The word “father” immediately brings to mind a number of images and emotions for anyone. Maybe it is a joyous reminder of great memories, or perhaps a sorrowful void. It goes without saying, the role of the dad in the lives of children is important. This begs the question, what makes a great father?
The answer is complex because fathers fill a multitude of roles in the lives of their children. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss several basic requirements of a good father: be present, be a friend, be an example, be a teacher and become a hero. These are broad, but if you desire to influence and lead your children to become the kind of adults you hope them to be, they are essential.
The first and most important role of a good father is to be present. There are numerous examples of fathers that are not present and only carry the name father in a purely biological sense. My great grandfather, whom I never met, carried this designation. He was, in fact, kicked out by my great grandmother for being essentially a deadbeat.
My grandfather and his siblings rose to the occasion, working to help pay for family bills. My grandfather ended up working on a shrimp boat with an uncle as a teenager, and later went on to serve 30 years in the navy. He broke the cycle of bad fatherhood, always setting a loving example for his children and grandchildren. The difference was his intentional presence in their lives. You cannot make a difference if you are not there!
Be a Friend
Sometimes your kids need you to be their friend. They need your attention, your camaraderie and they need to have fun with you!
A great example of this is in the movie Field of Dreams. Set in a rural Iowa cornfield is wrought with numerous moments about baseball, perseverance, mythical cornfields and plenty of life lessons. Throughout the movie, the primary characters are Ray and the famous (or infamous) Shoeless Joe Jackson. There is a repeated mantra throughout the movie, “if you build it, he will come.” Without divulging the entire plot, there is an aura of mystery behind the meaning of this phrase throughout the movie. Nevertheless, when we arrive at the end of the movie (spoiler alert) it becomes clear what the entire movie has been about: the arrival of Ray’s dad.
After learning that he died years ago, never meeting Ray’s wife or their daughter, you witness the emotional effects of being face to face with Ray’s dad, and he’s nearly speechless. The most powerful moment of the movie lies in its final spoken lines:
Ray: Hey, dad. Want to have a catch?
John: I’d like that
And the movie ends with an emotional moment of father-son catch. The entire movie ends up being about a son just wanting to enjoy the attention of his father in one of the most famous ways possible: playing catch. Friends play catch. Be a friend to your kids.
Be an Example
While your words will always be important in parenting, your actions will always speak louder. They are watching you in every way you behave, react, talk and think. Charles Kettering said “every father should remember one day his son will follow his example, not his advice.”
The best example of this for us lies in the example of our heavenly Father. Scripture tells the story of creation and redemption about a father who loves his creation so much that he sends his son to suffer in place of his creation through grace. This sacrificial love paints a picture for both us to feel tremendous honor for the undeserved grace of the father, understanding how great a sacrifice he paid through the suffering of his son. God shows us how much he loves us by helping us understand the level of love he has for Jesus through his sonship to the father. We understand this, and in turn understand the great pain that it would cause us to make this decision.
In this sacrifice for our sins, we get to be called children of God and share in that “sonship” with Jesus himself. We get to look to God as our father, too, because of this grace. What an amazing father. William Wordsworth said “father – to God himself we can give no holier name.” Indeed.
Be a Teacher
Teaching life lessons to your children in the hopes that they will grow into the people you hope they can become is truly the work of fatherhood. This means when it is time to “drop the hammer” you levy the discipline necessary to correct the behavior. It might mean offering advice through difficult situations new to them that you have experienced before. It might mean simply teaching them how to change a tire.
Scripture calls us to teach our children:
Proverbs 22:6: Train up your children in the way they should go and even in old age they will not turn from it. (NIV)
Your responsibility as the first teacher in your children’s life can literally last a lifetime.
Become a Hero
Being a hero means a lot of things, but in this context it is specific to dads. To be the hero to your children you must be all these things. You must be present, you must be an example, you must be a friend and you must be a teacher. But most of all, you must love them.
I am fortunate, because my dad is all these things to me and he is my hero. He’s always been there to be my best friend, to offer me advice, to be my teacher and always to set an example. I am a father, and the best example that has ever been set for me to follow has been that of my own father. I am forever grateful for his influence on my life, and proud to be his son.
I hope the same is true for you, or that it will be true for your children.