By Ryan C. MacPherson
Father’s Day teeters precariously between becoming an obsolete tradition of some bygone era and a minority holiday that has the potential to revive the positive roles men play in our lives. Why the sense of obsolescence? We have forgotten five important facts about fatherhood. Here they are. Share them with others and perhaps this Father’s Day we can re-learn to appreciate, and to live out, the wonderful vocation of fatherhood.
1. God invented fatherhood (so of course Satan hates it).
Fatherhood originated in the created order (Genesis 1:28). It existed before the first human society; from fatherhood and for fatherhood, society emerged and continues to exist. “In this commandment [“Honor your father and your mother”] belongs a further statement regarding all kinds of obedience to persons in authority who have to command and to govern. For all authority flows and is propagated from the authority of parents” (Large Catechism, Fourth Commandment, 141).
At a deeper level, fatherhood even preceded not only the conception and birth of Adam’s first child, Cain, but also the creation of Adam himself. God the Father is eternal. God the Son is, as the church has long confessed in the Nicene Creed, “eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds.” All fatherhood on earth receives its office and title from the Father in heaven (Ephesians 3:14-15).
Satan attacks human fatherhood because he attacks Fatherhood, capital F. Satan tempts people to distrust, disrespect, and disregard fathers on this earth, just as he seeks to rob our Heavenly Father of His wonderful relationship with His Son Jesus and with all who have become ‘sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:26).
Satan attacks human fatherhood because he attacks Fatherhood, capital F. Satan tempts people to distrust, disrespect, and disregard fathers on this earth, just as he seeks to rob our Heavenly Father of His wonderful relationship with His Son Jesus and with all who have become “sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Satan tempted Jesus to renounce His Father (Matthew 4:9); Satan tempts us to renounce both our Heavenly Father and our earthly fathers.
2. Children need fathers (and fathers need their children).
Children depend on fathers for more than just the sperm that fertilized their mother’s egg when they were conceived. Fathers provide for and protect mothers during the vulnerable times of pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing. Fathers continue these roles as they lead their maturing families, guiding their children to develop the wisdom that comes not merely from experience, but from experience engaged by moral character.
In the hands of fathers God the Father has placed the responsibility to train children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord ... to lead their children to Christ who forgives, comforts, and renews ... [to] set before their children the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments through which the Spirit gives, strengthens, and deepens their faith in God’s bountiful mercies.
Moreover, in the hands of fathers God the Father has placed the responsibility to train children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. God has assigned to fathers the responsibility to lead their children to Christ who forgives, comforts, and renews. God intends that fathers set before their children the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments through which the Spirit gives, strengthens, and deepens their faith in God’s bountiful mercies.
Social statistics testify that more children than not go without fathers these days. Well over half of America’s children spend significant portions of their childhoods in a household where only one of their parents is present—usually mom, not dad, and usually due to divorce or else desertion by a father who never was married to the child’s mother. Seldom is death the cause of single parenthood, but often death is the result. A broad basis of empirical research conducted by social scientists affiliated with our nation’s leading universities indicates that children who lack a father in their home fare poorly: more prone to criminal and other dangerous behavior, lower grades in school, more likely to drop out of school, and the list goes on. Thankfully, many of these children have surrogate fathers who step forward to assist—uncles, “big brothers” from local community organizations, pastors, teachers, or stepfathers. Sadly, and despite valiant attempts to make things work out, the research shows that no matter how much these surrogates seek to fill the gap, the child’s father is an irreplaceable asset.
Father’s Day has become a minority holiday; let our hearts go out to the fathers and children estranged from one another, and let our hands and our voices get to work in the spirit of John the Baptist, ‘turn[ing] the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers’ (Malachi 4:6).
It’s not simply that children need their fathers, but also that fathers need their children. When children grow up in a home without their dad, it means dad is somewhere else—without his children. Lonely. Rejected. Sorrowful. Feeling unworthy to return. Unforgiven. Unforgivable? Father’s Day has become a minority holiday; let our hearts go out to the fathers and children estranged from one another, and let our hands and our voices get to work in the spirit of John the Baptist, “turn[ing] the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).
3. Women benefit from fathers (and fathers benefit from wives and mothers).
Women fear men. The prospect of entrusting their lives to men terrifies them. And yet, the Bible commands that women should entrust their lives to men. Daughters owe honor, respect, obedience, and love to their fathers—and not just on Father’s Day, either. God calls wives to “submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). “Submit” has become more offensive than the other s-word, but a good definition would be, “to entrust oneself to the care of another person.”
As women submit to the Lord, that is, as they entrust themselves to God’s care, they exercise faith that He will provide for their needs. This and nothing less is what it means to believe in God. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism (First Commandment, 1-2, 4):
What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart. ... Therefore it is the intent of this commandment [“You shall have no other gods.”] to require true faith and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God, and clings to Him alone. That is as much as to say: “See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another,” i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or rest in any other.
Scripture calls upon each wife to have an analogous relation to her husband—to trust that the husband whom God gave her will be God’s channel of blessings to her and her children. ... No husband is perfect, but no alternative can compare to God’s design for the family.
Scripture calls upon each wife to have an analogous relation to her husband—to trust that the husband whom God gave her will be God’s channel of blessings to her and her children.
No husband in this sin-infested world will ever discharge his duties 100% faithfully, but of course the very same could be said for any replacement whom a woman might seek. Her boss—whether a man or a woman—will not always be worthy of her respect or submission. If she entrusts herself to the care of a social worker to make sure the man she divorces will pay sufficient child support, she likely will find reason to become disappointed with the welfare bureaucrats just as much as with the deadbeat dad. And if, forsaking all others, she relies solely on herself, as a modern, liberated woman, then each time she looks into the mirror she will see failure staring her in the face. No husband is perfect, but no alternative can compare to God’s design for the family.
Wives and mothers, in fact, play an important role in helping men become better husbands and fathers. This begins early on, as mothers raise their sons to be sensitive to women’s needs. This continues through marriage, as wives serve as “helpmeets” to assist husbands in so important a vocation as fatherhood (Genesis 2:18).
4. Men are built for fatherhood (despite their struggles to live up to it).
Though challenges surround fatherhood, demanding a man’s highest abilities, this is no reason to give up. Think of it as an encouragement to try harder, just as an athlete trains, despite the pain, and learns to succeed, despite the early failures. “You are a soldier!” yells the drill sergeant, and his voice commands so much respect that the scrawny boy in front of him becomes a physically fit, mentally focused, emotionally stabled, courageous defender of his homeland. When your wife says, “I’m pregnant,” that’s the voice of God speaking, as if to say, “I’m making you into a father.” And God’s voice commands respect. He spoke, and all was created. He still speaks, and children are procreated. God designed Adam for Eve, Eve for Adam, and both of them for Cain, Abel, and Seth. Your family is no different. Hidden behind the confusion, the doubts, and the frank recognition of your incompetence is God, sustaining you, strengthening you, and promising never to leave you or forsake you. He has created men for fatherhood, and completes that work in their maturing lives.
5. God is our Heavenly Father (adopting us as His dear children through Holy Baptism).
God knows all about fatherhood. He not only invented it, but He is fatherhood. From eternity, the Father has begotten the Son. When God’s Word comes to the water in Holy Baptism, it becomes a powerful Sacrament of adoption, transforming a child of perdition into an heir of God’s kingdom (Galatians 3:26-27,29):
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. ... And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
So where do you fit? ... a sorry sinner for whom God gave up the Boy who made Him a Father in order to become your heavenly Father, too ... a new creation in Christ Jesus, whom the Holy Spirit now empowers to live out your calling in the family.
So where do you fit? A deadbeat dad? A wife who has given up hope and sought a divorce, hiring an attorney to secure custody of the children? A child who persuades himself he doesn’t need a father anyway? How about a sorry sinner for whom God gave up the Boy who made Him a Father in order to become your heavenly Father, too? How about a new creation in Christ Jesus, whom the Holy Spirit now empowers to live out your calling in the family, in your congregation, and in the world beyond? You might start by discussing these five forgotten facts of fatherhood with the people in your midst. May God bless your efforts, even as He has forgiven your failures.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their children in Mankato, MN, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College.
Suggested citation: MacPherson, Ryan C. “Five Forgotten Facts about Fatherhood.” The Hausvater Project, June 2010. www.hausvater.org.