A Message to Imperfect Fathers Like Me

There are many of us who are fathers and we have all had fathers.  They may have been good or they may have been bad, they may have even been absent.  Our experience of our earthly fathers shapes our perception of our heavenly fathers, so I will start by telling you a little about mine.

My father liked rock ‘n’ roll and motorbikes.  He wore a Davey Crocket hat and he was a part-time doorman or bouncer at nightclubs.  My mother had tamed him somewhat when I entered the world.  He had given up the hard liquor and he had quit smoking.  He had been raised on the wrong side of the tracks by a family that was intact but dysfunctional.


My father had a lot of potential, but he had been knocked back into his place so many times that he found it hard to grasp all that he was capable of.  He worked in Gleasons as a manufacturer of industrial diamonds when I was small.  He faithfully went to work each day at a job he hated.  He was the last to arrive and the first to leave.  He would quip that no-one ever died wishing that they had spent an extra day at work.

My father had a rocky relationship with my mother that was heading for divorce not long after I was born.  God rescued the marriage, but my father carried a lot of anger.  He was constantly simmering and it didn’t take much for him to explode.  My mother dealt with this by powering down and withdrawing from the conflict and so I learned to deal with his volatility in the same way.  I would power down and try my best not to be the reason for one of his outbursts.  When he would argue he would vent by throwing up all that he could remember from the past.  He would rake up the muck and fling it and whilst he was left feeling like a victor when the argument died down, the muck still clung to my mother and myself.

The consistent advice about becoming a man that I received from my mother as she sought to train me was “Don’t turn out to be like your father.”  I couldn’t learn the role of father from my own father, so how was I to learn?

How does a man establish the household which he wants?

The Bible has a lot to say about the role of a father and husband in the home.  Let’s read Ephesians 5:21-6:9 to get an idea of what a godly home might look like.  Then we will reflect upon what it might teach the father of a household.

21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Colossians 3:18-4:1 duplicates these instructions, so we know that Paul felt that it was important to communicate them twice once to the church at Ephesus and once to the church in Colossae.  It is important though to think of these instructions in context.  The immediate context is that they sit in the second half of Paul’s epistles.  The greater context is that they are to be read in the context of the whole Bible.

Adam Eve and family

In the beginning God created households to live in harmony. Adam and Eve were created to be husband and wife and father and mother.  The harmony of the home was short lived, however because the first household, like all subsequent ones, was corrupted by sin.  As a result of sin, Adam would struggle to provide for the family; The father and mother would vie for control; Their parenting would produce a murderer and a liar.  However at the same time as judgement and death in the home, God provided grace and mercy.  Grace redeems the household. The same parenting that produced the first murderer had also produced the first martyr.

The household can be brought back into harmony with God.

From the context of the book of Ephesians and Colossians we can learn that

Once a father has made peace with God through Christ he can be an agent of God’s peace to his household.

This takes into account the opening chapters of Colossians and Ephesians which set the scene.

This is not a self-help guide for how to behave better.  This is a godly fruit guide.  It is like the sticks in the soil that show a naturally growing plant the direction in which to grow.  However, the growth is a gift from God.  A father who wants to grow must first surrender himself to God through Jesus.  The peace of God in the household only comes to those who are at peace with God.  In Ephesians the context teaches that it is the Spirit-filled father (Eph 5:18) who carries out the commands which bring peace to his home.  Would a godless person be able to bring peace and order to their home? Yes, they would.  However, the peace that the godless receive by aligning their lives with the order of creation is a gift from God.  Without acknowledging God, though, an unsaved person does not have the capacity to experience the fullness of God in their household.  They can receive a measure as much as they knowingly or unwittingly agree with God’s design.  However, if they do not know God personally the experience of God and of grace in the home will always be deficient.

My household had moments of tenderness and peace, but it could not be the household that God wanted.  Not ultimately.  This is because my father did not know Jesus.  My mother tried diligently to live out the gospel for the sake of her home.  However, there was always a tension around the faith.  Whilst my mother was pulling toward church and serving God, my father did not contribute.  He was not antagonistic, but he stood still whilst my mother responded to God.  A father who is present and contributes to the spiritual life of the home can have a great affect.  When my father found God, just before he died, I got a glimpse of my father’s transformed heart.  His service to my mother and his selflessness toward his family – even in the face of death – left me with an imprint of God’s presence which can never be erased.  The example of a man who knows God dying well was a gift from God that I never expected to receive through my father.

man on yacht     Around what are we as fathers oriented?  Is our life saved by God?  Are we living a life in the Spirit where God will use us for our family’s good?  Ask yourself what you want from life?  Is it a yacht, a PS4, or time alone with the TV?  What does your life pull toward?  Financial advancement?  Personal happiness?  Fantasy and flight?  God has called us into relationship with himself.  If we allow disillusionment, ignorance or apathy to distract us from the pursuit of God we have no reason to expect God’s peace to reign in our home.  If we make our life’s goal the pursuit of God our household will be strongly influenced by that pursuit.  In all likelihood the life of Ephesians and Colossians will break out.

A father creates a more peaceful home when he makes it easier for a wife to submit.  In other words, if a wife is to submit to her husband it is easier if he is a safe place.

                Wives are called by God to be in a subordinate, subject position.  This has been a painful point historically.  Men have abused their role and abused and dominated women.  However, God does not give men a position of authority in order for them to abuse it.  If a man is to be a leader, he is to be a leader in the home like Christ.  Fear prevents this from happening on both sides.  Men fear that they will not live up to the high expectations women place upon them.  They sometimes give up leading before they begin.  Women my wife and I have counseled will compare their husbands to their fathers.  They seem to forget that their fathers are at least twenty years older than the young man they have just married.  When he has fathered a daughter for twenty years, he may be much more mature as a result.  When women fear for their safety and they fear for the future they can step up to the plate.  We have all met controlling women who believe the circumstances require that they take initiative.  Although some women are so filled with fear that they will rest the reigns from the strongest husband, many women will submit when a man shows initiative and compassion.  If a father wants to establish an ordered household where his leadership is appreciated, he must see issues quickly and step in to take care of them.  It is even great leadership initiative to ask for input about what might need to be done.  When I got married, like my father, I did not see dishes in the sink.  I did not see a lawn that needed cutting.  All that I saw was a game that I couldn’t watch or a couch that I was prevented from sleeping on.  Although a godly woman may still submit to a man who is ignorant of what needs to be done in the home, ignorance is not a virtue.

The model of submission that God requires is one which the godlhead exhibits itself.  The Son submits to the Father (1 Cor. 15:28).  Is he then inferior to the Father?  Is Jesus diminished by his submission?  However, to whom does Jesus submit?  The Father in heaven is the model of the father in the family.  As the Father is perfect, so should the head of each household strive for perfection.  The father creates a vision and moves the household along a path to bring about that vision.

Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot had a clear vision for the way which they wanted their countries to develop.  There was economic and military strength in the vision, but history shows that ultimately they were self-serving.  Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot are poor examples of leaders.  They manipulated and exploited those who they led in order to get the life that they wanted.  If we are leading the household to fulfil our own dreams we will find that the world works against us.  Free people know that Hitler and Pol Pot did not lead in ways that were the best for their people.  However, free people have willingly submitted to leaders like Gandhi and MLK.  These leaders also had a clear vision of a life that could be.  MLK said he had a dream.  In his ‘I have a dream’ speech he laid out a clear vision. These leaders are people who had the good of others as their primary goal.  They had a vision that made it easier for their subordinates to submit.

harassed manIf, fathers, you live in a world with an unsubmissive wife, the children are probably learning terrible lessons from the both of you in what it means to be a man.  A man is to be neither aggressive nor submissive, but he is to be assertive.  With confidence in God and the vision of faith laid out in scripture, the father is responsible to dream dreams of godliness for the children and speak truths into their lives.  As the patriarchs laid their hands on their children and communicated God’s vision for them, so we are to see God’s gifting and God’s value of each member of the home and to speak it into their daily experience.  There may be internal conflict because male leaders have not modeled leadership well in your life experience.  There may be external conflict as contributing actively to the life of the home may cause confusion about boundaries and roles.  However, others can not be blamed for a lack of backbone in a man.  A man must establish strongly the values God wants for the home within himself, then he must live out those values and hold others to the same standard.  In living out internal changes, he will lead his family toward godliness.

Husbands are to love.  The specific demands of the passage talk about a love of a husband toward his wife.

A difficult wife is a training ground for a man which makes him a more excellent lover.  There is no conditional clause that the wife must respond with appreciation or affection.  Relationships are difficult and love is the core of any great relationship.  Love is not easy but is sacrificial.  We know this because greater love has no man than that he lays down his life for his friends.  What is true of friends is also true of family.  We must be willing to love sacrificially in the ways that God has designed.  Our world has its own definitions of love and many families have been rooted in a love which is like a commercial agreement.  We invest in a relationship for the pay off.  Love is seen as an emotional flood which, when mutual, takes us to a high which we think will last if we both work hard.  However, love in the biblical sense is not an emotion, but it is a commitment.  It endures through emotional highs and lows because it sets its face like flint into the storms of life and walks toward others with purpose.  That purpose is to enrich the life of others with kindness, gentleness, words of encouragement, acts of kindness, physical touch, thoughtful gifts, and self-sacrifice.  You may feel that this kind of love and engagement is beyond you.  If you knew your family as God knows your family, you would be convinced that you do not have what it takes to love them well.  If you knew yourself as God knows you, you would probably despair of ever being able to love.  However, that is why we die to ourselves daily and throw ourselves at the foot of the cross asking God to fill us with a love that is not of this world and not of ourselves.

Husbands must love their wives as an example to their children.  Loveless households provide little nurture for children who flourish in a loving environment.  A child who sees a man hiding in the basement or disengaged in front of the T.V. does not learn how to be a man well or relate to men well.  There is a vacuum where a person should be.

The passages exhort a husband to love his wife like he loves himself.  Some people struggle with the biblical principle of self-love.  The idea does not work well if we think of love as a rush of infatuated emotion.  If we think of it more as turning our attention toward someone for their good, we see that we have to start with ourselves.  We do ourselves good when we shave, feed ourselves or take some time to reflect.  We were designed to care for ourselves as stewards of the minds, bodies and souls that God has given us.  If we neglect our own bodies we have nothing to give, or what we have to give is marred.  If we imagine a man who is so others focused that he never brushes his teeth, never showers and never cleans under his fingernails, we imagine a man who would give hugs which make his wife and children’s flesh crawl.  In taking good care of ourselves we build a base to give good things to others.  If I develop my talent to play guitar, fix cars, or build models I can play guitar, fix cars or build models for my wife and children.  The key to understanding the principles of the passage is to remember that what I develop in myself is to be given away to others.  The Bible does not condone the idea of a man loving himself by vegging in front of the TV and shutting himself off for days.  Of course, the mind and body need rest and refreshment, but some of our leisure activities in the 21st century are actually isolating and don’t show great self-care and give us nothing to share with others.

There have been two Stepford Wives movies, one made in 1975 and one in 2004.  Both are loosely based on the 1972 novel by Ira Levin.  The 1975 movie shows a sinister solution to the problem of women leading independent and spirited lives.  When their husbands move to Stepford their wives are modified by making them into machines.  This requires no change or sacrifice on the part of the men.  The women are quite literally sacrificed to make them easier to love.  It is easy to love a woman created by the fantasy in our own minds.  However, once we get to know our families well, we know that they are made up of people who think and act differently than we do.

Test your definition of love.  Does it grow under adversity or does it diminish – even disappear.  Our homes are founded on sacrificial love.  When we get married we promise to love in sickness and in health, but we rarely imagine the kinds of sickness that a home might endure.  There is sickness of the body, but there is also mental sickness.  How do we handle depression and anxiety in a marriage?  A father is called to love without condition.  A father finds limitless resources from God to be able to give himself to his wife and family even when it seems like the wife and children are negative.

Although Fireproof is not the greatest movie ever made, it is worth watching.  It shows how a man can learn how to love selflessly.  Caleb Holt, the movie’s main character, has issues which leave his wife wanting out of the marriage and feeling estranged.  Rather than give up on his cold wife, he woos her with acts of kindness and selfless attention.  It is good to see how he navigates her suspicions and her outright rejection.  The head of a household needs to know the courage to love like that.fireproof

A father is not to exasperate his children.  He is not to push them farther than they can cope.

                In the Roman world a father was responsible for the whole household in a much more authoritarian way than is normal today.  If a father thought that his son was disrespecting or disgracing him in some way he might have him flogged or even executed.  This, of course, led to some abuse in the system.

A father would send a slave with the son when he went to school.  The slave was the eyes and ears of the father and he would report the child’s behavior in school.  In some cases the slave would administer the discipline himself.  Such a strong view of fatherhood could lead to a powerful influence.  Fathers who used the values of Roman society positively would discipline and instruct them.

Discipline is often confused with punishment.  Punishment is that part of justice that administers a fitting result to the crime.  It does not necessarily change the nature of the person being punished.  The most extreme example is the death penalty.  The death penalty fits the crime of murder.  It is an equal payment of life for life.  However, the one who is punished does not learn their lesson.  They are dead.  They are done.  However, discipline improves the person who is disciplined.  At least that is its purpose.  So if a criminal commits a crime and we have them make restitution in a way that changes the criminal’s attitude, we might have issued some punishment but we have also successfully disciplined them.

Applying this to children we need to think, why is a child sent to their room?  Why is a child spanked?  Why is a child sent into a time out?  Is the child punished or disciplined?  The emphasis in Proverbs in the Bible is that a child is disciplined.  In other words, the time out or spanking should result in a more mature, more godly child.  If the child senses that there is no point in the punishment except to wound or tear down, the child will feel isolated and frustrated.  Anger in a child often comes from fear.  The child can fear that they are not accepted and loved unconditionally.  They will fight this fear with fits of anger.  A child can fear for their well-being if the punishment is severe.  A child can believe that they have no control over their own life.  This leads to depression if the child feels defeated, but it often leads to anger as well.

Again, the father’s vision for the household plays into the situation.  A father who sees no greater vision for the household will see no greater plan in their discipline.  If discipline trains toward a goal it becomes near impossible if there is no goal.  The discipline that is administered will seem arbitrary or pointless.  A child can endure much more if they can see where it is leading.  If a father loves God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, they will assess whether their choices for their children lead them toward God or away from God.  In many cases a good conversation about where a child’s decision has taken them will be more effective discipline than a good hard spanking.  The spanking will sometimes leave a child bewildered at the meaning of the pain.  A painful conversation sometimes forces the child to see the sin in their lives more clearly.  It is when we understand sin for what it is that we are truly horrified by it and we pursue God more fervently.

My father exasperated me many times growing up.  The pattern of exasperation would be triggered when he felt stressed or anxious.  He was particularly anxious about losing things and what he lost the most was his keys.  He would start to search the house and the emotional tension in the house would rise.  He would simmer and fume before asking my mother, in an accusatory tone, what she had done with his keys.  Because she usually had done nothing with them it was concluded, as an only child, that I must have been the one to lose the keys.  My father would tell me how irresponsible I was and then more often than not (at least in my recollection) the keys would show up where he left them. He would rarely apologise but would buy me a candy bar or something to make up for it. As a result I felt like I was truly irresponsible – I still do.  Also I was irrationally petrified of losing keys.  My father had disciplined me and exasperated me.  He wasn’t trying to.  The strangest result is that when I lose things in my house I feel an intense pressure to follow the same trail of accusations.  I want desperately to blame my wife.  I want to assume that it is my children Daryl and Amelia’s fault in some way.  This is not what my father would have intended, in fact he would have felt horrified.

What patterns of interaction, fathers, have you established in your house?  What can you take responsibility for?  Do you have patterns of discipline that lead the children closer to God?  Or is your house founded on crime and punishment?  If your house has law and no grace, it will kill the spirit of the children.  Either they will revolt in anger, or they will be defeated and crushed.  They will grow up with the passivity that we mistake for obedience.  I have seen many a proud father of a Christian home whose children lack drive and motivation.  Because they attend church or stay away from night clubs, their fathers boast about their pursuit of God.  The children’s spirit is far from the adventure that God would have for them.  I see other fathers who pursue God passionately and communicate regularly with their children what enables the pursuit of God and what hinders it.  Their children catch the fire and seek to serve the same God that their parents served, but in ways which are personal to them.

A father is the ultimate person responsible for the education of their children.  Education trains a child by developing their mind.  It is an important question to consider where the education your child is receiving is taking them.  Are those entrusted with teaching Math and English also teaching the truth about the God that math and English point to?  Are those who teach your child the facts about their subjects also living out the character that we would hope for?Picture8

The man of the house must make sure that all those who serve the house are valued and treated well according to their contribution.  As a customer for lawn care, pest control, cable television, and pizza delivery, a man must treat workers as those who are created in the image of God.

The man about the house is also represented as a Master of slaves in Ephesians and Colossians.  Although there is no direct modern equivalent of a positive and harmonious model relationship between a Roman head of household and the household slaves we should learn a couple of lessons.  To be able to learn lessons from the passage well, we have to deal with our images of slavery from the Old South.  We frequently envision barbaric images of black men being whipped and treated like animals by their racist masters.  We see movies where men and women are inspected like animals and are valued according to the work they will be able to perform. How can Paul, then insist that slaves submit to their masters?  The truth is that the Roman culture of slavery was vastly different from our own.  A slave was still the property of the master of the house, but he was given far more dignity than a household animal or piece of machinery.  Slavery was not condoned by Paul.  In fact Paul seems to indicate to Philemon in his letter to him that Philemon will release his slave Onesimus.  What Paul values more highly than the question of slavery, though, is the reputation of Jesus and the faith.  In Paul’s time slaves were becoming rebellious because of their new found status in Christ.  Because the gospel clearly teaches that slaves and their owners have equal worth, some slaves were bringing disorder to society and encouraging other slaves to be disrespectful and rebellious.  Paul answers this by showing how slaves and their masters can live in harmony so that the cause of the gospel is not hindered.

Because we are looking at fathers’ roles on Father’s Day, we will just see how the head of the house was to act toward the help in the home.  Masters should not be abusive, tyrannical, or manipulative.  If we generalize this principle to those who are in power, they should not be abusive, tyrannical, or manipulative we will find broader application for our own homes.  To be abusive we look down on another because they are not like us and we see them as less.  Maybe the difference is an issue of race.  The Bible teaches that all races are equal before God.  Maybe the difference is one of sex.  We are told that male and female are different but they are of equal status before God.  Maybe the difference is between ability and disability.  Because a person lacks the same skills that we have we assume that they are stupid or inferior.  To resort to abuse – to call the worker in our homes names either to their face or behind their back is unacceptable.  As a father it teaches terrible lessons to the children and they learn truths through abusive behavior which are contrary to scripture.

What about tyranny?  Americans believe that they threw off tyranny in 1776 but the levels of domestic abuse in North America show that there are still tyrants at large on these shores.  A tyrant is often a man filled with fear who exerts absolute control over his environment.  He micromanages and picks away at every fault of those who try and serve him.  He has one way that the work should be done and of course it is his way.  There is no freedom to create or invent.  All those in the household have the task of trying to guess what is in the tyrant’s head and then implement his dreams down to the last detail.  This is not the relationship that God wants a man to have with anyone who is performing a task for the household.

Finally we think of men who use their power to manipulate.  These men mobilize guilt or shame to bring about their own ends.  They try and make a person feel guilty about the quality of their work and so they have them do more with little verbal praise or reward.  Maybe a person manipulates others through putting on the puppy-dog eyes and making others feel sorry for them.  A man can make an illness seem more debilitating or a past relationship seem more wounding if it results in the level of service he believes will make him happy.  Such a man will not know the true nature of the people who he lives with and works with.  He will only know the false selves that they offer up in slave-like service.  For a man to have real relationships with those around him, he needs to stop manipulating and empower them to reveal their true gifts and to offer those up in service.

My disabled mother and father in law would have great interest in the work that people would do around their house.  My father-in-law would wheel himself out slowly in his wheelchair and peer around the corner at the worker fixing the sink or painting the wall.  Because of his disability he would marvel at the fluidity with which a worker performed the simplest of tasks whether it was replacing a fuse or changing a light bulb.  My mother-in-law had squeaky hearing aids which announced her impending arrival from a good distance.  She shared her husband’s appreciation of people who performed the basic tasks of home maintenance or personal service for them.  Before you think that they were perfect, though, there was one class of people in whom they were united in their distrust – that was medical doctors and nurses.  However, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters were a marvel to them and they affirmed them copiously for every screw tightened and every pipe welded.  Their encouragement wasn’t just toward paid workers, though.  My father-in-law lavished praise on me and my mother-in-law seemed to think that I could do anything that I put my hand to.  They encouraged me to try fixing things around the house myself.  Something I was afraid to do before.  As I had success in little things so I moved ahead and tried to do things that seemed like a bigger job.  A positive attitude toward people who work for us around the home leads to a harmonious home which flourishes.

I once taught a boy who wanted to know why he had to learn Spanish.  Even though this was in a Christian school, he took a superior attitude and quipped, “Maybe I just need to learn Spanish so I can talk to the people who cut my lawn.”  I was saddened when I heard him say this, but how do we communicate about the immigrants who cut our lawns and teach in our schools.  People sometimes forget that I am an immigrant without American citizenship.  When I hear people complain passionately about foreigners coming to America and taking all of the Americans’ jobs, I think that they forget that they are talking about me, too.  Of course, illegal immigration is a problem which needs addressing, but to dehumanize people in the process and see them as just another problem to be solved is not really an option.  However, many people from many countries have legally come to America and work jobs which some of us consider beneath us.  Rather than treat these hard working citizens with respect, we look on them with derision.

mcDAnother place I see derision is the way we talk about people who serve us in the fast food industry.  A job at McDonald’s is often seen by some as worse than no job at all.  To be a pizza delivery boy is seen as a worthy occupation for a high-schooler but if a mature man or woman delivers our pizza to our door we wonder what has gone wrong in their life.  It is not acceptable to treat workers who serve us with abuse.  It is not acceptable to short change wait staff because we can get away with it.  A Christian father should be known in the community not for being critical and miserly but for being affirming, grateful and generous.

When a landscaper does work around our house, it is alright to dream a dream of the landscaping and what it will look like.  However, what does a father communicate to his children if he checks on the landscaper and his workers every day to make sure that every rock is laid with exact precision?  Denying the landscaper the dignity of his professionalism teaches the children in the house that either they are to fear their father and hide their efforts from him, or they are to emulate their father and be perfectionist tyrants over others.  A father who hires a landscaper and allows them to create a beautiful landscape that incorporates their ideas with the landscaper’s professional skills teaches children to be truly collaborative and successful in an increasingly cooperative world.

A father who wants his sons to perform well at sports and introduces competition to manipulate them into better performances puts winning and losing above unconditional acceptance.  Their children will feel the competitive drive of their father even when their father is long gone.  The father is often trying to maintain the illusion of his own winning ways through the performance of his children.  This is particularly true of a father who might want desperately for his son to play soccer and to become a defender for the English national team some day?  What if his son is a gymnast or a baseball player?  The highly competitive culture that we fight against reflects a Darwinian view of life that is not ultimately real.  The way that God has designed us to win is not by climbing to the top by destroying our neighbor, but by collaborating as members of the body of Christ.


My father did not teach me what it meant to be a man – certainly not a man of God – because he did not know God.  My mother told me not to be like him, but gave me no alternatives.  So I grew up in a vacuum without any real ideas of what true manhood looked like.  I was petrified of being a father, especially a father of a boy.  When Daryl came along I stood aloof and backed away.  I didn’t really know how to model for him what it meant to be male.

tender warriorMy friend Gary Skinner shared with me a book called Tender Warrior which I think summarizes and expands upon many of the points that I have made today.  In it Stu Weber, a former Green Beret, and recipient of three bronze stars outlines his thesis of what it means to be a man.  It’s not essential to go to Vietnam and show our masculinity on the field of battle.  That is not open to all of us.  He says that the Tender Warrior is Every Man’s Purpose; Every Woman’s Dream; Every Child’s Hope.  What he suggests are four main areas for men to develop:

  1. We should develop as kings who are sovereign in their own home.  They reign by servanthood taking the initiative in ways to lay down their lives and lead in service to others.
  2. We should develop as warriors who do not go on the offensive, but who learn to fight to defend their values and those whom they value.
  3. We should develop as lovers who learn to speak woman and honour and connect with the women in our lives.
  4. We should develop as friends who endure through thick and thin and are generous with our resources.

The book has three chapters on being a father:

  • The Incredible Power of Fathering
  • Spanning Generations
  • Arrows in the Quiver of a Warrior

I would recommend that, if like me you have had a fuzzy idea of what being a man might mean, you check the book out and get an idea of what being a man could be.

My father made peace with God and he showed me how to die well.  His testimony was all the more powerful because he showed such a contrast to the life he had lived when he ran from God.  God is a gracious God who takes our failings and sin and makes them beautiful.  We don’t have to be perfect to be a godly father, we just need to pursue God and he even uses our imperfections for good.

When my father was young he dominated my mother and myself quite completely.  If he didn’t get his own way he pouted, sulked, simmered or exploded.  However, as he got older he became more and more mature.  He reasoned with us when he wanted to make decisions and he considered us when he was deciding where to go.  To submit to his will seemed less like a defeat or a crushing of spirit.  His desire was to share what was important to him.  One of his last acts was to pay to take the whole family to Paris as a gift.

My father talked about my mother quite often as an obstacle when he was younger.  He would call her Sybil after a domineering character in the comedy TV show Fawlty Towers.  He even called her Hitler to me once or twice.  My parents both were responsible for the fights they had in my earliest years.  However, as he grew up he saw more clearly how to value my mother.  He talked about her more positively.  He cherished her.  He claimed at the end of his life that he had been a lousy husband, but my mother and I think that he grew immensely.  He spent more time and money on my mother as they grew together.  One of his parting gifts before he passed away was to buy my mother a pendant with three diamonds on it because he said, “Diamonds are forever.”

Although my father thought it was fun to stick his toe in my ear when I was watching television or drove me crazy by changing the strokes he would give me when we played golf, I am not angry with him.  For various reasons I had to work through anger I had to my father, but after I released that anger I was able to feel the love and respect that I have always had for him.  I miss the smell of his beard.  I miss his sense of humour.  I miss Friday evening games nights when he would lose his cool playing Risk.


Like all of us I had a mixed bag as a father.  God’s grace worked through him to shape me through both my father’s strengths and his faults.  When I see how God used my father to reveal to me more of himself, I am thankful.  I am not only thankful for what my father gave to me, but I am thankful for what it teaches me about my own role as a father.  Our gracious heavenly Father takes our efforts and he forms our children through them.  My incomplete and childish attempts to be the father I wish I was are made whole in him.  God our Father shows us how to be fathers in our earthly home until he flings wide the door of heaven to welcome us and then he will perfectly parent us for ever.

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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2 Responses to A Message to Imperfect Fathers Like Me

  1. Tom Haring says:

    Great message! Sorry I missed you on Sunday!

  2. Pingback: A Father’s Day Surprise | This Odd House

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