I have no doubt every father has had that moment when he is overwhelmed with the excitement of being a father. That moment doesn’t look the same for all of us. When our wives (or the doctor) first gave us the news, “You’re going to have a baby!”, many of us were overcome with shock. I’m going to be a what?
Some of us were terrified at the prospect of the responsibility, extra bills and attendance at ballet recitals. Others were ecstatic from the first moment they heard the news. You and your wife had been hoping and planning for this moment. Here it was.
For other dads, the excitement of being a father may have taken months. If the excitement hadn’t arrived yet, it certainly came the moment a nurse placed that tiny bundle of humanity in your hands.
I don’t know when that moment came for you, but when it came, you very likely joined the countless numbers of other fathers as we squelched our fears and said:
“I’m going to be the best dad. Ever.”
And then reality set in.
I’m glad you’re the dad whose desire has been to be the best dad ever. But let’s be frank. You’re not that dad.
In spite of your best intentions and efforts, you’ve blown it along the way. You’re not alone. Residing in each of us is a sin nature that pushes against our best intentions. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom. 7:18).
We may have started off on the right foot as dads, but we quickly failed. And the failures piled up.
- We broke promises.
- We were absent from their lives way too much.
- We got angry.
- We were too lenient when it came to ____________.
- We were too strict when it came to _____________.
The growing list of parenting mistakes only raises a cloud of doubt.
I haven’t been a good father. I may never be a good father.
"You’ve had failures as a father, but you are not a failure."
Let me assure you: your story is not complete.
You’ve made mistakes. You’ve had failures as a father, but you are not a failure. To dismiss yourself as a failure is to dismiss the ability of God to work in your life. And to dismiss yourself as a failure is to dismiss the power of God to work in your child’s life – in spite of your mistakes.
So where does the doubt about yourself come from? It comes from focusing on the wrong benchmark in your life. It’s good to have a standard and expectations for yourself, but make sure it’s the right benchmark.
For some of us, our standard is our own fathers.
We want to parent just like them. Maybe your dad was a real-life combination of Ward Cleaver and Cliff Huxtable with a little Atticus Finch thrown in. The truth is your dad was not as perfect at parenting as you think he was. Every time you compare yourself to this false perception of your father, you set yourself up for disappointment.
For some of us, our standard is just the opposite.
We don’t want to be the kind of dad our fathers were to us. I know men whose fathers were extremely strict; as a result, they raise their children with an undue amount of leniency and freedom. Others were raised in a home with no boundaries. They see now that all that freedom was not good for them, so when they became fathers, they ruled more with an iron hand. In trying to avoid one extreme, they swung to the other. Each end of the authoritarian-leniency spectrum brings with it its own set of mistakes.
Unfortunately, too many fathers give up.
When they realize they have not lived up to whatever goals and standards they set for themselves, they wallow in their failure instead of trying to climb out. To deaden the feeling of sitting in a pool of failure, they turn to alcohol, recreational drugs, pornography or an affair.
Such behavior, though, only leads to a further downward spiral. Any illicit pleasure they receive from their behavior is met head on with the idea that the perfect father would never engage in such behavior.
The result? They feel even more like failures.
If you want a benchmark for what it means to be the best father ever, don’t settle for any of these faulty examples:
- Your own father.
- The antithesis of your own father.
- Some idealized (fictional!) dad in a Hallmark movie.
Your standard should be God Himself.
We’re invited to look to Him as our Father. The Model Prayer begins: “Our Father in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9). Consider what makes Him the perfect Father.
God the Father loves unconditionally.
God the Father does not say, “I love you because _____.” He says, “I love you no matter what.” You can do nothing to make God love you anymore, and you can do nothing that would make Him love you less. His love is perfect.
God the Father takes away fear.
You might have been good at chasing the monsters from under the bed when your child was small, but sometimes the monsters are real — disease, illness, bullies — and the fear is real. We can’t take away every fear, but God the Father can.
“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies” (Ps. 118:6-7).
God the Father protects.
We don’t want to see our kids come to harm. We do all we can to keep them safe. But try as we may, we are often powerless to protect. Not so with God the Father.
“As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him” (Ps. 18:30).
God the Father cares.
God’s care goes hand-in-hand with His love. He doesn’t love us from a distance. He doesn’t feign interest in us; He truly cares. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
The evidence of His care comes when we bring our concerns to Him. He invites us to pray and leave those matters in His capable hands. And that includes any anxiety we might feel over our kids. Why bring our concerns to Him? Because He is God, and He can do something about them!
God the Father is always there.
I am not a math whiz, but my dad was. I have trouble counting along with Big Bird, so I leaned heavily on my dad’s tutoring when I was compelled to take college calculus. The problem with my father’s tutoring was his absence. The semester of this evil class coincided with a season my dad had to make frequent trips out of the country. I ended up dropping the class because my “tutor” wasn’t always available.
I don’t blame my father. Try as we may, we all have seasons when we’re not there for a son or daughter like we want to be. Whether it’s helping with homework, attending his sporting event or just being there so he can beat you at video games, we can’t always be there.
But God can — and is.
King David said it well: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps. 139:7-10).
How’s that for a standard to try and live up to?
Homework for dad
- Make a list of all the things you think would make you a great father. Assign a value to each of these traits based on how well you’ve done. (1 = lousy and 10 = great)
- Make a list of the character traits of God, the Perfect Father. To add to your list beyond the traits mentioned earlier, read Psalm 103.
- Acknowledge you can’t live up to either list. Determine not to treat any list of expectations as a pass/fail test.
- Tell us in the comments section below, tweet us @manhoodjourney or you can always email me.
About the author > Lynn H. Pryor, D. Min.
Lynn spends most days writing adult Bible study resources for LifeWay Christian Resources. He serves a Nashville church as pastor and earned his doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He enjoys woodworking, and his favorite projects are when his sons help. He has been married to Mary for 36 years. Learn more about Lynn at LynnHPryor.com and grab his Field Guide Removing Doubt.
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