He notes that his father took great pains to secure the necessary finances. It is hard to imagine the Western Church without an educated Augustine. His books, ideas, and turns of phrase have been admired by many, believer and non.
Augustine shows us how to honor our fathers, even when they were less than honorable. Even if your father was absent and just cut a check for child support, at least he did that. Instead of ripping cynically on his absent dad, Augustine shows us how to carry out the Christian principle of “honor your father” by searching for anything positive and honoring him for that.
But what about his Dad’s absence, or worse, his very real, damaging presence?
Augustine describes his father’s neglect: “father took no pains as to how I was growing up before you [God], or as to how chaste I was, as long as I was cultivated in speech, even though I was a desert, uncultivated for you, O God, who are the one true and good Lord of that field which is my heart.”
Though he received a financial deposit, Augustine was raised in spiritual poverty by his father. His father approved winkingly over his sexual exploits, a badge of manhood. He sent his son in the wrong direction. Dad held the career high—a rhetorician—and Christ low. Augustine repeatedly reflects on his struggle with mistresses and sexual temptation remarking that he was “in love with love.”
Moving Beyond Dad Issues
Until he was conquered by a holy love: “You love, but are not inflamed with passion; you are jealous, yet free from care . . . who will help me, so that you will come into my heart and inebriate it, to the end that I may forget my evils and embrace you, my one good?”
The prison of his father’s neglect was redeemed by the heavenly Father’s attentive concern. Evils were slowly blotted out from his memory in the presence of the one, true Good. The way we move beyond our Dad issues isn’t to bury them, but to carry them to the Redeemer.
When I was preparing to become a father for the first time, I asked a good father friend for advice. He said, “Be a good dad by being a good son.” He was saying that fatherhood is less about technique and more about identity.
The more a man settles into the perfect love of God, the more his fathering becomes an approximation of the perfect Father. The more rooted you are in God’s approval, the more inclined you are to give it to your kids. The more you are aware of the holiness of God, the more you will call your children into his holiness—cultivating their soul. The more you are aware of God’s unfathomable grace, the more quick you will be to extend it to your children.
Dad, you have an opportunity to cultivate the soul of the next generation. You can point them to the “one true and good Lord of that field which is their heart.” You don’t have to be enough for them because God already is enough. Cultivate your soul and act like your heavenly Father toward your kids. Teach them the gospel, repent quickly, and be present—no perfection required—Jesus has that covered.
Be a good son, and you’ll be a good dad.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Unbelievable Gospel, and Raised? He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter: @Jonathan_Dodson
Originally published at jonathandodson.org “How to Be a Good Dad (& What to Do with a Bad Dad)”