My wife is about to give birth to our fourth child in six years. Our first two—both boys—were born just seventeen months apart. Our third—a girl—came just over two years later. Now, we’re about to become parents again.
Becoming a father has been a life-changing experience to say the least. Welcoming children into the world should be enough to make any man pause and realize the magnitude of the responsibility he carries. It’s certainly something I’ve contemplated.
What sort of father am I? What sort of father do I want to be? One day I will depart this life and leave behind only some memories and a legacy of the man I was and the lives I touched. The time to do good, to speak encouragement, to tie heart strings, and to lovingly nurture, will pass. Time is short. And so I ask again, What sort of father do I want to be?
There are so many answers I could give to this question—so many qualities I hope to possess as a father. I know I won’t be perfect. Thankfully, that’s not required. My children only need one perfect Father, and I’m not that one. But I do want to aim high. In an age when fatherhood is in crisis, I want to rise above the cultural trends and, with God’s help, be a dad who will zealously raise my children to honor God and be a shining light in their corner of the world.
This is the father I want to be.
First and foremost, I want to be a godly example. I want to have a relationship with my Savior that others—especially my family—can see. I can’t pass something on that I don’t possess. If I try to live with a façade of godliness without sincerely seeking to live righteously, my children will see it. Even if they are unable to articulate the difference between the genuine and the fake, it will impact them just the same. Faking it is never a good idea, but faking it when everyone knows it’s fake is worse than useless—it’s loathsome and contemptible. If I want my children to be godly, I have to be godly. If I want them to love and honor Christ, then I have to love and honor Christ. It’s that simple.
I want my children to know that I pray for them, and that Dad’s prayers make a difference. What if, God forbid, I were to be separated from my children for a prolonged period of time, and quite literally the only thing I could do to influence their lives was to pray for them? What if I couldn’t teach them God’s Word, nurture their faith, build character into their lives, or point them in the right direction each and every day? What if I was entirely cut off from them? What if all I could do was pray? I hope I never find myself in that position, but I think I’d do a lot more praying for my children under those circumstances than I do now. I think I would cry out to God with a depth of feeling and a level of complete dependence on Him that I rarely muster today. What does this say about me? Does it say that I’m trusting my own efforts to raise virtuous children more than I’m trusting God? I’m afraid it does. This is an area where I need to grow. I want to be a father who knows the power of prayer and who relies on God every single day.
I also want to live a life of honor and integrity in front of my children. I want them to see me doing right even if it costs me something of this world’s treasure. What is the cost, after all, in comparison to the lesson my children will learn? And what will it profit me if I compromise my principles to preserve my treasure, only to lose my children’s souls? When they one day face the storms of temptation themselves—when they are confronted with a choice between profitable compromise and costly conviction—I want them to be able to remember their dad, who stood for what was right regardless of personal sacrifice. Shame on me if they can ever look back at my example to justify a dishonorable action. That’s not the legacy I want to leave.
I want to be a father who treats my children’s mother well and shows my kids by daily example what a happy Christian marriage looks like. I want my kids to feel the security of knowing that their dad and mom are still crazy about each other and don’t mind showing it. We’ll keep it appropriate, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with displaying affection for each other while the kids look on. My wife and I will be the only example of marriage our children will see on such a close, personal level. For better or worse, we’ll be on display. Our children will either look at us and say, “I want my marriage to be like that,” or they’ll say, “If that’s what a Christian marriage looks like, no thanks.” I want to be a father who does my part to give them a beautiful picture of what God had in mind when He created marriage.
Raising and nurturing children may be serious business, but I don’t want life to be all duty and no delight. I want to be a cheerful, buoyant presence in my children’s lives. I want to be the kind of father who will enjoy a good romp with them before dinner, read their favorite stories with silly voices, sing goofy songs, play games, tell jokes, and do my part to make ours a happy home where laughter is heard and good times are enjoyed. Life is too serious to be serious all the time. Yes, life with children is complicated and messy, but I don’t want the complications and messiness to get in the way of happy times and good memories.
My kids enjoy outings to the park, hikes in the woods, and other adventures that are rarely simple or convenient. They’re innocently unaware of how much effort it costs Mom and Dad to make the memorable event happen—unless, of course, we clue them in by our attitudes and actions. If I grumble as I pack the car, if I fuss and fret when the kids get dirty, if I sigh, mutter, and gripe the day away, I can communicate to my children that raising them is more hassle, more stress, more work than I want to deal with. I can squelch their good times with my complaining, my impatience, my sarcastic or cutting remarks. I can let my comfort or convenience get in between me and the hearts of my children. Or I can smile, send up a quick prayer for some extra grace and patience, and head out to make some memories with my kids. That’s the kind of father I want to be—the kind that never says, “You’re more trouble than you’re worth.”
I want to be kind. Gentle. Loving. Humble. Humble enough to recognize my dependence on God, humble enough to apologize to my children when I mess up, humble enough to know that I don’t have all the answers and that I need help.
Finally, I want to finish well. Many great men have begun well, only to stray later in life. Solomon began by shunning riches and honor when he requested wisdom in response to God’s apparent offer to grant any desire. And yet, later in life, Solomon turned from God, following after the pleasures of this life with a rapacious appetite. When I reach my final day, I want it to be said of me that, by God’s grace, I lived a life of honor and integrity to the very end. I am keenly aware of the fact that those who reap the greatest harvest are not those who get off to the fastest or showiest start, but those who live a life of faithfulness day after day, year after year. I want to be that kind of man.
Father God, grant me the grace to walk before you in humility, relying on you each and every day to give me the strength I need to raise children who know, love, and serve you. Sanctify me so that I will be not just the father I want to be, but the father You want me to be. Let that be my highest aim, my deepest desire. And help me daily to point my children to You, the one perfect Father we can all share together as we follow after Christ. Amen.