Jimmy’s Table PodcastCuriously evangelical. Politically homeless. A dreamer of small things. On this podcast, I am having conversations about the intersection of faith, life, and culture.

Being A Father – Episode #114

Being A Father - Homer Simpson

Father’s Day is a tricky thing. While I believe most of us have had pretty good fathers, we live in a world where a lot of people have not known the blessing of having a good father. Instead, many live in a world where dad is absent, disengaged, cruel, abusive, and a terror.

What My Dad Is Like

I certainly count myself lucky to have had the blessing of growing up with a terrific father. There was never a doubt in my mind that our family was the most important thing in the world to him. I grew up in a household full of love.

My dad is 1 of 13 children. His father passed away when he was only 7 years old. And I think the fact his father died at such a young age caused him to make sure he poured everything he had into our family. My dad worked tireless hours in a factory as an electrician, often on graveyard shifts for much of his career, 6 and sometimes 7 days a week. Yet in all that he still found the time to coach two youth hockey teams that my brother and I played on, and seldom ever missed a game or practice, no matter how little sleep he was working on.

Yet as busy as my dad was, he was never too busy for us, or too tired for us, even when he clearly was tired. He sacrificed deeply, yet I never recall hearing him complain once. What must have been very hard on him came across as a joy, because he knew his sacrifices were affording us a better life. Being 1 of 13 children whose father died young, my dad grew up in deep poverty. He joked once, “We had enough food for 28 days out of the month.” That works well, of course, in February. But not many others. And knowing poverty deeply, he told me once that he vowed his children would never know the poverty he grew up under in the city of Chicago. A vow, which my father kept pretty well. We weren’t rich, but I never knew what it was to lack, even during lean economic times in which my parents found themselves counting every red cent.

Dumping On Fathers

Now that we’ve talked about my father, let’s talk about how society views fathers. We live in a society that tends to dump on dad’s. While I think most of us have had good fathers, it’s not uncommon for fathers to be portrayed in a pretty negative light.

In TV shows, movies, and commercials, father’s are a proverbial whipping boy who takes a lot of flack. He’s the frequent butt of jokes, viewed as out of touch, subject to many put-downs, and is painted as being kinda out of sorts individual. Dad’s are often seen as something of a disappointing figure. At some point our culture decided to swap the overly idealized sitcom father of the 50’s and 60’s, the “Father Knows Best” type, for fathers like Al Bundy and Homer Simpson.

Of course, such negative caricatures of lackluster fathers are much more entertaining to watch than the fathers who had everything together in “Leave it To Beaver” type shows. And maybe they are a bit more real and relatable than anything we saw in the days of black and white television, where fathers were seen free of any major defects.

But I think at some point, we started buying heavily into the idea that fathers are not only disappointing, but possibly even “toxic” and “dangerous” individuals who are a threat to our very own well being. They are the stuff of Lifetime movies. Of course, such people definitely exist, and we should not and cannot ignore such men. I’ve known folks with terrible fathers, and you may even have such a father in your life. And if that’s you, my heart truly goes out to you.

We All Need Good Fathers

I know this may not be popular to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. But I believe we all are in need of good fathers. And I don’t say that as a slight against any single moms out there. I’ve known some truly amazing single moms who are out there killing it in the parental arena.

But can’t we, for a moment at least, acknowledge that in a world in which there are fathers, that the fathers that exist ought to be good ones? When fathers are bad, the world is not as it ought to be. The world can’t be right when fathers aren’t the men they are supposed to be.

In the Bible, the primary way that God reveals Himself is as our Heavenly Father. And that’s no accident, and not because the Bible has some outdated, patriarchal, man-domineering, anti-woman perspective on the world. Such criticisms may float the boat of many folks on Twitter, but it simply doesn’t fly in the rich tapestry of the world we understand from the divine perspective in Scripture.

God revealed himself as a Heavenly Father in Scripture because we live in a world that has and always will be built on relationships. Our triune God is a community, and we as a people who were created in the image and likeness of God were made for community as well. And the community of God has always been and will forever be family oriented.

Even should you and I grow close enough with other individuals outside our own bloodlines, like as with really close friends, or individuals that we may adopt, we begin to regard these individuals as “family.” There’s simply nothing closer. Heck, we even start to thinking of pets as part of our “family,” even though our pets are a completely different species from us.

There’s simply nothing closer than family, however that family is ultimately composed. And regardless of your view of your roles on gender, there’s simply no denying that fathers almost always are seen as the figure-head of the family unit.

And God reveals Himself as Father, to show us that no matter what our family composition, and regardless of how functional or dysfunctional our family dynamics are, God exists as a Father figure for our own sake.

All others may disappoint us and forsake us, but God is always there as our Father. He’s a Father to the fatherless, and looks out after the orphan, the widow, and the single mom. And even if your dad is an amazing father, live long enough and even the best of fathers will show they have chinks in their armor. My dad might be able to beat up your dad! But even my dad isn’t Chuck Norris.

And above all, when God reveals Himself as a father, he does so to model to other fathers how they ought to serve as fathers, to better love on their own families, and to even be fathers to those who lack fathers of their own, or are in need of a fatherly influence.

Many Teachers, Not Many Fathers

The apostle Paul had an interesting exchange with the church he ministered to in Corinth. He wasn’t just a professional minister doing his ministerial duties in some official capacity. Rather, he related to this church in a very fatherly type way.

The apostle Paul wrote:

I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 

~1 Corinthians 4:14-17 (NASB)

We live in an age where anybody and everybody can and will share their opinions on something. Heck, I’m such a person. There’s no shortage of educators, preachers, politicians, pundits, talk show hosts, and social media influencers that are constantly trying to tell you how you ought to live your life.

But for all the talking heads, there are very few fathers.

And I think we should let that sink in. Especially as we are absorbed in a world full of folks telling it like it is. A hot take culture in where the best meme wins and shapes how an entire generation will think and act.

Yet, there are very few fathers. Many tutors, but not many fathers.

What is a father you might ask?

A father is a source of life, love, and joy. He’s there when you need him, and even when you don’t think you need him. He’s looking out for your well being, and is ready to help walk you through your first steps in a world that is capable of destroying you. He’s someone who has lived life, and knows how to navigate the complex world we find ourselves in, and can lovingly and patiently demonstrate such and help you to do the same.

A father is someone that is there for you, that you can turn to, and that you WILL ultimately turn to for support and advice. You live in a world full of people ready to tell you what to do, but few that will actually take the time to roll up their sleeves and play ball with you. We have many tutors, many coaches, but not many fathers.

Ultimately, a father exists, not to just tell you what to do, but to help you embody what you must ultimately become.

God does this for us, and I believe He ultimately calls upon us to be fathers unto others. Not only those who our in our world because of biological factors, but those whose orbit simply crosses over into ours. God wants us to take all that we’ve learned and all that we’ve become, and to help pass on what we are to the next generation.

So, whatever your lot in life, whatever your occupation, whatever your calling, whatever your hobbies are, whatever it is that you ultimately do… take a lesson from our Heavenly Father, and look at how you might ultimately be a father to someone else.

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1 comment
  • Thanks for this, Jimmy, especially for throwing further light on Paul’s words, “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers…” (KJV).
    You said, “Ultimately, a father exists, not to just tell you what to do, but to help you embody what you must ultimately become.” Amen.

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