And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Happy Father’s Day! Today we honor our fathers, and all who have served as a father-figure in our lives.
Our Bible verse advises that fathers not provoke their children to wrath. I read this as fathers not intentionally irritating or creating anger and resentment in their children. Instead, fathers should raise them in the training, counsel, and awareness of God.
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 me to be something that is learned; it is something that comes instinctually. It is built in.
So it is 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 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 our 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. How they are helping to shape and nurture the children they teach. I am proud of their professions, their musical, dancing, and business skills and how it serves humanity. I am proud of them as people more than I am proud of their achievements. I am honored to have them as friends.
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 like the quail: They believe their purpose is to mate and bring children into the world; that’s as far as their fatherliness goes. And as an animal, they are not wrong. But this attitude is devoid of any spiritual nature; it pays little or no attention to nurturing or loving. This small group of men seems 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 unruly children or else this comment would not have been necessary.
True Fatherhood, as opposed to instinctual male behavior, is not about punishment – it is about nurturing; it is about Spirit. We all know the reference to the Bible verse that says, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Well, Martin Luther said, “Keep an apple beside the rod to give the child when he does well.”
Some men mistakenly believe aggression is strength, and that forceful dominance is leadership. But discipline must be exercised with care and an open heart. Chastening, disciplining, and counseling by the Word of God, giving both correction and encouragement, are the core of ‘spiritual nurturing and admonition’.
The difference between being a father and being the male 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 do not think I was anything but average when I was a young father. I would guess that grandfathers spend more time with their grandchildren, not just because they have more time, but because they realize how important they really are.
Fathers and Mothers can both be nurturing, wonderful, effective, and sensitive parents, even if through their disparate approaches. Empirical evidence supports the widely held belief that one of a mother’s role is to calm and soothe their children when they are distressed. So, if a mother’s role is to soothe and calm, is it the dad’s role to excite and agitate? That’s kind of how I saw myself with the kids. When it was bedtime, it was difficult for me not to horse around and get them all wound up.
In one sense, the father’s role is more complex than the mother’s. Fathers incite their children to take chances and face challenges with the confidence that he is there. Dads excite their children to take reasonable risks within a secure environment and give advice along the way.
But some fathers tend to think it is their inherent responsibility to constantly lavish their wisdom onto their children. God gave us two ears and one mouth, perhaps because He expected us to use them in that ratio. There is definitely a time to give advice and share our experience and expertise with our children, and there is a time to allow all the work of parenting to play out through our children in a natural manner. Harry Truman said: I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
This two-pronged parental nurturing approach works well: the mother providing a haven of safety, comfort and consolation, and the father offering a secure base from which to explore and face challenges. So, dad sends them out to climb trees and mom comforts them when they fall off the branch. Works great.
What is it that elevates a biologic male parental unit to the status of father? It is love. 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. Having been a father, 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 is one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for two years. These fathers did not even have the quails’ instincts to protect and provide for their offspring; their parental choices were not dictated by love or the spiritual nature, but by egocentrism.
If we cannot see the love behind our father’s actions, then it is our challenge to forgive. It is no easy matter being a human, finding our way through this conundrum we call life. 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. When we can allow the Christ within to express, then our intentions are of the highest realms. It may take some practice to convey those intentions through precise actions, but I believe our hearts will be felt through our highest intentions.
Mary and I were once told at a conference that our children are not our own - they are God’s, and they are on loan to us for a short while. At best, we are temporary care givers. When we put our children first and get out of our own way by releasing the temptation to mold them into our own image, we become the channel for God’s perfect teaching and quiet spiritual instruction.
As a parent, we cannot underestimate the impact that we have had, and continue to have, on our own children and the children entrusted into our care. We may not think that we are doing anything particularly well, or that we are not imparting what is essential or meaningful in an acceptable or understandable fashion. But I can assure you that we are making an impact; and the closer walk we take through our lives with Spirit, guided by the light of the Christ within, always drawing from our spiritual nature, the clearer are the footsteps that we leave behind us. Not only is our own way made clearer, but our influence is made more remarkable.
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 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.
The Divine fathering nature within us asks that we love predominantly first, and then ‘do’ from that position of love. What distinguishes us from the quail is living beyond the instinctual and expressing the love of Christ in all actions to the best that we are able. Yes, we must confess that some of our fathers were fully men, while others were still partly ‘quailish’. But they did their best, just as we do our best.
One night a father overheard his son pray: “Dear God, make me the kind of man my Daddy is.” Later that night, the father prayed, “Dear God, make me the kind of man my son believes me to be.”
And that, after all, is our greatest challenge in life - to live up to our potential as a father, as a mother, as a teacher or friend, or spouse, or employee, or business owner, or citizen of the world. Wherever we find ourselves in this life at this moment, may our prayer always be to express the brilliance of God’s light and love, peace and joy, purely and freely and willingly.
I pray that we will remember that every day is a day in which we can honor our fathers and the loving Heavenly Father that guides and cares for us. I pray that we will open our hearts and express the best of who we are. Happy Father’s Day to all.