The Real Impact of a Father

Father’s Day is right around the corner and we live in a culture that treats fathers as though they’re extra pieces, not necessary to the family. I’d like to help us reconsider.

Coast-to-Coast Reverence

Father’s Day is a holiday that was intended originally to celebrate the significant contributions that fathers make to the family unit, the important role that they play in raising up the next generation of those who will lead in our nation. That holiday has degenerated in recent years to kind of an excuse to sell chili pepper ties and shop vacs. I want us think through the beginning of the Father’s Day holiday, the role that fathers play and look at what the Bible has to say about this matter.

According to some accounts, the first Father’s Day that was celebrated was in Washington State on June 19th of 1910. There was woman by the name of Senora Smart Dodd who came up with the idea of honoring and celebrating her father while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon at her church and thinking that fathers didn’t really get the treatment and honor that they deserved. She approached her pastor and told him the story of her father, William Smart, who was a veteran of the Civil War. He was left a widower when his wife died while giving birth to their sixth child. And he went on to raise all six children by himself on a small farm in Washington. To show her appreciation she asked if the church could honor all fathers on anniversary of her father’s passing, which was on June 1st. There were some planning issues and so the actual Father’s Day celebration in that church took place on the third Sunday of June.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country in Fairmount, West Virginia, in July of 1908 there was a woman named Grace Golden Clayton who suggested to her local Methodist pastor that they hold services to celebrate fathers after a deadly mine explosion in their town had recently killed 361 men.

From those two opposite and separate moments the local celebration of fathers began to catch on. And as it moved across the country, William Jennings Bryan, who was a Presidential candidate with the Democratic Party for four times in the 1920’s and 30’s, he became one of its staunchest proponents and sold the idea of Father’s Day across the country. In fact, in 1924 President Calvin Coolidge recommended that Father’s Day actually become a national holiday. Well nothing happened until 1966 when Lyndon Johnson, through an executive order, designated the third Sunday in June as the official day to celebrate Father’s Day. But even then, it wasn’t until 1972 under President Richard Nixon that Father’s Day was officially recognized as a national holiday.

Based on the precedent in America, the rest of the world has jumped on that train of celebrating fathers. They celebrate in on various days, but there are probably 40 different nations that celebrate fathers. The dates range from March 14th in the country of Iran all the way to December 5th in the country of Thailand.

The Facts about Dads

Many countries celebrate fathers. And yet, we find ourselves today wondering if fathers are even necessary. In fact, almost 50% of babies born to millennials in this country are now being born to unwed mothers, single moms. Many of those births by choice because women feel that they don’t need a man in order to raise a family. In 1960 only 10% of children were raised in America without a father in the home. Today, that number being raised in fatherless homes is higher than 40%.

Well, are dad’s really optional? Well, before we talk about what God’s Word has to say, let’s just look at what the science tells us. Study after study empirically demonstrates that dads play an extremely important role in a child’s well-being and success. Let me just give you some conclusions from research.

Number one, children with fathers are less likely to live in poverty. In other words, 44% of children in mother-only families are living below the poverty line, while only 12% of children living in a household headed by a married  couple are in poverty.

Secondly, children with fathers do better in school. In father absent homes, students are twice as likely to repeat a grade versus those who have a mother and father helping them with the stability of life that fosters their education.

Third, children without fathers are more likely to do jail time. The Department of Justice surveyed 7,000 inmates and found that 39%, 4 out of 10 inmates in American prisons were living in mother only households before being locked up.

Fourth, children with fathers are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. A report in the Journal of Marriage and Family showed that even after you control for the variables like community context, there are significantly higher rates of drug use among children who live in father absent homes.

Number five, children without fathers are more likely to be sexually active as teenagers. In fact, children without fathers were twice as likely to be involved in early sexual activity and seven times more likely to be pregnant during their adolescent years.

Number six, children without fathers are more likely to be obese. They have a higher risk of becoming obese and suffering the health risks that come with excess weight. In fact, one study shows that it’s not the mother but the father’s percentage of total body fat that was the best predictor of whether or not daughters gained weight as they got older.

Number seven, children with fathers who get more roughhousing turn out to be awesome. Now this sounds silly but cross-cultural studies have found that the one thing fathers across the world have in common is that they roughhouse with their kids more than mothers. And roughhousing, according to science, makes kids awesome. Roughhousing makes kids resilient; it makes them sharp thinkers; it makes them socially adept in difficult situations. Wrestling on the floor with dad is a rite of passage that makes you better as you grow.

Number eight, children with fathers are more likely to have a larger vocabulary. Now, that may seem odd at first glance but the speculation is, and Paul Rayburn talks about this in a book entitled, “Do Fathers Matter?” The idea is that the verbal fluency of a child is actually strengthened by the dad’s influence because mothers, who typically spend more time with their children, are believed to use language that is familiar and easier for the child to understand. The fathers, who don’t have the same total amount of time with the children, are not as attuned to a child’s verbal development and consequently while mothers use words that the child is familiar with, dads tend to use unfamiliar words, which help children broaden their vocabulary and learn new concepts.

Number nine, science tells us that children with fathers are more likely to be encouraged to take healthy risks. Mothers tend to focus on their child’s safety and well-being. Dads are more likely to encourage risk and independent thinking. In other words, we’ve all known that boys don’t ever grow up they just get bigger. But in one sense, dads, who are just big old boys, push their kids to try new things, to risk. And it makes them stronger.

Number ten, children with fathers gain many additional benefits like an enhanced capacity to play. Even, statistics tells us, more enjoyment on vacations, a greater likelihood to be able to use humor as a coping mechanism. All of those things are ways to handle the mental stresses of adulthood. Those things typically, science tells us, come from a father’s influence.

The Divine Mandates

Now, what does the Bible have to say? There are two verses in God’s Word of particular significance here. And they’re very similar to each other. The first verse is Ephesians 6:4. The Apostle Paul says this:  “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

That is, he says don’t be arbitrarily domineering toward your children. Don’t just suppress their natural curiosity and their desire to grow and be independent. But rather, follow God’s instruction and raise them up know who God is. Listen, every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example not his advice. My father didn’t tell me how to live. My father lived and he let me watch him do it.

Well, Paul gives us another verse. This one’s in the book of Colossians. In Colossians 3:21 it says this: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.” In other words, don’t attack your children pointlessly. What we do when we are that hard on our children is that we make them hopeless of ever being good enough to gain approval. And frankly, the long-term result of that kind of parenting is it creates a faulty image of God. And it makes it harder for our children to follow Jesus, to follow the ways of God’s Word. Because they have created in their own minds the idea of God as Father, but a Father who can never be pleased, a Father who is never satisfied. First of all, that’s not how God is in reality. But it’s also not how you’re supposed to be.

“Well, I’m just trying to be tough on him!” Well listen, you need discipline him. You need to set boundaries for your children. You need to give them consequences for bad choices. But that’s a very different thing than wounding them by constant haranguing that they’re not ever good enough. It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men. Children need models. They don’t need critics.

Well, listen. Your role as a dad is immensely important. So, focus on being the best dad you can be. You say, “Well, I’m there.” Well, guess what? It’s not enough to just be there. Read to your kids. Get involved in their school. Roughhouse with them. Encourage them to take risks. Teach them how to stay fit. These small things have a huge return on investment for the well-being of your children.

I understand that we live in a culture where dads are often separated from their kids by circumstances that are beyond their control. But, to the greatest extent that you can manage, take seriously your responsibility to be a Godly influence in the life of your children.

Now listen, this has been about dads. But let me say this. If you’re a single mom, not by choice, these scientific studies may seem discouraging to you. But I don’t want you to be worried about that. Let them be an encouragement to you to do this instead. If there’s not a husband and father in the home, be sure your children are influenced by male mentors: family members, if those are available, uncles, brothers, coaches in sports and, most importantly, church leaders. Let them be around godly men. Let them have a healthy view of what God designed men to be.

Listen, dads everywhere have the opportunity to leave a big impact on the world. Don’t underestimate your influence on the lives of your children. And this Father’s Day when you get that ugly tie or that grill mitt that you didn’t need you put a smile on your face, you hug your kids and you tell them, it’s the best gift you’ve ever received. And then sit back and give a real gift to yourself. Watch their little faces beam with joy.

This is TruthCurrents.
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