This month includes a celebration designated as Father’s Day (June 19th). In keeping with that theme, I’m addressing this newsletter to our nation’s dads. Some of the following thoughts can be found in my book, Bringing Up Boys, and I think they present the most helpful concepts I have to offer on that subject. I’ve called this letter, “The Essential Father.” I hope you enjoy it.
General Douglas MacArthur, one of my heroes, was one of the greatest military leaders of all time. He led the Allied armies to victory in the Pacific over the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. Then he commanded our United Nations forces in Korea. His surprise landing at Inchon was one of the most brilliant maneuvers in the history of warfare. These accomplishments on the land, sea and in the air explain why MacArthur is revered today, many decades after his death.
But there is another reason for my admiration of this man. It can be traced to a speech he gave in 1942, after he had been given an award for being a good father. This is what he said on that day:
“Nothing has touched me more deeply than [this honor given to me] by the National Father’s Day committee. By profession, I am a soldier and take great pride in that fact. But I am prouder, infinitely prouder, to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build. The father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentialities of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still. It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battle, but in the home.”
That is precisely the way I feel about my son and daughter.
Someone said, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one.” There is truth to this statement. Children may not remember what you say, but they are usually impacted for life by what you do. Consider the task of teaching your boys to be honest, for example. Yes, you should teach what the Scripture says about truthfulness, but you should also look for opportunities to live according to that standard of righteousness.
I’m reminded of something that happened many years ago in the state of Georgia, when the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School overcame a big deficit to win the state basketball championship. Coach Cleveland Stroud couldn’t have been more proud of his team. But then a few days later, while watching the game films of the playoffs, he noticed that there was an ineligible player on the court for forty-five seconds during one of the games. He called the Georgia High School Association and reported the violation, costing the school the title and the trophy.
When asked about it at a press conference, Coach Stroud said,
“Some people have said that we should have kept quiet about it. That it was just forty-five seconds, and that the player wasn’t really an impact player. But you gotta’ do what’s honest and right. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games. They don’t ever forget what you’re made out of.” 2
You can be certain that every member of the Bulldogs’ team will remember the character of Coach Stroud.
A letter to the editor of the local newspaper summed it up well, “We have scandals in Washington and cheating on Wall Street. Thank goodness we live in Rockdale County, where honor and integrity are alive and being practiced.” 3 Your boys and girls need to see you doing what is right, even when it is inconvenient to do so.
This raises a question about the other characteristics you are trying to model for your sons. Have you thought that through? Do you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish at home? If you’re not sure who you are as a man or what you are trying to say with the “message of your life,” your boys (and girls) will have no consistent example to follow.
Such a plan should begin, I believe, with a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, who will guide your steps in the days ahead. Unless you know Him, your efforts to model righteousness will be inadequate and hollow.
Let’s look more closely at what constitutes “a good family man” in today’s world. To put that in perspective, it might be helpful to examine four traditional roles that men have played at home. The first is to serve as the family provider. No one disputed 75 years ago that it was a man’s primary responsibility to be the “breadwinner.” This is less clear today, which is unfortunate. Even though the majority of wives and mothers work outside the home, it is still a man’s charge to assure that the financial needs of the family are met. Women find it difficult to respect a lazy man who lies around the house drinking beer and watching mindless television.
The second contribution a father should make is to serve as the leader of the clan.This role became highly controversial with the rise of the women’s movement, but it was rarely challenged before the 1960s. It was often said in those days that “two captains sink the ship,” and “two cooks spoil the broth.” Dad was the final arbiter on issues of substance. Admittedly, this “headship” role was sometimes abused by selfish men who treated their wives with disrespect and their children like chattel, but that was never the way the assignment was intended to function. Scripture, which seems to ordain this leadership responsibility for men, also spells out the limits of their authority. Husbands are told to love their wives as their own flesh, being willing to give their lives for them. They are also warned not to treat their children harshly or inconsiderately. That system generally worked well for thousands of years.
Bringing Up Boys
The third contribution made by a father is to serve as protector. He shielded his family members from the outside world and taught them how to cope with it successfully. He was ready to put his life on the line if and when they were threatened. If another man tried to abuse or insult his wife, Dad would defend her honor. It was his responsibility to see that the house was safe at night and that the children were home at a reasonable time. Each member of the family felt a little more secure because he was there.
Finally, the fourth contribution made by an effective dad was to provide spiritual direction at home. Although he often failed in this role, it was his obligation to read the Scriptures to his children and to teach them the fundamentals of their faith. He was the interpreter of the family’s moral code and sacred rituals, and he made sure the children went to church every week.
Unfortunately, each of these four roles has been ridiculed and attacked by postmodernists and their allies in the media. As a result, many fathers have a poor concept of what they are supposed to do or how to get it done. Some of them have surrendered their authority at home and are either altogether uninvolved or they are trying to nurture their children in ways that are more characteristic of mothers. They have been told they need to be sensitive and to cry more often. In effect, men are being pressed to be more like women, and women are supposed to be more like men. This role reversal is terribly confusing to boys and girls.
It is not inappropriate for a man to feel things deeply or to reveal his inner passions and thoughts. Nor must he present a frozen exterior to the world around him. But at the same time, there is a definite place in manhood for strength and confidence in the midst of a storm, and that role falls more naturally to men. As a huge oak tree provides shelter and protection for all the living things that nest in its branches, a strong man provides security and comfort for every member of his family. He knows who he is as a child of God and what is best for his wife and children. His sons need such a man to look up to and to emulate. They disrespect wimpy dads who are intimidated by their wives or whose emotions hang on their sleeves.
Does that sound corny and contrary to everything you have heard? So be it. Men were designed to take care of the people they love, even if it involves personal sacrifice. When they fulfill that responsibility, their wives, sons, and daughters usually live in greater peace and harmony.
There are two primary ways fathers influence their boys. Modeling is the first; and the second deals with the specific instruction that dads should transmit to their sons. That subject could fill many books, but I’ll focus on the subtopic of what a father should teach his boys specifically about girls and women. They are unlikely to learn it in today’s world, and certainly not on television or on social media.
I’m going to throw some suggestions at you now in rapid succession, assuming you are a father of one or more boys. Here we go:
If you speak disparagingly of the opposite sex, or if you refer to females as sex objects, those attitudes will translate directly into dating and marital relationships later on. Remember that your goal is to prepare a boy to lead a family when he’s grown and to show him how to earn the respect of those he serves. Tell him it is great to laugh and have fun with his friends, but advise him not to be “goofy.” Guys who are goofy are not respected, and people, especially girls and women, do not follow boys and men whom they disrespect. Also, tell your son that he is never to hit a girl under any circumstances. Remind him that she is not as strong as he is and that she is deserving of his respect. Not only should he not hurt her, but he should protect her if she is threatened. When he is strolling along with a girl on the street, he should walk on the outside, nearer the cars. That is symbolic of his responsibility to take care of her.
When he is on a date, he should pay for her food and entertainment. Also (and this is simply my opinion), girls should not call boys on the telephone—at least not until a committed relationship has developed. Guys should be the initiators, planning the dates and asking for the girl’s company. Teach your son to open doors for girls and to help them with their coats or their chairs in a restaurant. When a guy goes to her house to pick up his date, tell him to get out of the car and knock on the door. He should never, never, never sit outside and honk. If a boy did that to my daughter, I would not allow her to take one step outside the door. Teach him to stand, in formal situations, when a woman leaves the room or a table or when she returns. This is a way of showing respect for her. If he treats her like a lady, she will treat him like a man. It’s a great plan.
Make a concerted effort to teach sexual abstinence to your teenagers, just as you teach them to abstain from drug and alcohol usage and other harmful behavior. Of course you can do it! Young people are fully capable of understanding that irresponsible sex is not in their best interest and that it leads to disease, unwanted pregnancy, rejection, etc. In many cases today, no one is sharing this truth with teenagers. Parents are embarrassed to talk about sex, and it disturbs me to say that churches are also often unwilling to address the issue. That creates a vacuum into which liberal sex counselors and the entertainment industry have intruded to say, “We know you’re going to have sex anyway, so why not do it right?” What a damning message that is. It is why herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases are spreading exponentially through the population and why unwanted pregnancies stalk school campuses. Despite these serious physical and moral consequences, very little support is provided even for young people who are desperately looking for a valid reason to say no. They’re told that “safe sex” is fine if they just use the right equipment.
You, as a father, must counterbalance those messages at home. Tell your sons that there is no safety—no place to hide—when one lives in contradiction to the laws of God! Remind them repeatedly and emphatically of the biblical teaching about sexual immorality—and why someone who violates those laws not only hurts himself, but also wounds the girl and cheats the man she will eventually marry. Tell them not to take anything that doesn’t belong to them—especially the moral purity of a woman.
Also, tell your boys that sex is progressive in nature. Kissing and fondling will lead inevitably to greater familiarity. That is just the way we are made. If guys are determined to remain moral, they must take steps to slow down the physical progression early in the relationship. Tell them not to start the engine if they don’t intend to let it run. Finally, make it clear that sexual morality is not only right and proper; it is one of the keys to a healthy marriage and family life.
Begin these and other conversations early, geared to the age and maturity of the child. They must be well planned and carried out as the years unfold. Haven’t you heard grown men say with conviction, “My father always told me . . .”? This is because the things emphasized during childhood often stay with a person throughout life, even if they haven’t appeared to “stick” at the time. In short, this kind of specific instruction is the substance of your responsibility to affirm, recognize, and celebrate your son’s journey into manhood.
Admittedly, some of the concepts I’ve suggested herein sound like “yesterday.” But they still make sense to me because most of them are biblically based. They also contribute to harmonious relationships between the sexes, which will pay dividends for those who will marry. Dr. Michael Gurian said it best: “Every time you raise a loving, wise, and responsible man, you have created a better world for women. Women [today] are having to bond to half-men, with boys who were not fully introduced to manhood; they don’t know how to bond, don’t know what their responsibilities are to humanity, and don’t have a strong sense of service.” 4 Today’s fathers have an opportunity to change that.
I know the suggestions and ideas I have offered in this letter put great pressure on us to be super-dads, but that’s just the way it is. I felt it too when our kids were small. Frankly, raising kids was a scary responsibility for Shirley and me. We knew we were inadequate to handle the job and that no one is capable of guaranteeing the outcome of that task. That’s why we began praying diligently for the spiritual welfare of our children when they were very young. Thousands of times through the years, we found ourselves on our knees asking for wisdom and guidance.
Then we did the very best we could at home. Somehow, that seems to have been enough. By God’s grace, both of our children love the Lord today and are wonderful human beings. Shirley deserves most of the credit for the outcome, but I gave it my best effort too. Fortunately, parents do not have to be perfect in order to transmit their values to the next generation.
Our Heavenly Father will also answer your prayers for your kids if you turn to Him. He will guide them through the storms of adolescence. But He will not do for you what you can and must do for yourself, and that is what I am talking about.