In our current cultural and historical moment, it is common to have blended families. Single parents form new households, people wait later in life to get married or have children, and people who have been through divorce find the courage to marry again. But blended families have been present throughout human history, and we see them prominently in Scripture and in African American history.
We think of the patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob. Abraham with children from different women, and Jacob who had a large family with multiple wives and children with each of them. We can think of Moses who was adopted, Esther who was raised by her uncle, and Ruth, whose story revolves around her second marriage to Boaz. David who had children from different relationships and caused strife, and of course we remember Joseph, the stepfather of the Savior Jesus Christ.
In many African cultures, grandparents live with their adult children, children who are orphaned are raised by the closest of kin or the closest neighbor, and fathers have children from multiple relationships. During our history as Africans in America, the extended and blended family systems were how we survived slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing attacks on Black family life.
Growing up, I knew uncles who raised their wives’ children from previous relationships, I had aunts who raised their nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. We had cousins who had a different mother or father than their siblings, and cousins on their second and third marriages. My story is not unique in the Black community. But interestingly, these realities of complex blended families are almost treated as taboo in our conversation and daily lives.
I grew up with both of my biological parents married and in the same house. When I started dating the woman who became my wife, some people around us were surprised and concerned because she already had two daughters from a previous relationship. I was single with no children, a couple of prestigious degrees, and a good job, so for many people the thought of dating—let alone marrying—a woman who had children was a letdown or an offense. But it has been an incredible joy and an experience of God’s love to raise two daughters who are mine through chosen relationships and one who is mine biologically.
Don’t get me wrong, raising children is one of the greatest challenges you can ever have, most of the parents out there will agree with me. But it is also one of the most rewarding journeys a person can undertake. Raising children who do not share your blood takes a special person. But if I’m honest, I feel similar about my call to parenting all of my children as I do to being a husband. Let me break the myths: marriage is not for everyone. Raising children is not for everyone, either. But both are callings for many of us. And as Christians, we know both take the grace and power of God to do well.
Being able to raise and care for children who are mine not by blood and obligation, but by relationship and choice gives me a different perspective on how God loves us as His adopted children by the Spirit. Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:14–15 (NLT), “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”
When you raise children who are adopted into your family, you are able to share your spirit and more importantly God’s Spirit with them—even if you may not share blood. Having adopted children is different than having biological children for me. But it does not make the relationship any less important, loving, or powerful, just as when God adopted us by His Spirit. God’s love toward us as His adopted children is the same as His love toward Jesus, His only begotten Son. That is a powerful revelation and goal for our love as people in blended families: to love every member the way God loves Jesus, the way Jesus loves us, the way we are called to love one another. Although our relationships in blended families may be different, the love should not be different.
Having a blended family is not for everyone. But with intentionality, grace, and patience it can be an amazing experience of God’s love. Scripture and history show that blended families have always been part of God’s people. It is not a moral failure to bring children into a new family or marry someone with children. It should not be taboo to have a blended family. Our response as believers to blended families is clear: love them as Jesus loves us.
We love to see examples of successful black men who are also wonderful fathers. Dr. Myron Rolle is an inspiring role model with an incredible story. He was a celebrated football player who was drafted to the NFL. He received a Rhodes Scholarship and graduated Oxford University before he went to the league. And now he is a neurosurgeon in Boston working with brilliant minds from Boston University, Harvard, and others to tackle the most pressing issues of the human brain. He does all of this while being a devoted husband and father of 4 including two newborn twins. He’s a millennial who has lived his dreams.
How does he do it all? How did this middle class boy from the Bahamas become an exemplar on the football field and the field of medicine? How does he balance fatherhood with his research? UrbanFaith sat down with Dr. Myron Rolle to discuss his tactics and testimony in his book the 2% Way.
Every year during Father’s Day, a wave of complexity sweeps across the country. Father’s Day can be an great occasion for celebration, a reminder of loved ones lost, a day of sadness for those who did not grow up with their fathers, a day of angst for those who do not like their fathers, and a day of relaxation for the dads who treat it as a break. And every year in churches, we try to figure out how to approach and celebrate Father’s Day. Father’s Day is not celebrated in our society the way Mother’s Day is, and everyone knows it. We know how to celebrate mothers. We know what to get them; the flowers, clothes, crafts, candies, meals, and more are readily available with updates each year. But Father’s Day feels mysterious. We ask ourselves, did we already get this tie? These socks? This outdoor equipment? Why is it that we may struggle so much to honor fathers but find it easy to bless our mothers? The answers are unclear and varied. But if we start with figuring out how to honor God as our heavenly Father, it may help us get better at honoring our earthly fathers.
God is Our Father
The Bible refers to God as a father in multiple places in the Old and New Testament. Moses notes in Deuteronomy 1:31 that God cared for Israel in the wilderness like a father cares for their child. The Lord protects and provides for Israel as He leads them out of bondage. He says at the end of the same book that God is to be respected because He fathered Israel by creating, forming, and establishing them, and He mothered them by giving birth to them. Psalm 68:5 identifies God as the Father of the fatherless and defender of widows. God is the Father who cares for us when human fathers are not present. Isaiah 9:6 prophesies that God is the everlasting Father, and Malachi proclaims that all in his audience are children of the same Father God. But Jesus makes this relationship with God even clearer. Jesus calls God His Father, and He is identified as the Son of God in each of the Gospels. In Galatians 4:5-7, Paul explains that believers in Christ are children of God, and John declares that truth in 1 John 5:1. So it is clear in scripture that God is a Father to all who will receive Him as one. But what does that mean for us?
How God Relates To Us As A Father
God is a Spirit and cannot be fully understood or explained using any analogy or even human language. God is greater than any roles we could use to try to explain Him: father, mother, king, brother, friend, lover, lord, healer, provider, protector, or otherwise. But God chooses to reveal Godself in ways we can understand so we can have a genuine relationship with God. It is because of the descriptions of God relating as a Father in Scripture that we can relate to God a little better and also to human fathers a little better. God relates as a father in many ways but a few key ones we’ve already mentioned are as a source of identity, a protector, a provider, a caregiver, and a guide. God rebukes David and also encourages Him which other biblical fathers do. Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God corrects us because we are His children. Galatians 4 underscores that God blesses us because we are His children. God is present with us in good times and bad times, like any good father. God leads, encourages, provides, protects, corrects, counsels, comforts, and instructs us in the wilderness and the places of plenty as a good Father. Most of all, God loves us as our heavenly Father. God has shown Himself to be a good Father, but how can we be good children to God our Father?
How We Honor God Our Father
Jesus gives us the perfect example of what it means to be a good child of God, demonstrating how to honor God. Summed up, it is to love God. We love God through obedience. We love God through spending time with Him. We love God through caring about what He cares about. We love God through giving to other people, because He doesn’t need our money. We love God by doing the work and ministry He has called us to do. We love God by loving our neighbors well. We love God by doing justice. We love God by using our lives to bring Him glory, which is to live in a way that makes Him proud. Jesus explains at length in John 8:31-58 that Father God loves it when we believe in Jesus and do what He said. 1 John 5:1-5 is exceedingly clear that obeying God and loving others is how we can express our love to God. Now that we understand how to honor God as our Father, how do we honor our earthly fathers?
How Can We Honor Our Human Fathers
Human fathers can never truly compare to our Father God. We shouldn’t even expect them to reach that standard. But they should follow God as the standard, and we should honor them as our fathers if we have good relationships with them. Earthly fathers can be honored in many of the same ways as our Heavenly Father.
It all comes back to loving our dads. When we care about the things our fathers care about, it makes them happy. It may be sports, cooking, fishing, movies, work, decorating, or some other hobby. When we show care about what dads care about, it brings them honor. We give to dads because they do need our money and gifts, unlike God. Give them something they like, and ask for ideas if you need them. Spend time with your dad if you can. Many people wish they could. If you have an opportunity, then take advantage–it will definitely bring your dad happiness on Father’s Day.
When young children do what their father says, it brings their father honor and happiness. As a father myself, I cannot tell you the joy I have when my children do what I told them to do without complaining, demonstrating a bad attitude, giving up, or getting distracted. When we are older, this obedience becomes conversational. If you want to honor your father on Father’s Day, ask him what He wants! Sometimes we spend so much time trying to figure out what our dads want instead of simply asking them and then following through. This simple form of relating can bring honor to a father like nothing else.
But many dads will tell you the best honor their children can give them on Father’s Day or any other day is to live lives that make them proud. Just keep following God your Father. If you honor God with your life, you can rest assured you are making our Heavenly Father and every good dad proud.
It is hard to explain what I lost when my father died. It is even more difficult to explain how much of him remains with me, even five years after his death.
As with many women, my father’s influence remains an enduring force in my life. For some of my friends, it’s a scar that threatens relationships and self-worth.
But I am one of the lucky ones.
For me, my father’s love continues to give me courage and confidence even without his physical presence. I have somehow learned to go on without his notes of encouragement, his bear hugs and his”just-to-say-I-love-you” phone calls. But what hasn’t changed is how often I still hear his words in my mind.
Whenever I experience disappointment, I can still hear him say the words I heard since I was a toddler:”I love you and I’m proud of you.” When things go well, I find my first instinct is to tell my father about my accomplishment. To this day, I sometimes reach for the phone before stopping myself, remembering he is no longer there.
As a child, I took my relationship with my father for granted. I assumed everyone had a dad who loved and cared for her.
As a teenager, some friends complained about being beaten by their fathers and their biting words. For the first time I realized my own father wasn’t like all the rest.
As an adult, I have learned how very special he was. Some of my friends spend countless hours in therapy just to let go of the pain caused by their fathers. And I now realize much of my mental and spiritual health was aided by my dad, a man who saw himself as nothing special but who never failed to make me feel like I was.
I marvel at the wisdom of a man who told me,”You deserve to be treated well,”thus enabling me to turn my back on boyfriends who were less than respectful and bullies in business who tried to intimidate me.
I am amazed to think of how often he told me I was beautiful, giving me a deeply rooted sense that I didn’t need to worry about how I looked or seek out men who cared mostly about physical attributes.
My intellect was encouraged, my business sense acknowledged. Never once did my father give me a signal that girls should act differently than boys. And yet by loving me as he did, he encouraged the development of my femininity.
Now I see that I have fewer fears about men than some of my women friends whose earliest encounters with the opposite sex created a sense of dread. And as a mother, I find myself raising my two boys with the goal of becoming men like my dad.
The impact of a father on a daughter is so great that I find myself preaching to my men friends about caring for their girls.
When I see a man stroking his daughter’s hair, I am tempted to say to him, “Do you know that the memory of your touch may get her through something 30 years from now?” And when I see a man ignoring or criticizing his girl child, I want to say, “Please stop and think how hard you will make life for her. Try to understand that your words today will echo through her mind over and over again.” My father never liked to have much of a celebration on Father’s Day. He always said being a dad was such a joy that he couldn’t imagine why anyone made a fuss about it.
But I now know that it is important to girls to make a fuss over their fathers. And it is especially important that fathers make a fuss over their girls.
A man’s relationship with his daughter is a complex mystery, a puzzle containing the possibility of lifelong confidence or disabling misery.
I am one of the lucky ones. This Father’s Day I celebrate the memory of a man who loved me so well he gave me a gift that continues on without him.
When I first found out that my wife was pregnant in early 2008, I immediately went into preparation mode.
The worst thing that I thought could happen to me at that point would be for me to get caught being unprepared as a dad. I was amazingly active in reading the pregnancy books with my wife, and knowing which milestones were coming up. I knew what the baby was doing in her tummy at all times.
As the months went on I even talked to people and listened to their stories about birth and parenthood. I heard more than a few stories about dads that were so overwhelmed by the miracle of birth that they passed out in the delivery room. As I watched the group laugh as the dad told that story, I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to be that dad. I had to do the research. I needed to be prepared and have no surprises in the delivery room, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I googled YouTube videos of childbirth! I sat and watched dozens of them until I could stomach the sight of this miracle without being the dad that passed out. Nobody wants to be that guy. I made it through the delivery on my own two feet and witnessed the birth of my first-born child.
I held her in my arms and shed a very manly, single tear. Just one. I didn’t wipe it at first I let it drop to about mid-cheek level to allow myself just a touch of vulnerability in the company of others. My first thought while holding her was a strange one. It was a bit morbid but very real.
I looked her in her squinty little eyes and I said to myself, “If I don’t take care of her, she will die.” The responsibility was mine at that moment. Since she couldn’t feed herself, I couldn’t forget to feed her, or she would die. Since she couldn’t roll over on her own, I couldn’t forget which side to lay her on, or she would die. When she started to roll over I had to be lightning fast to catch her from hitting the ground after she rolled too far off the bed. I had to take care of all of her needs, even beyond the physical. If I didn’t tell my daughter she was loved, lovable, and beautiful, and that her worth was high beyond anything that anyone else could afford, then she would die a spiritual and emotional death. I had to supply her needs. I could NOT afford to come up short.
On my quest for information and experiences from more seasoned parents, I heard from most, if not all of them, that no matter how prepared I was and how hard I tried, there was going to be something that I would get wrong. Something was going to slip through the cracks. I refused to accept my own mortality in this manner. I needed to find out what some of these fathers were not doing and do just that. One day it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s Dad’s job to be the “bad guy.”
Moms have an amazing amount of fanfare surrounding them and their day. The fanfare is much deserved for all that they do. You have heard the story of how she carried you for nine months and went through “x” amount of hours in labor. You’ve heard about how you destroyed her waistline and worried her half to death. You have been made well aware of the trials of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. You’ve heard it all. The moms know how to lay it on thick.
Moms hold you when it hurts, make sure you get that thing you want, move mountains and make things better. Moms get to be the “good guy.” That’s why Mother’s Day is always AWESOME! Flowers, candy, cards, commercials, months of anticipation, great and thoughtful gifts…Moms get the works. Father’s Day is just a month later, and I never know it’s coming until maybe two days before. Nobody reminds you. Nobody asks what you want more than a week out. Nobody buys big expensive gifts for Dad.
Do you want to know why dads famously get neckties for Father’s Day? It’s because they just want to make sure you have something to wear to work so there’s enough money to get Mom a really good present next year. Father’s Day could come and go and nobody would notice. Why? Well, nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.
Moms tell you that you can be anything you want to be, while dads get to tell you, “You can’t be an astronaut with straight D’s on your report card.” He wants to teach you how to work hard for your dreams because they won’t just come to you. Moms run out on the field with the Band-Aids and Neosporin when you scrape your knee in your soccer game. Dads get to tell you that you can’t quit the team just because you’re tired of it. He’s trying to teach you commitment.
Moms pick you up when you fall off of your bike, but dads make you get back on it even while you’re still in pain. He’s trying to teach you perseverance. Dad delivers the punishment, the butt whoopings, the taking of car keys, and the groundings. He tells you there’s no way you’re going outside looking like that. Dad is the “hater,” the skeptic, the lesson teacher, the long lecture giver, the layer of the smack-down, and Mr. I Told You So. Dad is the “tell me your plan” guy. Dad has to be the “You can’t date that guy” guy.
Dad has to diagnose dumb ideas and come up with better ones. Dad says, “Do it better,” and he has to tell you hard truths about yourself. And whenever you get to be a little too much for Mom to handle, how does she get you back in shape? She says, “I’m going to call your dad,” and you straighten up. You’ll thank Mom first at your graduation and while Mom is the reason you made it there, Dad is the reason you made it through. Dad is the enforcer. Dad is the bad guy, and nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.
So if you’re a dad and you’re sitting there a month after a spectacular Mother’s Day with an ugly tie fresh out of the package or getting ready to open a brand new Chia Pet, remember this… Being the bad guy isn’t just a job you take because nobody else wants it. It’s a calling. God fathers us the same way. God takes the blame for every bad thing we do to ourselves. This is what the great dads are made of. This is also why there just aren’t that many great dads. Nobody signs up to be the bad guy at a thankless job, but we’ve seen the statistics. Everybody needs a dad.
Nobody will admit it, but everybody needs someone to tell him or her the truth to their faces without blinking. No matter how hard or harsh that truth may be it must be told. So be Dad. In the midst of those that would kill the messenger, be Dad. This is not to say be hard on them for the sake of being hard on them. But in love, in fairness, and in honesty fulfill your calling. Don’t grieve your children but sharpen them and equip them for the things you see coming.
The Bible says, “For the LORD disciplines the one he loves, and He punishes each one he accepts as His child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT) Just as our Heavenly Father does we should discipline the ones we love. We should also remember the example of God when punishing the ones you love, and not forget to love the ones you punish. Be unwavering without being unforgiving. Listen before you say no, even when you know it’s going to be a “no”. Be strong and consistent in your love. Get on the cross for your children. Embrace being the bad guy. Be Dad.