My firstborn child turned 10 years old today. Today I have been a father for a decade.
So, Dustin, what have you learned?
I can sum up the majority of the lessons I’ve learned in this one sentence: if you want to be a father, you have to be a man.
And I don’t mean that in a biological sense, that you have to be biologically male to be a father, as true as it is. That idea may be attacked in our culture, but it is nonetheless biologically true in that you cannot produce another human life without genetic material from a biological man and a biological woman.
But that’s not what I mean when I say that being a father requires one to be a man. I mean being a father requires being a man in an ontological sense. What it means to be a man, the essence of true masculinity, what it means to be a male created in God’s image, is necessary for being a father.
The essence of men as we are created is a call to accept responsibility. It is a call to accept the responsibility to aim your life at the welfare of others to the degree that you lay your rights down in order to bring others to a place where they are productive, well supplied, and safe.
In the beginning, God gave mankind the responsibility to fill the earth, subdue it, and rule over it in a way that put on display the perfect glory of God’s own kingship. This command is given to both men and women in Genesis 1 but in Genesis 2 we see that the mandate to work and keep the ground is given first to the man and then woman is created in order to be a helper to him in this task. They are both involved but the man should be the lead in cultivating the world to be a place where the perfections of God are put on display.
In marriage, Paul writes that it is the man’s responsibility to give himself up for his wife out of the delight that he finds in her. In parenting, both in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, fathers are given the charge of bringing their children to adulthood after the ways of the Lord in a way that encourages and not exasperates them. Proverbs makes clear that mothers have an equal share in that task but it is the father’s main responsibility.
The call to be a man is a call to take up responsibility for more than just yourself. That is at the essence of what it means to be a man: men give themselves away for the betterment of what is around him. In the somewhat crass words of Jordan Peterson, it is intrinsic to the essence of a man to “grow the hell up and do something useful.” A man looks at the world around him, both the space and the people in it, and asks, “What can I do to make this better?” And he owns up to the responsibility to do something concrete to advance it in that way. And that essence is the same thing that makes us the essence of fatherhood.
And so the failure we have in fatherhood is at the root of it the failure to be what a man is. I have succumbed to this failure over and over again in the last ten years of my life. When I fail at fatherhood it is because I am failing at being a man. I fail when I start to see the essence of my life as what I am owed by others, what I think I deserve for myself, and retreat from my God-given responsibility to work hard for the betterment, security, and provision of those who are around me and seek only to please myself and my desires.
To work for the good of others, I need to prepare myself with the strength that is needed to “bear with the failings of the weak and not please” myself (Romans 15:1). I need spiritual strength, empowered by the Spirit of God working to transform me into the image of Christ. This strength comes in prayer, in the work of wrestling with the hard texts of the Bible, in investing my life in the messy community of a local church. I need physical strength to rise early, work hard, and not tire in the course of a day. This comes in exercise, in lifting heavy things and running long distances, in saying no to the quick and easy cheap burger, fries, and a Coke to cut up a chicken breast and chop veggies like a man. I need emotional strength to bear with the pains and difficulties and disappointments of every day life. That requires friendships deep enough to be vulnerable and accountable and the time and intentionality it takes to build such friendships.
Our culture has too many limp wristed men whose Bibles have too little crease in its spine, who sleep past their alarms, get winded going up a flight of stairs, and find community in online gaming groups with people having usernames like hotshotbigdawg211, who in reality has no job and student loan debt from a degree they never finished.
I know that this may come across as a bit harsh, but the call to be a man is a call to face our failures and destructive tendencies head on. I see those failures in my own heart. I watch baseball on my phone when we’re watching a family movie, robbing my family of my attention which, if given, would fill them with joy and a desire to make me proud. I spend 15 minutes in the bathroom reading ESPN articles after a long day because I don’t want to deal with the fights and the messy living room and the dishes I didn’t put away from breakfast. I far too often abandon my responsibility as a man and so abandon my responsibility of a being a father.
And so it is my prayer that my next 10 years of fatherhood are more manly than my last. I want to cut out the excuses, the retreats from responsibility, the complaining, the apathy, and the self-pity that has robbed my children and my family and my church and my community from the betterment they could have known had I been a man as God made me to be.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”