The other day, I was sitting in our living room chair quietly. We don’t have a TV in that room and I was not reading nor clicking away on my I-phone. Experientially, this was not a vision but my mind drifted to the very near future and maybe a year beyond. I could almost hear a newborn infant crying down the hall and then (with a jump forward in time) imagined in the hallway to my right, a baby crawling down toward me. Of course, this fills me with excitement but also, a certain sense of anxiety.
Like I said, not really a vision but a myriad of thoughts centered around an upcoming seasonal life change where nothing will ever be the same. Ever again. This isn’t meant to be a negative strand of thinking but an embracing of a new reality of responsibility, care and love.
Recently, my wife and I finished a series of classes revolving around the birth experience and newborn care. This Saturday, on Capitol Hill, I took a class entitled “Conscious Fathering” as opposed to, I guess, unconscious fathering which might come from me being KO’d or watching a movie on my couch late at night.
A fairly enthusiastic instructor began the class asking the roughly 25 guys (who were all playing with baby dolls, by the way) to define fatherhood for ourselves as individuals. I have been thinking about that question the past couple of days. What is fatherhood? Does fatherhood even matter anymore? There are segments of society, driven by elements of philosophical academia, that are making arguments that fathers don’t matter much at all. “The bad news for Dad is that despite common perception, there’s nothing objectively essential about his contribution. The good news is, we’ve gotten used to him. ” (Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/are-fathers-necessary/308136/)
I’m not into writing self-help blog posts and really couldn’t anyway because of my current lack of experience. My daughter will be entering the world in less than 4 weeks (or maybe sooner or a little bit longer). Here are some of my thoughts for defining fatherhood for myself:
1) Fathers love as God is love (1 John 4:8- “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”) Too bad that in our culture, love has become associated with sappiness or overt sentimentalism probably because our version of “love” is often so shallow. One of the many greek words for love is agape and that is the word used in this verse. Agape= unconditional love. I have to believe that the greatest gift I can give to my daughter is to strive to love her in this way. Some parents, I think, try to control all instances of their children’s life. I’m not a control freak and don’t want to be. Down the road, there may be some paths that my daughter goes down that I don’t like or personally agree with. I can promise that even if these travels happen, she still will always be embraced by me…unconditionally.
2) Fathers provide guidance (“Hear, O sons (or daughters), a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gaininsight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.'” – Proverbs 4:1-5) The first challenge with this verse is to be a father who can give good insights in life and wise counsel in a wide array of areas. In my “Conscious Fathering” class, we were instructed to be “scholarly fathers”. This is no easy task. I cannot know everything but the exhortation here for me is to keep learning. When there is something I do not know (probably will be many instances), my daughter and I can look that idea/event/thing up together. Trying to guide my daughter feels overwhelming as there is so much to this world and our existence and a God that exists in infinity. Here goes nothing.
3) Fathers are living examples. (“The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!” – Proverbs 20:7; “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” -Genesis 18:19) I have to realize that my greatest instruction to my daughter will come in how I choose to live my life and the perspective/belief that informs those actions. My father-in-law told me (not related to a parent/child context) that “you can’t control your reputation because others will assign that to you but you have full control over your integrity”. I want to choose to be honest with my daughter, even about my own shortcomings, and live out the morals/values (which come from Jesus) that are a part of my life. I imagine a significant part of this instruction will be about how I love my daughter’s mother and also how I love my daughter.
4) Fathers learn from their daughters. In adulthood, we all can become more jaded and cynical. This is an incredibly dark world and tragedy, pain and suffering are all around us. I’ve noticed, from being around kids, a profound sense of awe, wonder and imagination. I think I used to have these things as a boy. I want to encourage my daughter with these qualities and then try and re-capture them in my own soul. My wife told me she is excited to experience many of life’s experiences all over again as someone who is a newer member of our family does. I fully agree.
5) Fathers teach their daughters about Jesus. (“…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” (Romans 10:9-13) At least I want too. Teaching my daughter about Jesus’ love, the difficulty of following Him, about His Kingdom values and how a lot of times, these values are upside down from the rest of the world is crucial to me. I like Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” My hope is that faith in Jesus would become a cornerstone in my daughter’s life as it has in mine. Of course, there will come a definitive time in my daughter’s life where faith in Christ will be her own choice. Coercion and forcefulness never work with faith. There is a chance that she won’t follow Him and will go down other paths (this is where point #1 comes into play). But I pray she would follow Jesus.
Obviously, there can be endless points here and a crazy amount of advice that I think I will need in preaching to myself. Maybe some readers have some pointers to offer me in these final days before the exciting family change. Being a dad will be one of the most exciting and challenging of my life and, I think, I am ready.
**Please note: this post is about defining fatherhood (obviously) but mothers can do all of the above as well. I’m not suggesting any of the above is exclusive to fatherhood.