Fatherless America

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken June 20, 1999

To all you fathers out there, Happy Father's Day! Somehow Father's Day doesn't seem quite as important as Mother's Day, and it may only be a marketing ploy to sell more greeting cards, but I do want to say a few words to those of you who are fathers, especially fathers who still have children at home.

I doubt whether there has ever been a more important time to be a father. This week I have been reading about the generation they are calling "The Millennials," or "The Bridgers." These are children born between 1976 and 1996, and they represent one fourth of America's population.

Generally speaking, the Builders were the generation that won World War II; the Boomers were the last generation to have stay-at-home homes; the Busters are the Generation Xers in search of an identity; and the Bridgers are the bridge to the new millennium [See Thom S. Rainer, The Bridger Generation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1997)]. For at least the next half century, they will be the most influential people in the world. If you are a dad, some of them probably live in your house.

But maybe not, because many Bridgers do not live with their fathers. At any given time, nearly one-third of all children 18 and under do not live in the same home with their fathers, and less than half spend their entire childhood with both of their parents [Rainer, 11]. Our country is fast becoming a fatherless America.

Tragically, if you look at the problems Bridgers are going to face, almost all of them are problems dads are supposed to solve. The experts say that Bridgers face a future of economic uncertainty; they lack moral boundaries; they live in a culture of rising violence; and they are unclear about their gender roles.

Those are exactly the kinds of things fathers are for. Fathers are supposed to provide for the material needs of their families. They are supposed to teach the difference between right and wrong, and to show what it means to be gentle as well as strong. Fathers, more than anyone else, teach their sons what it means to be men and their daughters what it means to be women.

Many of the problems Bridgers face stem from being fatherless. That is also true of their most serious problem: a crisis of faith. Bridgers are being raised in a world without absolutes. Although they have some interest in spiritual things, they have little or no interest in organized religion. One young man spoke for many when he said, "You know, to me God means the 'main guy.' And the 'main guy' means different things to different people. I got friends who find God in ways that are totally different from me. But ultimately it's the same—it's God" [Rainer, 29].

Bridgers have been inoculated against the idea that one religion is any better than any other. In fact, they have been trained to be suspicious of anyone who claims to know the truth. "I get real angry," said one Bridger, "at these Christians who tell me that Jesus is the only way to heaven. I mean, what kind of arrogance is that?" [Rainer, 30].

Given these attitudes, it comes as little surprise to hear that while 60% of their grandparents, 40% of their parents, and even 25% of their older siblings claim to be Christians, only 4% of the Millennial generation will profess faith in Jesus Christ [Data from the Presbyterian Church in America, Atlanta, Georgia].

What can dads do about this? To put the question another way, What can a father do to promote the spiritual welfare of his home?

The first thing a father can do is improve his own spiritual welfare. Generally speaking, the best way to stengthen a family's faith is to strengthen the faith of its father. Fathers, whatever spiritual changes need to take place in your household must begin in your heart. You must rededicate yourself and your family to the glory of God.

Another thing a father can do is cherish his wife. Dads, all the love in your household flows through your love for the woman you married. More than anything else, what gives your children confidence to face the world is the absolute certainty that you will always care for their mother. I would almost say that your love for her is more important to your children than your love for them. Children learn what love is from their father's heart. This is part of what the prophet Malachi meant when he promised that God would turn the hearts of the fathers to their children (Mal. 4:6).

What else can a father can do to shore up the foundation of his household? He needs to provide for his family, of course. The importance of this is sometimes overlooked these days, but providing for his family is a father's God-given responsibility (see 1 Tim. 5:8). However, even a hard-working dad needs to spend time with his kids. Lots of time.

Sadly, the average American dad spends only fourteen minutes a day with his children. I can't prove it, exactly, but my conviction is that one of the ways children take on the image of their fathers is by gazing into their eyes. That requires eye contact, which means that fathers need to engage their children face to face. Fathers should talk to their children. They should teach them and play with them.

Fathers should also worship with their children. The best way to teach your children that knowing Jesus Christ is the most important thing in the world is to treat it as the most important thing in the world. That means spending time in family worship. There are plenty of ways for families to worship together. If you need help, your pastor or elder would be happy to make some suggestions. But you need to be the worship leader, not in a pushy or legalistic way, but as the natural outflow of your own heart's desire.

If you are at all like me, you could be doing a lot better in most of the areas I have mentioned. But you have start somewhere. It helps to have some idea of what a good father does and, more importantly, who he serves.

© 2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. ©2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org