Last month, we reviewed The Flag and the Cross and gave an autographed copy to a paid subscriber chosen at random: Michael K. in California. For this month’s review and giveaway, it’s a book perfect for the upcoming Father’s Day (ahem, it’s almost here). And since the book was co-authored by Beau, this review is coming only from Brian with no oversight from Beau (which means he can’t cut out any of Brian’s jokes). And then we’ll give away a copy of the book autographed by Beau (but sadly not Brian).
Searching online for books about Christian fatherhood invariably leads to some key authors. Like James Dobson. And John MacArthur. But the well-known parenting tomes often don’t cut it for those of us not wanting to hand down, along with heirlooms (and ruggedly handsome looks), a heaping of patriarchy.
Why would we want to read something like Bringing Up Boys by Dobson after his efforts to christen Donald Trump or bless the NRA? Surely we can bring up boys without losing focus of our values. Or why would we want to read Being a Dad Who Leads by MacArthur after he denounced religious liberty and held mass gatherings in violation of COVID health measures (and sparked an outbreak in his own church)? Surely we can lead in better ways than that.
Parenting is too important to turn to just any old person for advice. But cutting through the crap put out by Christian publishers can be difficult. One popular Christian parenting book has even been accused of promoting child abuse, including in cases where children died. It’s a tragic reminder that if you go to a bookstore (which is kind of like Amazon but where you can touch the books), much of what you’ll find in the “Christian” aisle isn’t actually Christian.
Surely there are other ways to think about fatherhood. And that’s why two ministers with young sons, Jonathan Hall and Beau Underwood, wrote Dear Son: Raising Faithful, Just, and Compassionate Men.
“Christians should think about parenting as a vocation,” Underwood explained about why they penned Dear Son. “Whether raising a family of your own or participating in the flourishing of children within a church family, the nurturing and forming of children is a calling from God. Unfortunately, a lot of the resources out there to equip followers of Jesus for this work reflect a narrow-minded, retrograde strand of Christianity. That’s the last thing we want to be teaching our kids. This book intentionally offers a very different perspective on fatherhood.”
In addition to writing about the joy of fatherhood and the importance of faith, Hall and Underwood tackle weighty topics like toxic masculinity, gender equality, racism, and commercialism. They hope their sons will grow up to make the world a better place. Thus, there’s a spirit of discipleship in this book that goes far beyond how we often think about parenting or even teaching new converts to the faith. What does it mean to seriously live out the call to love our neighbors? These chapters lean into that question.
But Hall and Underwood aren’t giving you a how-to guide or a “fatherhood for dummies” approach (though there are days we all need the latter). They literally start their book with a disclaimer: “We are not perfect dads. We do not claim to be. Nor is this book intended as a guide to being a dad.” Instead, they hope to “spark a conversation about what it means to be a dad.” Rather than giving a one-size-fits-all approach that actually fits very few, Hall and Underwood allow readers to peek in at their own parenting ideas.
They accomplish that in the book through letters (which are like emails but printed out on paper). Rather than chapters written to other dads (or moms checking in to make sure the dads are following the advice), each chapter is a letter from Hall to his sons and Underwood to his son. In the letters, the two explain to their sons why they value certain things and how they hope their sons will think and act as they grow up and become adults. These chapters not only help readers think about what values they want to impart to the next generation but also serve to encourage parents, grandparents, or others investing in the lives of children to write their own letters. The book even includes space for you to write your own letters in case you don’t own any paper.
“I recognized my son would be born into a privileged position in our society,” Underwood explained about the book. “That created a responsibility for me as his father. I felt compelled to raise my son, as best I could, to be part of solving the world’s problems rather than adding to them. This book, which is a collection of letters from father to son, is one way of fulfilling this commitment.”
More meaningful than a “Best Dad in the Metaverse” mug or a “Dada Fett” tie (which is not the way), this book takes fatherhood seriously. And that’s something we need seriously in our society.
So, if you’re looking for a book to give to someone this Father’s Day, buy a copy of Dear Son. But we’re going to do more than just encourage you to buy it; we’re also going to give away a copy autographed by Underwood. Tomorrow we will randomly select one paid subscriber to A Public Witness to receive the book (so, if you’re not a paid subscriber and want to be eligible for this drawing and those coming each month, upgrade today).
And if you want to learn more about the book, be sure to tune into a recent Dangerous Dogma interview with Hall and Underwood.