By Bill Delvaux, Crosswalk.com
I have interacted with so many fathers over the years, men who deeply desire to be good examples to their children. I am also a father myself. Those conversations—and my own experiences—have allowed me to peer into the rugged realities of fatherhood. So I want to propose some common myths and some needed truths about being a father.
Let’s start with the myths, the deceptions that can really trip up a man.
Myth #1: Other fathers seem to be doing a better job at this. I feel like I am always falling short with my children.
It’s easy to fall for this one. As men, we play the compare and compete game, whether it’s in our sports, our careers, or our physiques. Our children can just become another playing field for this game. Perhaps we are having a tough time with one of our kids. Perhaps we are in a time of stress and are short-tempered with them. Perhaps we didn’t have a good father ourselves and feel hamstrung from the beginning. Whatever the case, we feel we are lagging behind other fathers. We see the happy faces of other fathers with their children. It looks like they are doing great. So what’s wrong with us?
But this whole line of thinking is untrue.
In all my conversations with fathers, I have never met one who even hinted at the idea that he has this fathering thing down. Underneath the surface, all fathers have similar questions and struggles. They wonder how they are doing as dads. They wonder some days if they are doing anything right. And the men who don’t struggle as a dad are generally so unaware of their inner lives that it is impossible for them to attend meaningfully to their children.
Myth #2: If I make mistakes with my kids, I will screw them up forever.
This is the perfectionist father who feels enormous pressure to do things correctly with his children. He may be a voracious reader about fatherhood. He may listen to multiple podcasts about it. He may attend seminars and even lead groups about it. But underneath he is driven, goaded on by shame or guilt.
Let’s set the record straight on this one. We are all going to make mistakes with our kids. We will get irritated. We will become unduly angry. We will miss what they are feeling. We will make judgments that are incorrect.
But it’s how we handle those mistakes that makes all the difference.
When a father has erred and asks forgiveness from his children, the bond between them is actually deepened. The repair in the rupture of the relationship makes it stronger, like a broken bone that heals. In the good providence of God, even our sins can become places of redemption.
Myth #3: If I follow biblical wisdom and principles, my kids will turn out great.
I have to be careful here. There is a lot of truth to this one.
The Scriptures have so many good things to say about relationships in general, and fathering in particular. But underneath this myth, there is the assumption of a formula. If I do a, b, and c, then I will always get x, y, and z. Fathering then becomes about following certain rules with a guaranteed result. Biblical wisdom is transformed into a transaction with God, whereby He is under obligation to make certain things happen if I follow the correct script.
But such an idea founders on the rocky shorelines of reality. I have known some great dads whose kids have gone off the deep end into addiction, who have rebelled against the faith, or who have just struggled intensely.
Being a father cannot be reduced to a formula. Neither can the souls of our children. And reducing faith in God to a formula is a tragic misunderstanding. It’s actually the foundation of all pagan religion, not biblical truth.
Having said that, the sound wisdom of the Bible is still true. But it’s true in the context of relationship. As we stay connected to our kids when they struggle, as we persevere in prayer and in love them when they are unlovable, God can show up and accomplish far more than we could ask or imagine. And the biblical wisdom is still true in the context of God’s timing and work.
Where our kids are at any present moment is never the final say on the matter. There are no hopeless situations when Christ is at work.
Let’s move now to the truths.
What are some truths we need to hear about fatherhood? There are many, but here are 3 important ones:
Truth #1: We will father our children much better if we have been fathered ourselves.
We can only pass on what we have experienced. This sounds obvious, but when it comes to fathering, it may sound like hopelessness. So many men have been poorly fathered themselves. But I state this truth as one of hope.
One of the most transforming truths of the gospel is that God is our Father through Jesus. And He desires to be a Father to the fatherless. For the man who has been poorly fathered by a silent or violent dad, there is an invitation to be a beloved son.
The more a man can experience his heavenly Father loving him, encouraging him, and walking with him, the more he will be able to replicate the same thing with his children.
Truth #2: The power of the living Christ can break generational sins.
This follows from the first truth. We often hear the adage: “The apple never falls far from the tree.” But this is a lie when it comes to the sins inherent in all family systems, some of which have been passed down for generations. Alcoholism, suicide, abuse, co-dependency, ruthless individualism, marital affairs—whatever patterns a man grew up in, he is not fated to pass them on to his children. He can stop the curse with his generation. This is the power of Christ in him. He can start something new.
Heidi and I were determined to stop some of the tragic sins in our own families of origin from becoming patterns with our children. But we had to do the hard work first of owning our part in those sins, forgiving where needed, and seeking God in prayer.
It has been a huge mountain to climb, but one so worth taking on for the future of our kids.
Truth #3: The two most powerful things you can give your kids are the story of the gospel and your own story.
This last truth is perhaps the most important.
The story of the gospel will give them a secure foundation on which to grow their lives. Taking the time to read the Bible to them, to pray with them as they go to bed, to talk to them about how you experience God, to go to church with them—all of this lays a foundation that will not be washed away by the storms of life.
But along with the great story of the Bible is our own story, with all of its failings and joys. As our children grew, Heidi and I began to share parts of our stories—of course seeking to be age-appropriate. We wanted them not only to see their family heritage but also our experience of Christ redeeming our stories.
I find all three truths immensely hopeful. But there is one final word of encouragement I want to offer: God can love and father our children in a way that we can only faintly echo. We can trust our children to Him with great confidence and hope. He will be faithful with them to the end (I Thess. 5:24).
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a church planter, a high school Bible teacher, and a running coach. Seven years ago, he pioneered Landmark Journey Ministriesto help men find their guide, own their identity, and discover their quest through Christ. His latest book is Heroic: The Surprising Path to True Manhood. His greatest claim to fame is being married to Heidi for 33 years and having two amazing daughters. He and his wife currently reside in Franklin, TN. Bill can be reached at [email protected].
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