Many words have been spoken and ink expended about the diminished regard we collectively have for fathers. Gone are the days of the loving and wise fathers once seen on TV in the characters of Ward Cleaver and Andy Taylor, replaced by foolish if not loveable dupes like Phil Dunphy and Homer Simpson.
Whatever the critique may be of these fictional fathers, at least they are present. Unfortunately for many of you, this has not been your experience. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, among children who were part of the "post-war generation," 87.7% grew up with two biological parents who were married to each other. Today only 68.1% go through childhood with their family intact.
The ramifications of this erosion of the nuclear family are far-reaching and often tragic. According to the National Center for Fathering, children in fatherless homes are four times more likely to be raised in poverty; 10 times more likely to abuse drugs; two times more likely to commit suicide; nine times more likely to drop out of school; and 20 times more likely to be incarcerated.
Many people use these statistics to demonize men and fathers as the problem. Certainly there are those who deserve this criticism for spurning their parental responsibilities or worse, abusing them. However, taken as a whole, I don't believe men are the problem — they are, rather, the solution. It's never too late to once again embrace and promote the value of a father — especially if you are one.
That begs the question: what truly is a father's role?
You don't need a license or a diploma to become a father, yet the job description is one of the toughest imaginable. According to Scripture, a father encourages and comforts his children, urging them to "live lives worthy of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). He is charged with the instruction (Proverbs 1:8-9) and discipline (Hebrews 12:10) of his offspring. He is expected to provide "good gifts" for his children (Matthew 7:9-11). And in all of this, a father must not "exasperate" his children.
In the face of this enormous job, it's easy for fathers to feel like a high school dropout interviewing for a job as a nuclear physicist. But don't be discouraged. Scripture tells us that our heavenly Father will assist us in each of life's heavy responsibilities: "The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs" (Isaiah 58:11). You can depend on the Father of all fathers, for strength in every parenting challenge, no matter what your qualifications or deficiencies might be.
The most important thing you can give to your kids is faith in Jesus Christ. Pray with and for your kids and disciple them in faith. I often think of this as a relay race where one generation passes the baton to the next. Any track coach will tell you that races are won and lost at the point of exchange. The same is true with the Gospel. If failure is to occur, it will probably happen in the exchange between generations.
Each of these responsibilities is critical in raising healthy and balanced children and each takes time and energy to get right. Unfortunately, after work and other obligations, these are often the last things many fathers feel they have to give. Sadly, what is missed can never be recaptured.
Allow me to state this point as emphatically as I can: If the home is going to survive and thrive, it is because husbands and fathers once again place their families at the very top of their priority lists.
I appeal to fathers and father figures everywhere to stay the course. If you've ignored, neglected or even abandoned your role as a father, don't wait another day, now is the time to change. There may be no more exhausting and difficult assignment in life, but rest assured, no job, career or accomplishment can ever compare to the pure joy and eternal value of raising your child well.
Finish the job to which He has called you! There is no more important task in living.