By S. Michael Craven
I am afraid that our culture in general and subsequently too many fathers themselves have reduced the role of fatherhood to something nonessential or unnecessary. Many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother’s role and somehow no longer associated with masculinity or “real” manhood.
Instead they have bought into modern cultural caricatures along with Darwinian mythology and its label of “hunter-gatherer” and thus assume this to be their primary and sometimes only contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as “father” exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is, children are not looking for financial provision they are looking for intimacy, acceptance, guidance and a role model for what it means to be a man.
During the Colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in life, namely because that generation was less individualistic and overwhelmingly influenced by a biblical view of life and the world. Today the highest aspirations of men seem to be career success and personal leisure and against these they seek to “balance” marriage and family.
The facts are that the lack of actively involved fathers is producing societal conditions necessary for the intervention of government. The US Department of Health & Human Services launched its “Fatherhood Initiative” in 2001 with this statement:
“The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority… [T]he presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.”
While the research does indeed show that paternal absence (whether it is physical or practical) is a significant contributing factor in almost every category of societal ill my concern here is the spiritual effect.
A rather obscure but important study [Yes, I actually read these things.] conducted by the Swiss government in 1994 and published in 2000 reveals some astonishing facts with regard to the generational transmission of faith and religious values.
In short the study reveals that “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”
The study goes on to show,
“If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.
If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!”
Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular).
This confirms the role of father as spiritual leader which I would argue is exactly what fatherhood itself is; to love your wife as Christ loves the Church thus you model Christ-like love for your children in your most important earthly relationship; you care for your children as your Father in heaven cares for you and finally you teach your children the truth about reality. You instruct them in their understanding of life and the world and everything in it using God’s revelation as the basis by which they analyze and assess life’s challenges and opportunities. You send them forth with a biblical view of the world and a faith in Jesus Christ that is rooted in solid understanding and not merely blind tradition.
It is time for fathers to return to honorable manhood and reconsider their priorities and realign them with God’s commands, decrees and laws that they are to teach to their children when they sit at home, when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they wake up. (Deut 6:7) This is hard to do when you are not there.