What is a dad?
As the father of two growing children, I often feel like I am stumbling through parenting, not sure on how to handle the situations that come up or even respond in the right way. Certainly I am not alone.
Dads struggle to parent in this current culture and typically we are an example of our own father. In turn, they are examples of their own dads and so on. To truly understand what it means to be a father, we need to establish a proper perspective on what it means to be a man.
So, what does it mean to be a man?
Is it our academic performance, athletic ability, financial success, or sexual prowess? If our self-worth as a man is tied to any of those things, than we will find that we can never have enough knowledge, or we can never accumulate enough trophies, money has no real value as it is spent and lost over time, or we are merely users of women who are simply trying to gratify our needs. Not the best description. Certainly not an identity I would want as a man.
Yet somehow, we as men have taken academics, athletics, finances, and sex as the cloak for how we measure ourselves. Without a doubt, that is what is reflected in our current culture.
It has been said that the loneliest moment in life is when you achieve that which you think will bring you happiness and find that it ultimately does not satisfy. If we are not satisfied as men, when we become fathers we will not be particularly great dads. The consequence is the next generation.
For the first time in our nation’s history, the majority of children born to women under 30 will be born outside of marriage. Fathers are quickly disappearing from the home as the U.S. Census Bureau states that 30% of all children live in a home without a father. That number will grow in time. So if children are growing up without a father or their dad’s identity is wrapped up in his performance at work or in the bed, why are we surprised that youth today don’t really know whose they are?
Christian Smith, the noted sociologist who wrote, among many books: Soul Searching, Souls in Transition and Lost in Transition, followed the beliefs and behavior of American Youth. He described their commonly held religious beliefs as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Essentially, this means God lives far away, wants us to do good things and be good people, and that the goal of this life is to soak up whatever we can so that one might live a satisfying and happy life.
Let me paraphrase Mark Driscoll: For youth being raised without a dad at home, that description of God sounds a lot like a father who wants them to behave and do well but is not around or interested in a relationship with them. How we as men interact in our relationship with our children shapes their view of God the Father.
If our identity as men is wrapped up solely in performance, and youth today are looking for relationship, there is going to be a disconnect. In the absence of relationship, youth will fill that gap with something; be it their peer groups, gangs, or entertainment. If our impression of God is that of a father who is away and just wants us to be happy and might send us something, well, then we have created an image of some mythical sugar daddy in the sky. No wonder youth today become so distraught and confused when they suffer because we as men and fathers have not given them a true picture of a dad that adores his children.
Boys and girls who have a father that absolutely treasures them want to be like their dad or marry someone who is like their father. They shape their vision of hope and life through the prism of what they see in their dad. They listen to their dad because they know they can trust him and that he wants to protect them, so when dad tells me no, it must be a good thing because I know he loves me and I want to be like him. My dad is a good thing and so what he tells me are good things. It no longer becomes what my dad might get for me, but instead my identity is secure in my father’s love for me.
If God is the Father, then God is providing us a picture of how we as men must act with our children, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1) The issue with youth and this current culture is an identity issue. It’s a father issue.
A change in our activity and behavior starts with our identity. We love our children not only because they are a gift to us and that they are a part of us, but also because we are a part of them. We love them because we were made to be in relationship with them and each other. We love them because they are our family and family is a picture of our community. Ultimately, we love them because we understand that our identity is found in God the Father and we are His beloved children. Whose you are shapes how you act.