Joys, challenges of fatherhood - Word&Way

Joys, challenges of fatherhood

Father’s Day‚ celebrated the third Sunday of every June, helps children remember to fulfill the commandment “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12a). Fathers and mothers get their own separate days on the American calendar. Mother’s Day, already behind us this year, is the second Sunday of May.

Bill WebbBill WebbIn the U.S., Father’s Day is 105 years old this year. It dates back to June 19, 1910, when native Arkansan Sonoroa Smart Dodd held such a celebration at the YMCA in Spokane, Wash. Her father, Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised six children. He deserved the honor.

Sales circulars with gift ideas for dads begin circulating about a week after Mother’s Day, giving family members a month to choose appropriate gifts that range from clothing to tools to recreational accessories to whatever.

It is nice for dads to receive the recognition and appreciation, no less so than for moms on Mother’s Day. Both are sometimes taken for granted for their contributions toward nurturing and raising children. Theirs can be thankless jobs, but heartfelt gratitude for the parental vocation, at least on the designated day each year, can help make it worthwhile. Who doesn’t need to feel appreciated?

Father’s Day should also be a day when dads take stock of their responsibilities as fathers to “up their game” in the role. Every dad would do well to ask himself a few questions like “What do I do (or not do) well as a father?” or “How do I fall short as a father?” or “In what ways can I improve as a dad?”

The more adventuresome fathers might ask their offspring similar questions to help improve their performance as dads. Such conversations don’t necessarily need to be held on Father’s Day, but they could elicit honest and heartfelt answers, even on non-designated days. Most sons and daughters would welcome the chance to offer constructive feedback — maybe even constructive criticism — in an effort to improve the father-daughter or father-son relationship.

A good bit has been written about the hard work of building and maintaining a good marriage, but the equally hard work involved in achieving other family relationships is also of great importance. Without attention to this priority, parents and children who never firmly bond in the early years find themselves growing farther and farther apart in later years. Despite the best intentions of both generations, this drifting happens in families. But it can be prevented.

Some dads do better with regular maintenance on cars, appliances, homes and business relationships than they do with primary relationships with their offspring.

Father’s Day is a good reminder that the initiative for bonding with children and for healthy family relationships is most appropriately taken by parents.

Most fathers can answer questions readily about their performance as dads because the answers are relatively obvious. They may not always be able to verbalize their observations to their children or acknowledge their shortcomings to them. But because most care, they think about such things.

In the main, fathers have tremendous influence in their children’s lives.

Young children naturally imitate the attitude and actions of their parents. Sons and daughters imitate what dads say and sometimes — to the chagrin of a parent — incorporate the wrong words into their young vocabularies. Kids often imitate Dad’s dangerous habits, too.

At a family gathering of my mother’s large family more than 50 years ago, the men were gathered in lawn chairs under a large shade tree at my grandparents’ farm one sunny Saturday afternoon. Some of the dads were smoking. One very young cousin, obviously seeking to please his father, remarked loudly enough for everyone to hear, “When I get big, I’m going to smoke ‘Yucky’ (his pronunciation of Lucky) Strikes like my daddy!”

Fathers draw a lot of pleasure when they see the right decisions, character growth and responsible maturation that come in the lives of their children and they realize their good examples have born fruit. Such observations affirm both the children and the parent.

However, nothing is quite so painful to a parent as seeing children make poor or immature decisions based on what they have observed in a father’s or mother’s behavior.

Patterns of success and of failure sometimes are perpetuated in families for generations. Fortunately — or unfortunately — such distinctives mark these families and can create either wholesome or poor reputations as a result.

Children have a responsibility in the relationship, too. God gives children of all ages the “honor your father and mother” command. In many families, children who honor mothers and fathers have helped their parents become better at the God-given task of fatherhood and motherhood. In most families, children have a great deal of influence, too.

Christian fathers, be all you can be in your God-given role as an encourager, protector, provider and spiritual mentor to your sons and daughters. Pray regularly for God’s help in this task. There is no greater calling than parenthood.

Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.