In the New Testament God is described as a father, and human fathers are to be imitators of God the Father. Fathering requires many skills and one way to think of them is in terms of parts of the body. Fathers need:
1. A Heart
Children need to be loved, with a deep caring love that is more than an emotion. Children also need to know they are loved. The Bible talks about God as a loving father, whose heart goes out to men and women.
In Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), having let the rebellious son go, the father waits for his return anxiously and then runs to greet him, embracing him, restoring him back to sonship and ordering a celebration.
2. A Brain
Fathering requires wisdom and common sense. We need to think before:
* we make decisions. Careers, jobs, voluntary commitments – all can have a positive or negative impact on children.
* we speak. With children it is all too easy to win the verbal battle but end with emotional and relational scars which take time to heal.
Heart and head need to work together.
As fathers, we need to look ahead, to develop skills, disciplines and positive attitudes in our children that will still be of value in the future. We need vision to think through:
* If the Christian faith is the most important thing, are we laying down biblical foundations in our children’s lives?
* What are we doing together as a family? Are we seeking to inspire our children and instil skills and values that will endure?
We also need to look closely at our children to see with cool and compassionate eyes their gifts and deficiencies. If they show particular skills or interests – even if these surprise us – we should encourage them to develop the gifts God has given.
Listening to our children is important: it tells them that they are of value and it encourages them to communicate. If we listen when they are saying little of importance they are more likely to communicate with us when they have something of vital importance to say.
Listen to everything they say and pay attention to deeper meanings. Sometimes, amid shouts for ‘more pizza’, there is a cry for help or advice. The discerning listener will hear something important in the noise.
5. A Nose
Have ‘a nose for trouble’. Fathers need to discern unease even when nothing is said. The discerning father knows his child and knows, however well hidden, however deep down, whether there is happiness or gloom.
This skill of parental intuition will help you avoid either wading in and intervening when there is nothing wrong or not intervening when there is something that needs attention. Acquire that ability to sense the hidden alarm bell .
6. A Mouth
With our mouths, we both speak and kiss. We need to use words wisely – they can be tools that bless or weapons that wound. It is easy to fire off hurtful criticism; it takes care to craft words that affirm a child’s value as well as helpfully adjust their attitudes and behaviour.
Hands are for holding on and letting go. There are times to hold on to your child: when they are scared, want guidance or need support. To fail to supply those hands at this time is to fail big time. Yet there are also times to let go. Some parenting fails because children are let free of the parental grip when they shouldn’t be; some fail because they are never let free.
Parenting cannot be done from the end of a smartphone. We must be with our children when they need us and we may need to go the extra mile.
If you get a phone call from far away the best response may be to get up, go and be there with them. In a world increasingly dominated by ‘virtual’ presence, there is something tangible and effective about having a physical presence. It’s a great thing for kids to be able to say to their fathers, ‘You were there when I needed you.’
Successful parenting is a no-nonsense, tough business. Christian parenting makes special demands and at times fathers will have to draw lines, stand up and be counted, or be unpopular and frowned upon by friends. Any man can father a child, but it takes guts to truly be a father to a child.
Finally, parenting will drive you to prayer. You will need to pray for protection for you and your child, for guidance, for forgiveness and healing.
There are many things that men could boast of – a sporting record, an outstanding business career, a stunning house and gardens. Yet one of the greatest achievements is to raise children whom we can honour and who can honour us. That is a work of grace and we need to pray for that.
In conclusion, being a father to three sons and being honest, by the time we get the hang of parenting our children have left home!
Revd. Canon J.John (www.philotrust.com)