The Secret of Fatherhood

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We all have insecurities boiling inside us. Our culture tells us incessantly what failures we are as fathers.

Even our own genes can throw up roadblocks. We don’t get to be the heroes we feel like we should be. And so we fail. We lose interest. We’d rather play video games.

But we can’t. We have to push aside those fears and insecurities and our own laziness – the “ways of childhood” the apostle Paul talks about (1 Corinthians 13:11). We have to transcend our own weaknesses and predilections and become the greater man. I think God calls us to do just that.

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want writes Paul in Galatians 5:17.

Sometimes we might wonder why our flesh and our Spirit always seem to be in such opposition. After all, God created both our bodies and souls. But I think the Lord sets up paradoxes in life in order to create environments for us to learn how to become more like Him, situations that push against our natural inclinations and into a more God-honoring stance. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to lean on Him more and more.

I like to think of it like this: We all live, in a sense, in boxes, with the whole box of life tilted in God’s direction. We can fight, we can struggle, we can deny Him, we can scream. We can do whatever to try to move away from Him. But the elevation of the box on one side keeps cranking up until we reach a tipping point. Something snaps, and we fall to the other side. It’s all about leaning into God.

Marriage thrusts us into such a box. You’re selfish? You like calling your own shots? Get married. And if you’re selfish too long, you’re not going to be married long. You have to start giving.

Fatherhood is exactly the same thing. If some selfishness remains in you after marriage, then have some kids – and be responsible for them. Sure, you can have children all day long, as many men do, and have no accountability. But if you have a sense of responsibility for that child, you take up that mantle.

Yes, it will be hard. You will not know how to deal with them very well, at least at first. You’ll feel scared. You’ll feel frustrated. It’s hard because, in some ways, God knows it has to be hard for us. Only through that pain and difficulty do we grow ever more like Him. Our flawed flesh and scared souls may give us pause. But according to Paul,

… the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline – 2 Timothy 1:7

And that, in the end, is the heart of it all, the secret of fatherhood – living in power, love, and self-discipline. Sometimes that goes against our instincts or what we’d like. But that’s what God calls us to.

And at the center of it all, as Paul once again says, is love. Always hopeful, always trusting, always persevering. As a father, love is the key, the secret to everything. It’s not rocket science. It’s pretty easy, really. If you love your kids and you can show them that you love them, everything else falls into place.

And we need to love them as a father. We can’t mother our children; most of our children already have great mothers. Don’t be their mother. Be their dad. And what does it mean to be their dad? It means you do have to connect. Engage them in the way that you can. Be natural with it. Cut loose a little. It will come naturally to you. Turtles know what to do. Penguins know what to do. Other animals know what to do as dads. We human fathers know what to do, too. Sure, circumstances have changed. Most of us can’t talk about life with our boys while working in the fields anymore. But we can find opportunities, if we only look for them.

Many men don’t even know the job requirements of fatherhood. But fatherhood’s not a job, and it never has been. Being a father isn’t something we do. It’s something we are. That’s hard for us to understand sometimes, being as task oriented as we are. But I think that’s what Paul is getting at.

We need to lean on love, push beyond our instincts, and go deeper. We don’t set aside being a good dad when we’re off the clock. It’s something we become. And just as we’re always in the process of unpacking our faith, growing ever closer to Jesus long after we become Christians, so the road to becoming a father is a never-ending journey.

We’re always learning how to be a good dad. We’re always in the process of becoming one. And we never cast aside that process.

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Excerpted from The Good Dad by Jim Daly, copyright Zondervan 2014.

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Your Turn

What is the one thing you admire most about your father or your husband when it comes to his parenting?

Jim Daly

Jim Daly is the president and CEO of Focus on the Family. Daly has received the 2008 World Children's Center Humanitarian Award and the 2009 Children's Hunger Fund Children's Champion Award. He has appeared on such television programs as ABC “World News Tonight” and PBS’ “Religion and amp; Ethics”; and been featured in Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and Newsweek, which named him one of the top 10 next-generation evangelical leaders of influence. Daly and his wife have two sons and reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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