Do Dads Still Matter?
By Jake Barker
Have you ever taken a kid to the beach or do you remember visiting the beach when you were a kid? Our family has four children and unless you’re paying for parking, the beach is free which makes it one of our favorite places to visit. Here’s how it usually works with our crew. We arrive at the beach, plop down our chairs, set up the umbrella, and try to restrain the kids from getting wet until we’ve applied their sunscreen. Then they grab their boogie boards and enter the ocean directly in front of our spot in the sand. My wife Trudy, and I will sit down to catch our breath and approximately seven minutes later, I’ll look up and see that our children have drifted a half mile down the shore. Because they weigh 27 pounds they stand no chance against the current.
At that point, I’ll lean over to Trudy and say, “Hey your kids are way down there. You should really try to pull them back.” And she’ll give me the look that implies that is clearly my job. So I’ll get up, walk down to where they have drifted, waive my arms, yell their names, and pry them from the water. Then I’ll show them where our towels are and just how far they’ve traveled down the coast.
Do you know what the scariest part of it is as a parent? They have no idea. As far as they were concerned they were in the exact same place as where they had started. They didn’t feel they were in danger. They were completely unaware that the current had relocated them. I like how the author of Hebrews describes it. They encourage us not to be “carried away.” Hebrews 13:8-9 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” Friends, if you and I do not have an anchor, if you and I fail to tether ourselves to what God has eternally declared, the same thing will happen to us. We won’t feel that we’re moving, we won’t notice that we’re drifting, and one day we’ll wake up completely detached from the truth and detached from God Himself.
We want to affirm that despite widespread rumors, the role of fathers is still important, the responsibility of fatherhood is still essential, and the impact of fathering is immeasurable and Dads Still Matter!
Some of you love your dad and have fond memories while others maybe you’ve never even met your father. Some of you cling to fond memories while others are processing the trauma left by your father. Some of you desperately want to be a father and that has yet to happen. The spectrum of fatherhood is wide and significant. Sometimes if we’ve had a negative father experience, we’re tempted to say, “Maybe dads don’t matter.” I got by without one. I survived a bad one. Maybe it’s not a big deal.
The stats reveal that children who grow up in fatherless homes are:
- 4x more likely to live in poverty.
- More likely to suffer emotional & behavioral problems.
- 2x risk of infant mortality.
- 2x likely to be involved in early sexual activity.
- 1 in 5 inmates are fatherless.
If I were to describe the experience of fatherhood to you, I would tell you that it feels like being perpetually caught off guard. It’s a series of events that leaves you saying, “I didn’t see that coming.” It’s fixing the thing you thought was unbreakable. It’s apologizing to the neighbor because your child just let themselves into the neighbor’s house. That’s fatherhood. It’s moments like these that define fatherhood: perpetually caught off guard. Always responding to the unexpected. And even so, our responses have significant consequences in the lives of our children.
So today I want to relook at God’s original design. When you turn to the Bible for direction on certain aspects of life, you have to know how to look for it. The Bible isn’t organized into neat chapters. There’s not a book of the Bible called “Money” or “In-Laws” or “Politics.” Those themes are addressed but the primary point of the Bible is to tell us that even in the face of all our sins and shortcomings, Jesus came to do what we could not. He died in our place, defeated death, and provided us redemption. And for a group of especially imperfect dads, that’s really good news.
So even though there isn’t a book of the Bible called “Fatherhood,” there are verses like this one in Proverbs 22:6, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” Notice that the author of this Proverb is very specific. They use the word, “direct.” Other translations use “start” or “train.” But not a single translation uses the word “choose.” It’s not a parent’s job to choose the path. It doesn’t say coerce or guilt. Guilt trips rarely go down the right path. It doesn’t mean “force” but rather we are to direct, guide, lead, and show by example.
PREPARATION FOR fatherhood
Three Things to Remember
- Directing requires influence; not just authority. “Because I said so,” works when you’re leading out of authority. If Proverbs had told us to manipulate or coerce, then a good old-fashioned guilt trip would suffice. But if it is our job to direct and guide, then we’re going to need influence. Our children will need to see something in our life worth emulating, worth repeating, and worth following.
- Someone is directing our children. Someone is going to disciple your child. It can be you, but if it’s not you, it’s someone. Children are famously impressionable. Think about your own childhood, you were influenced by those jokers on the playground, your favorite musical artists, that young and relatable English teacher, and your parents. Your kid is no different. If we want our children to be directed by someone other than TikTok, online influencers, and their friends, we are going to have to engage. And that requires a game plan.
- Begin with the end in mind. There will be a day when that child will leave and create a life of their own. That’s not accidental, it was always part of the plan. God designed that in Genesis 2, from the very beginning. They might leave for college, relocate for a job, or get married. And in that moment the previous two decades will flash before your eyes and you might wonder, “Did I do a good job? Did I do enough? Do they have what they need?” Today we want to begin with the end in mind and build a plan to have confidence in that heart-wrenching moment.
Imagine IT'S theIR last day under your roof
ask yourself these two questions
What do I want them to know about God?
One of the primary roles of a parents is to be a teacher. There are some things that are easier to teach than others. You may have already taught them how to change a flat tire, how to balance their bank account, or how to write a good thank you note. Those skills are important and better learned from a dad than from YouTube. There is a long list of lessons a child needs to learn but the only one that will matter into eternity is what they know about God. Have you ever considered that?
When it comes to their final day on earth, long division will lose its significance and how to hit a curveball will seem irrelevant. But what they know about God will make all the difference. In the Old Testament Deuteronomy 6:4-9 parents are given very specific instructions to share God’s truth with their children. We learn through repetition. So all parents, but especially dads, please talk about Jesus with your kids often. Share with them what He’s taught you, tell the stories of how He’s cared for you, and invite them into what He’s doing right now in your life. You might be nervous to go there because they’ll ask a question and you won’t know the answer. I hear you. But one of the best answers you can ever give is, “I don’t know. But we can find out.”
Who do I want them to be?
So much of the way we view others and view ourselves is wrapped up in our accomplishments; in our activity. In fact, one of the first get-to-know-you questions you and I ask one another is, “What do you do? What do you do for a living? What’s your career?” Even when we’re talking to little kids, we ask them “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But when we ask that question what we really mean is, “What do you want to do for work?”
The reality is, as a parent, you have very little control over what your child will do with their lives. It will probably change a dozen times before the age of 20. You might even pay extra for your kid to pursue multiple degrees as they’re finding themselves. What they do, what they accomplish, is significantly less important than their character. There is absolutely nothing wrong with investing in travel sports teams. Kids learn a ton about working with others, taking instructions, and giving their best. But when your kids ends up being a CPA instead of playing in the NBA, will they be a kind person? There is absolutely nothing wrong with investing in a music tutor and giving your child the gift of lessons, but when they end up teaching kindergarten instead of playing in the symphony, will they be generous? Character does not develop by accident. It requires intentionality. From my observation, entitlement does not require a plan, that can happen naturally. Kids are pretty good at things like selfishness and stubbornness. But developing gentleness, patience, and encouragement, this requires intentionality!
For some of you, you don’t have to imagine that last day, you remember it. It’s already happened. You might be thinking, “This would have been great to hear 5 years ago, 15 years ago, 30 years ago.” Maybe your child has already launched and you’re left with some regret. Here’s my encouragement to you: It’s Not Too Late. The best time to become intentional is now. Yesterday is gone. We can talk and heal through the pain of yesterday. But today is the best day to become intentional. Just because your child does not live under your roof, does not mean that they don’t need to hear from you.
A few months ago, my parents came to visit us. We live multiple states and time zones away from one another. FaceTime helps but it’s not the same as being together. As they were leaving to head back home my dad gave me a hug and said, “I miss you.” I was a mess for a solid three hours after. To know that my dad loves me, and enjoys my company, and wishes we could spend more time together. Those words filled me up in a way only he could. It is not too late. Make the call. Send the text. Say the words you’ve been meaning to say.