Fatherhood 101

The basics every dad needs to know.

So—you’re a dad.

Many would have you believe your job isn’t all that necessary—that the principal part of your role ended once you supplied your seed to the process. (And plenty of people are trying to find ways around a man’s personal involvement on even that level.) We’ve reported before about the 1999 American Psychological Association (apa) study called “Deconstruction of the Essential Father,” which asserted that kids don’t need dads to ensure their well-being.

Don’t believe it!

It’s true that a growing number of children lack the positive influence of an involved father, or any father. The United States now leads the world in fatherless families. About a third of American children are born to unmarried women. In two thirds of these cases, the father is never identified; his name on the birth certificate is left blank. Four out of ten kids in America—over 25 million children—live without their biological fathers. Among blacks, it’s almost three out of four.

Apparently those figures wouldn’t alarm the apa. And many fathers, whether consumed by a career or lost in their beer, would rather not feel any pressure of obligation toward the children they’ve sired.

But we must not be under any delusion that the children don’t suffer as a result. In reality, this is a catastrophic problem.

Like it or not, your children need you.

Let’s step back and consider it.

Our reproductive systems as God created them guarantee that each child will have a father and a mother. Scripture shows that God intended both parents to be very involved with the child’s upbringing (e.g. Exodus 20:12). It also shows that God is intensely protective of fatherless children (Exodus 22:22-24). The Bible calls Him a “helper of the fatherless” and a “father of the fatherless” (Psalms 10:14; 68:5).

Clearly, God believes fatherhood is a role that must be fulfilled in a child’s life.

A Father’s Influence

Contrary to the apa’s findings, numerous studies show how critical a father’s contribution to a family really is. He is far more than an extra adult helper. Involved fathers—especially biological fathers—bring positive and unique benefits to their children that no one else is as likely to provide.

One of the most potent ways for children to learn is by example, and fathers provide a significant role model, especially for boys. Studies have shown that children (particularly sons) gain a sense of responsibility and duty, a drive for achievement and self-fulfillment, and a balanced level of assertiveness and independence from their dads. Fathers tend to instill within children a sense of judgment, justice and fairness. The rough-and-tumble play of a father helps children learn to control their behavior—realizing quickly, for example, that biting, kicking and other physical violence is unacceptable. Children also learn to manage their emotions and to recognize others’ emotional signals. In short, dad is a critical stabilizing influence in the life of a child.

Some may balk at such findings. But additional proof can be found in the stunning statistics of the problems that tend to occur among children deprived of daily fatherly influence.

On average, fatherlessness makes a child two to three times more likely to experience a variety of educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems and to be ensnared in poverty and drug use (Fatherhood Online). Fatherless children make up almost two thirds of youth suicides, more than 70 percent of teen pregnancies and large percentages of homeless and runaway children. Research also shows that the percentage of fatherless families in a community more reliably predicts that community’s rate of violent crime than any other factor, including race and income.

History demonstrates that stable families are the foundation of stable societies. By the same token, unstable families are simply the herald of societal breakdown.

Dr. Kyle Pruett is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School and the Yale Child Study Center. He calls fathers “the single greatest untapped resource” in the lives of America’s children.

But what is a dad supposed to do? What is your role? What does it mean to be a father? How do you actually help your kids? There may be as many answers to these questions as there are dads.

To provide solid answers, let’s cut through the fog and consult the Designer of fatherhood.

God Is a Father

Human beings have concocted a variety of ideas of what makes a family. By using the Bible as our anchor, we can eliminate the confusion and come to understand the bedrock principles governing our jobs as dads.

God reveals Himself in the Bible as a Father. Several scriptures talk about God being a Father to ancient Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:4-6; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:19). He is a Father to Jesus Christ (e.g. Matthew 11:25-27) and to those whom He calls (John 6:44; to take just one example among hundreds, read Luke 11:13). One day soon, He will intervene to be an authoritative, active Father for all people who will submit to Him (1 Corinthians 15:22-24).

This fact has awesome implications. The institution of fatherhood came straight from God’s mind as a means of helping us better understand and relate to Him.

God created family. He divided humanity into two groups—male and female—one built to lead, the other to help (Genesis 2:18). That is the simple truth, and it should not be a source of shame, nor of the mistreatment of anyone. God created emotional and sexual attraction to bring a man and woman together. He fashioned marriage, and the roles of husband and wife. He formed our bodies so we could reproduce ourselves through children.

Here is a critical truth: Within the family, God placed a type of Himself—a man who is supposed to fulfill for his children, in type, the role that God fulfills within His Family. As Luke 11:13 suggests, the human father pictures God the Father.

That is the essence of your role. If you and I do our job, we provide stability for our children and, ultimately, make it easier for them to relate to God the Father! It may seem like a difficult concept, but the fact that God gave us physical family demonstrates how practical and real He wants to make it for us.

So what a dad is supposed to do comes down to this essential question: What does God do for His Family?

Protecting the Family

First, being a father means protecting your family.

God certainly protected His firstborn Israel: He defended the Israelites against the enemy nations surrounding them, often in spectacular, miraculous fashion. He never even wanted them to have to fight. “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord,” He told them through Moses. “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:13-14).

Think about how long it takes for a little child to become self-reliant. That child is utterly defenseless and helpless at the beginning. God designed it this way—and then created a natural protective inclination into parents—to reinforce this lesson: A father is to protect his children.

It is sad to note that fatherless children—those who lack that protection—are two to three times more likely to become victims of child abuse.

Fathers should protect their families not only from physical dangers, but also mental and spiritual dangers. That is, we should keep wrong influences from entering the home and into their lives.

Providing for the Family

God is a provider. For the Israelites God provided food and water in the wilderness; He led them to a land flowing with milk and honey. As James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights ….”

God supplies the needs of His children. Jesus Christ taught, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? … for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-33). He generously answers our prayers (Matthew 7:7-8), granting not only our necessities, but even our desires (Psalms 37:4).

We are to follow that example with our children. “[W]hat man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11). Christ, in relating this lesson, makes a direct comparison between God’s providence and a father’s provision for his family.

Remember this clear warning from the Apostle Paul: “[I]f any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). Failing at his responsibility to provide renders a man’s religion worthless. The importance of a father’s provision is demonstrated by statistics showing that fatherless children are much likelier to be poor.

A father should hold down a job that provides for the family’s needs: food, clothing, shelter and some comforts. But he shouldn’t allow the job of providing materially pull him away from his other responsibilities to the family.

Leading the Family

God led Israel by way of the pillar cloud and the pillar of fire in the wilderness. He also provided leadership through His specially chosen servants. There is also a clear line of command in place within the God Family, which our families are to emulate. Jesus Christ demonstrated throughout His earthly ministry who was in charge between His Father and Himself. He always did exactly what the Father asked Him to do.

We as fathers need to inspire similar respect within our families. Is the government right in your home? In this feminized society, far too often the man has largely or even completely abdicated this towering responsibility within his home.

Do your wife and children respond favorably and cheerfully to your direction? Do they try to make your decisions work? Answering these questions can require tough honesty.

Leading your family is difficult. It requires self-sacrifice and sometimes making unpopular decisions. But hard as it is, the long-term benefits are incomparable. Our children need, actually crave, strong fatherly leadership.

Remember, the best leadership comes from your example. There is simply no substitute for the head of the house providing a strong example of righteousness for the family to follow.

Educating the Family

God educated the Israelites by explaining His law and detailing exactly what He expected from them. When Christ came to Earth, He taught the disciples day and night. Today God reveals His truth to us (Matthew 11:25-26) and educates us through His Word and His servants.

And not only does He provide “book learning” education. God provides opportunities for His children to develop their potential. A good example of this is His putting us in this father role within our families—a tremendous responsibility, and one that pushes us to develop and grow quickly. We ought to follow this pattern with our children as they mature and become capable of taking on more responsibility. We are training them for the future.

Many scriptures show how fathers and parents are to teach their children. Look at Deuteronomy 6:7, for example: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Educating our children, particularly in God’s truth, should be a dominant theme in our family life.

Correcting the Family

God corrected ancient Israel personally and through His servants. As a Father, He corrected the kings of Israel through the prophets of Israel. Notice how He spoke of correcting King Solomon: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men” (2 Samuel 7:14).

God treats His children today the same way. “And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:5-7).

Notice: Paul assumes as a basic fact of family life that a father corrects—as if it would be ridiculous for him not to do so (verses 8-9). Sadly, this is not the case in many families today, and those families are the poorer for it.

“The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15). Even if you live with your children, neglecting them in this regard will produce shameful results.

As the primary law-enforcer for the family, the father commands respect and reverence, and in so doing he actually teaches his children a vital spiritual principle—that of respecting and reverencing God the Father.

Loving the Family

We can have no doubt how much God loves His children. All creation testifies to it. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Christ was “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18)—a very close, loving, Father-Son relationship. The Father demonstrated deep love for Christ, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). God was rightfully proud of His Son and told Him so.

Those who have a strong relationship with their heavenly Father enjoy immense stability in their lives because of His genuine goodness, His rock-solid character, His uncompromising love for His Family. God is supremely trustworthy; He keeps every promise; His concern is unfailingly outflowing; He is always there to listen; He always acts in His children’s best interests. And He has demonstrated the ultimate sacrifice for His Family in giving up His Son for the sake of many more potential sons.

Fathers should strive for that standard of perfection in fatherhood (Matthew 5:48).

Realize this: All the elements of the father’s role we have covered are manifestations of your love for your family. Protection, provision, leadership, education, correction—these roles all require sacrificial love. But giving your children all these gifts could amount to nothing if they are not steeped in and heavily fortified with daily doses of positive, loving attention.

Truly, children should be a man’s joy! And those children need to know they are loved.

Consider these facts. Studies have shown that daughters learn from their fathers how to relate to men—how to be trusting within a close heterosexual relationship. They learn to appreciate their own femininity. They learn that they are worthy of a man’s love by loving and being loved by their fathers. Thus it should be no surprise that daughters without fathers have a void in their lives that they often try to fill with sex. If a girl stops living with dad after age 6, she is twice as likely to have sex by age 16—and if deprived of dad’s presence before age 6, five times as likely. Often a fatherless girl’s ability to remain adjusted sexually and emotionally with one male is notably impaired throughout life.

Think about how much you demonstrate your love to your children. Are you teaching your daughter that she is loveworthy? That she is worthy of being loved and cherished and treated with tender, selfless devotion?

We cannot overestimate the value to our children of our consistent demonstration of unconditional love.

Our Challenge

More and more fathers are failing in these fundamental aspects of their God-given role. Nearly all problems of modern life can be traced back to an epidemic neglect of these responsibilities. Our civilization is in peril as a result.

Our children, and this whole world, desperately need strong, dedicated fathers. Your children need you.

It is a daunting job, but we have the perfect example in God the Father. The path to success is to submit to God’s direction and design in fatherhood.

Embrace the challenge.