06/21/20 Psalm 103:13 A father is tender and kind to his children. In the same way, the LORD is tender and kind to those who have respect for him. Happy Father’s Day! It wasn’t long ago that we were honoring mothers. Today it is the father’s turn. As I watch the birds in the backyard, specifically the quail, I see that the male of the pairs – the father – is the one who sounds most of the alarms. He walks out in front leading the way, or watches over his troop from behind; he defends his mate and younglings from intruders. It doesn’t seem to be something that is learned; it is something that comes instinctually. It is built in. So it is for the most part with humans. I believe that the male has a strong instinct for providing for his family, protecting them, and instructing them. As a father myself, I want to see my children grow up to be happy and fulfilled in whatever it is that they pursue. I believe this is instinctual; we want to see our offspring survive optimally. But we are more than simply the animal part of being; we are also spiritual beings. At a higher level, I think we are proud when our children serve humanity in a way that brings good in some manner – whether it is in the form of joy, or service to those in need, or by contributing to society in some fashion. We feel satisfaction when the spiritual nature of our children expresses back into Creation. Now that may be just me. I am certain that some fathers are proud of the financial and business success that their children achieve. They are proud of the awards and recognition that they attain. But for me, the ‘stuff’ my children gather throughout their lifetime, while important, is secondary to the direct impact they have on the lives around them. I doubt the male quails are considering these types of things as they watch over their brood. Their instincts are primal: to mate and have their offspring carry on the genetic code. There is little attention paid to anything else. Sadly, there is a small percentage of male humans whose attitudes are similar to the quail: My purpose is to mate and bring children into the world; that’s as far as my fatherliness goes. This attitude is devoid of the spiritual aspect of our nature. Little or no attention is paid to nurturing or loving. This small group of men is happy only when their children are kept away from them. Oh, they will gladly partake in disciplining the children; that suits their fancies. And sometimes substance abuse leads to poor behaviors. But this is not a new problem, is it? In Proverbs 19:8 we read, “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” There must have been fathers back then, some several hundred years BCE who had problems with discipline, or else this recommendation would not have been necessary. True Fatherhood, as opposed to male instinctual behavior, is not about punishment – it is about nurturing; it is about Spirit. Martin Luther said, “Keep an apple beside the rod to give the child when he does well.” Discipline must be exercised with watchful care and an open heart. Chastening, disciplining, and counseling by the Word of God, giving both correction and encouragement, are the core of ‘spiritual admonition’. The difference between being a father and being the male biologic DNA donor in a relationship is still not fully clear to some men, even well-meaning men. According to the Department of Health and Human Services the average American father spends only 7 ½ uninterrupted minutes per week with his children. The father-nature sometimes spends so much time doing things -- working and providing for the family -- that the children see little of even the most devoted fathers. Honestly, I don’t know if I was much above that average when I was a young father. I’ll bet that grandfathers spend more time with their grandchildren, partly because they have more time, but also because they’ve figured out how important they really are. I don’t have any figures on that however. The Bible provides some guidelines about being a good father. He accepts being a father with great joy. Proverbs 23:24 “The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure it is to have wise children.” The father accepts the responsibilities that come with being a father, which include loving and nurturing his children, teaching and training them, being kind to them and honest, demonstrating courage and justice, and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. The Bible instructs fathers to make sure their children understand that discipline is done in love, not anger, and that the discipline is based on disapproval of the action, not of the child themselves. Harshness and bitterness – ruling with an iron hand will only serve to provoke children and run them off. We are told that a father can admit when he is wrong, the ego is under control, and that he is no less a man when he cries. I have struggled with some of those areas as I reared our children, and I hope our kids will forgive my failings, and surpass me in the rearing of their own children. I found this anonymous poem that is simple and clear. It is entitled: What is a Dad? A dad is someone who wants to catch you before you fall but instead picks you up, brushes you off, and lets you try again. A dad is someone who wants to keep you from making mistakes but instead lets you find your own way, even though his heart breaks in silence when you get hurt. A dad is someone who holds you when you cry, scolds you when you break the rules, shines with pride when you succeed, and has faith in you even when you fail. Love is the catalyst that moves a man from the status of earthly biologic male unit to father. We may not always agree with the means our fathers used, but it is immaterial if we are certain of their reasons. If we can see the love behind the actions, the intent behind the methods, then we can understand the challenges of being a father. As Pope John 13 said: It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father. I was fortunate to be raised by a loving and kind father, and I am grateful for my Dad. I can look back and see the love behind his actions; the goodness in his intent. Others have not been as fortunate. Some had fathers who seemed to take advice from Ernest Hemmingway: To be a successful father…there’s one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for two years. If we cannot see the love behind the actions, then it is our challenge to forgive. It is no easy matter being a human, finding our way through this conundrum that life offers. We each do the best we can with what we have and what we know. That is the meaning behind the adage: If we knew better, we’d do better. I have come to believe that a Spirit-based approach toward life and its challenges works best for me. This applies to being a father, a mother, a grandparent, friend, or fellow Child of God. When we can allow Christ within to express, then our intentions are of the highest realms. It may take some practice to express those intentions precisely through our actions, but our hearts will be felt. Today we honor the sacred role of fatherhood. We bless our fathers on this day, some in person, and some who are in the spiritual realm. We say, “Thank you fathers, for being the ‘love of God in expression’ to children.” We honor the stepfathers, uncles, teachers, mentors, and all other male figures who shared their wisdom and took us into their sphere of protection and care. Father’s Day helps us remember that the earthly-father nature within each of us is not as important as the spiritual nature of fathering; doing and accomplishing are not as essential to fatherhood as is loving people. Love first and predominantly, and then do. What distinguishes us from the quail is going beyond the instinctual and expressing the love of Christ in all actions. Let us remember that every day is a day in which we can honor our fathers and the loving Divine Spirit that creates and cares for us. Happy Father’s Day to all.
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