By God’s good grace, I’m the father of four beautiful children: three girls and one boy. Last week I wrote about the 5 things a daughter must hear from her dad. Today I want to talk about fathers and sons.
Just as there is something wonderful about being the father of daughters, there is something wonderful about being the father of a son. In my house, Daniel Jr (4) and I are outmatched four-to-one by girls, so we sort of stick together to make sure everything is not painted pink, some football gets watched on a regular basis, and that we watch as many superhero movies as Barbie movies.
Seriously though, the job of raising a son is a noble and important task. It is a job many men abdicate, leading to what is now a full-blown crisis in our country: a crisis of fatherhood. Look up the statistics when you have time and you will see that a very high percentage of young men in prison experienced little or no involvement from Dad. In my pastoral role, I’ve seen the devastating effects of a father’s absence or lack of leadership in the life of his son.
Fathering your sons is a serious job, men. And so in that spirit, I’d like to offer five things every son needs to hear from his father:
1) You are loved. Every boy needs to hear and know that his father loves him. Without this affirmation, a man carries deep wounds that affect his most important relationships. I’ve talked to men at all stages of life who yearn to hear those magic words that mean the most when they come from Dad: I love you. Today, my son is only four years old, so it’s easy for me to do this. I suspect as he gets older, it will become a bit more awkward. But I plan on doing it still. Behind the sometimes rough exterior of every young boy is a heart that longs to experience the love of his father. What you don’t realize is that the first image your boy will have of his Heavenly Father will be the image of the human father looking down on him. So tell your boy you love him.
2) I’m proud of you. I can’t tell you how many men I know who, to this day, are still living their lives in search of their fathers’ approval. Down deep in their hearts they wonder, Am I good enough? Did I make it? Is Dad proud? I’m learning that it’s important for us dads to be hard on our sons in many ways (see below), but we should never withhold our approval. They need to know, at periodic junctures in their lives, that they measure up, that there is nothing they have to do to earn our favor. Sure, at times they will disappoint and they should know and feel this. And yet we should not be taskmasters who, in trying to motivate our sons to greatness, withhold the very ingredient that will fuel their success: confidence. I’m reminded of God’s approval of Jesus as His Son was baptized by John the Baptist. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17; Mark 19:35). Yes, there are important theological ramifications to that phrase beyond mere approval, but still I can’t help see God’s approval for Jesus as a model for our relationship with our sons. If your son doesn’t make Division 1, if he gets accepted into a school other than Harvard, if he becomes a truck driver instead of a pastor, don’t ever give him the impression you like him less. Don’t damage his soul this way.
3) You are not a slacker, you’re a soldier. Today the culture presents such a confusing picture of manhood. What is a man supposed to be, anyways? Pop culture tells him he’s sort of unnecessary and the best he can do is idle away his adolescence by satisfying his sexual urges, simulating warfare with a joystick, and lacking any kind of noble ambition. But God did not make your son or my son to be a slacker, but a soldier. Now don’t get uptight about the word soldier. It’s okay to encourage our sons to be masculine. This doesn’t have to mean a deer hunting, truck driving survivalist. Plenty of real men sip lattes, drive minivans, and hate camouflage (guys like me). There is a vision of manhood in the Bible, one of nobility and strength, of sacrifice and courage. A real man fights for what he loves. A real man cherishes the woman God gives him. He doesn’t exploit her. A real man pursues that calling God has stamped upon his soul, one that is discovered through intimacy with God, identification with gifts and talents, and meeting the world’s deep needs (to paraphrase Buechner). Nobody can help guide our sons along their mission more than us fathers. Let’s not leave our sons’ futures to chance. Let’s stand beside them, modeling for them what it looks like to live on purpose.
4) Hard Work is a Gift, Not a Curse. Idleness, laziness, and indecision are the devil’s best tools for ruining the lives of young men. Guys, our sons needs to see us work hard and to be encouraged, made to work hard. They need to see that work is harder because of the Fall, but was actually given by God to experience His pleasure. Getting our hands dirty, straining, struggling, sweating–these are all good things, not bad. Sadly many young men have not seen what it actually looks like for a man to work. Let’s show them that work brings joy. Work honors God. Work done well brings glory to the creator. It may be done with fingers on a keyboard or by swinging an ax-head or by maneuvering a fork lift. It can be done in air-conditioned offices, muddy swamps, and underneath a car. But make no mistake: work matters and what we do with our hands, done well, is a testament to the Creator.
5) You are gifted, but you are not God. Let’s imbue our sons with a sense of confidence, of approval, of dignity. But let’s remind them that while they are gifted by the Creator, they are actually not God. Let’s teach them that genuine masculinity doesn’t strut. It bows. It picks up a towel and washes feet. A real man is as comfortable praying as he is preaching. He knows that his strength isn’t found in his exploits or what he thinks people think of him. His strength comes from God. This humility will fuel his compassion and will allow him to forgive those who deeply wound him. Let’s let our sons know that their lives really begin, not when they walk down the aisle at 18 or when they get their first employment contract or when they fall in love with a woman. Their lives began on a dusty hill 2,000 years ago, at the foot of a Roman cross, where justice and forgiveness met in the bloody sacrifice of their Savior. Let’s teach them that to live their whole lives without Jesus is like playing a concerto on the deck of the Titanic. It’s beautiful while it lasts, but it ultimately ends with sorrow. If we do anything at all with our sons, men, let’s point them to the Jesus we know.