The Window on the World is our weekly opportunity to evaluate contemporary culture from the biblical point of view. Soon it will be time to close the window for the summer, although Dr. Boice and Rev. Clark will keep it open for the next couple of weeks.
Since I will be away again this year on Father’s Day, I want to say something this week about what it means to be a father. They say fatherhood is a dying institution in America. Some of the reasons for this are explored in a recent book called Fatherless America [New York: HarperCollins, 1995].
At the beginning of the book, David Blankenhorn defines the current crisis:
The United States is becoming an increasingly fatherless society. A generation ago, an American child could reasonably expect to grow up with his or her father. Today, an American child can reasonably expect not to… Tonight, about 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live… Never before have so many children grown up without knowing what it means to have a father [p. 1].
Blankenhorn goes on to call fatherlessness “the engine driving our most urgent social problems” [p. 1].
But Fatherless America does more than define the problem. It also tries to define what it means to be a good father. Among other things, Blankenhorn argues that simply having a father at home helps bring stability to a child’s life. That is not only good sociology, it is good theology. The Bible begs fathers to turn their hearts back home (Mal. 4:6). A father who remains committed to his wife and his children brings blessing to his family and his nation.
But it is not easy to be a father, I find. Every week I have questions which are hard (or even impossible) to answer. How do I parcel out my affection equally among my children? How should I handle a noisy two-year old during family devotions? What is the most effective means of discipline for a particular act of disobedience? How can I encourage my children to excel without burdening them with unreasonable expectations?
I have been thinking about that last question a lot, especially during the T-Ball season. You learn a lot about family dynamics when you play T-Ball. I have a great deal of respect for the dads on our team. They take an interest in their children. They help with baseball practice. They show up for games.
But I have also observed that some fathers have trouble knowing how to handle their children’s failures. They get frustrated over simple mistakes. And since what happens on the baseball field is beyond their control, sometimes they even get angry. And this only T-Ball… just wait until we start keeping score!
What fathers end up doing is exactly what the Bible tells us not to do, namely, exasperating our children (see Eph. 6:4). What could be more exasperating then being held to a standard it is impossible to meet, and then being criticized for not meeting it?
What makes unreasonable demands so exasperating is that children need the approval of their fathers. And rightly so! By biblical definition, a father is a man who has compassion on his children (Ps. 103:13a). Children crave the constant affection of their fathers.
I was reminded of my own son’s need for approval by two incidents during the baseball season. For most of the spring, Joshua did not have much trouble hitting a baseball. But during one memorable at-bat, he repeatedly hit the batting tee instead of the ball. And it was obvious what his problem was. He was not keeping his eye on the ball; he was looking right at me instead. He was unable to get a basehit until finally I stepped out of sight.
Later, we had a good talk about it. “Do you know why you kept missing the ball?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just kept missing it.”
“Well, where were you looking?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll tell you where you were looking. You weren’t looking at the ball, you were looking at me! Is that what the coach taught you to do: ‘Keep your eye on the dad’?” We made a joke about that the rest of the season. “All right, buddy, keep your eye on the dad!” I would say. Then we’d both laugh.
What the incident shows is the power of fatherly approval. Josh wanted me to take pleasure in his accomplishment even before he accomplished it. I observed the same desire at work the time Josh caught a pop fly. Before he threw the ball over to first base to complete the double-play, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure I had seen his catch.
In a way, I am touched that Joshua wants me to take pleasure in his success. But I am also awestruck by my responsibility as a father. A father’s love means almost everything to a child. It establishes his or her identity. It brings peace, security and joy. If a father’s affection matters so much, then it had better be easy to win. It had better be the kind of affection which is just as strong after a strikeout as it is after a grand slam.
The wonderful thing is that constant affection is exactly what every child of God receives from his or her heavenly Father. The prophet Zephaniah described it like this:
“The LORD your God… will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).
Every child of God enjoys the irresistible, unbreakable approval of God the Father. If you have received the Father’s love through Jesus Christ, then you should keep your on the Dad after all.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org