June 1, 2012
This year my birthday fell on Memorial Day, and that coincidence has a special significance for me, because on each birthday, I not only am forced to recognize the passing of years, but I am reminded that it is also the day my father died. This year marked 25 years since I received the phone call from my brother that my father had been found in his apartment, after he failed to open the pharmacy in the morning. We had no advance warning. Suddenly he was not there.
But I’m grateful to be able to look back on a father who invested deeply in my life, made his wife and children a clear priority, and modeled for me what it meant to love his Lord, to lead his family and to serve others. I’m not unaware of some of his weaknesses, but his contributions for good far outweighed those. His mark on my life is indelible, and I am deeply grateful. But I don’t want just to look back with gratitude to my father; I want to leave a similar legacy for my children and grandchildren.
Fatherhood is in trouble in our culture. A tragically small number of children never have a stable father figure in their lives, and the personal and social costs are enormous. Two years ago, a rather foolish article appeared in a national magazine entitled “Are fathers necessary?” The author, who clearly had a political agenda, contended on the basis of one research study that there is nothing objectively essential about a father’s contribution. The most cogent comment on that flimsy and fallacious argument was that she had been asking the wrong people: she should have asked kids! That same critic makes that important point, however, that the real question isn’t “Are fathers necessary?” but “are they involved and what does their involvement look like?”
The fact is that research is remarkably consistent. There is an undeniable connection between fatherless households, delinquency, criminal activity, low academic performance and sexual activity. But it isn’t enough merely for a father to be present. He needs to be personally accessible, emotionally engaged, financially responsible and involved in child-rearing decisions. Most of all, as a Christian, he needs to lead and model for his sons and daughters what it means to live and love as a man who knows and follows Christ.
There is a verse tucked away in Genesis 18 that describes God’s purpose for Abraham, and for those who walk by faith in the footsteps of Abraham: “I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (v. 19). Alongside that, Paul calls us to bring up our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). That is a job description worth pondering as we approach not only Father’s Day, but the summer season when life takes on different rhythms, providing fresh opportunities to make fresh deposits in our fathering legacy.