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.
As a single mother of two boys, we have serious work to do in the Black community and there are some very deep wounds festering among us. I sense hurt, resignation, resentment, anger, confusion, and emotional fatigue.
Though we may disagree on root causes and solutions, I believe there’s one thing we should all be able to admit: single parenting and the attendant and antecedent dynamics are longstanding and complex, especially as they relate to relational issues between Black men and women. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think I have at least some level of understanding of these issues, and a degree of empathy for both sides. So in that spirit I offer some words to us all.
It’s futile to attempt to dialogue on the issue of single mothers, their children, and the men who fathered those children, without speaking truth into the situation. So from that point I begin.
Some Hard Truths
1. Strictly speaking, mothers are not fathers. This is true whether the parents are married and raising a child together, or separated. The truth of this statement lies not only in function, but in form. To insist that somehow mothers can be fathers is to ignore some very basic realities.
Fatherhood, like motherhood, originates and is defined not just by what a parent does, but also by who the parent is. So then, gender is a foundational underpinning of parenthood. Men are fathers; women are mothers. Acknowledging this truth in no way minimizes or detracts from the unavoidable reality that there are some women who do things that we would traditionally associate with a male role in a child’s life, just as there are some men who perform some of the actions associated with a female role.
But there’s more to parenthood roles than what we do; indeed what we do, and how we do it, is bound to be influenced by who we are. For example, I can teach my son to shave or tie a tie. I can show him a razor, explain how to put the shaving cream on his face, what to do if he nicks himself, etc. I can cover all the technicalities of the process. His father can explain those same things to him, using exactly the same words I use. But it’s not just about the mechanical process; it’s equally about the nuances that come out while father and son are going through this ritual. His father can tell him about the first time he shaved, who helped him learn how to do it, how it feels to get razor bumps. As a man, his father can help our son identify as a man who now does things that other men do. These are things that as a woman, and by virtue of the fact that I am a woman, I simply cannot do. We desperately need to come to terms with this because as long as we resist this truth, we perpetuate a number of undesirable consequences. These are just a few of those consequences:
• We short-circuit the identity formation and development of our children. It’s important for kids to understand how men and women function differently in families and in society.
• We potentially rob fathers of the opportunity to fully grow and develop in their role. Sometimes all a man needs to step up is for the mother to step back … even just a bit will often be enough.
• As women, we overtax ourselves trying to fill roles we weren’t designed to operate in. If we are indeed the only parent in our child’s life, then of course there are actions we must do. But we can do them while acknowledging that as a woman, there will be something missing because we are not a man.
• Sometimes people and resources that could fill some gaps in our child’s life go untapped because we believe that we are indeed mother and father. Simply put, we don’t look for what we feel we haven’t lost.
2. Mothers and fathers both need to determine if they’re really putting the needs of their children first. I know this one is challenging. So much hurt and pain often passes between parents that our emotional baggage piles up on our sons and daughters, and we often don’t realize what’s happening. When fathers are absent or uninvolved, it causes an incredible strain on everyone involved, including grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members.
But the strain is equally damaging when mothers are hostile, resistant, or overstressed. Let’s commit to being better parents. We must ask ourselves some tough questions, for example:
• Am I willing to let the other parent perform his/her role in the way he/she wants to and is able to? Or do I insist that my child’s father/mother parent like I do?
• Do I pray for my child’s mother/father, that they will be the parent my child needs? Or have I made it difficult to pray because I have unresolved issues that I can’t let go of?
• Do I consistently support the other parent’s efforts, no matter how small I think they are? Or do I instead focus on what I believe the other parent leaves undone?
• Do I make every reasonable effort to overcome obstacles that challenge me as I try to be a good parent? Or am I making excuses for why I’m not taking care of business?
• Do I accept constructive criticism and feedback from the other parent on how I could make our relationship and interactions as parents healthier, and then work diligently, and without resentment, to address those issues? Or am I more interested in being right and winning arguments?
• Do I have a martyr complex? Do I find reasons to refuse help so that my child will see me as the better, more committed parent, and therefore shower more love on me? Or am I actively seeking the other parent’s input and suggestions with a true intention to work with him/her?
Pray, Think, Talk
There are, of course, many more questions that will give us insight on the position of our hearts. But the ones shared here can at least get us started on a road that leads to more transparent, effective parenting. In a future column, I’ll outline some additional ideas to keep the conversation going.
So, what do you think?
Do me a favor. Read this article all the way through, and then put it aside for 24 hours. During that time, pray about what you’ve read and how you feel about it. Ask the Lord to give you insight on what applies to you and what He wants you to do about it. Then read the article again. Please share your thoughts by commenting at any point in this process.
I love our community and I’m praying for us all.
LITTLE FOUNTAINS: The author, John Fountain, at age 3 with his younger sister, Gloria, circa 1964.
I believe in God. Not that cosmic, intangible spirit-in-the-sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who embraced me when Daddy disappeared from our lives—from my life at age 4—the night police led him away from our front door, down the stairs in handcuffs.
The God who warmed me when we could see our breath inside our freezing apartment, where the gas was disconnected in the dead of another wind-whipped Chicago winter, and there was no food, little hope and no hot water.
The God who held my hand when I witnessed boys in my ‘hood swallowed by the elements, by death and by hopelessness; who claimed me when I felt like “no-man’s son,” amid the absence of any man to wrap his arms around me and tell me, “everything’s going to be OK,” to speak proudly of me, to call me son.
I believe in God, God the Father, embodied in his Son Jesus Christ. The God who allowed me to feel His presence—whether by the warmth that filled my belly like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, or that voice, whenever I found myself in the tempest of life’s storms, telling me (even when I was told I was “nothing”) that I was something, that I was His, and that even amid the desertion of the man who gave me his name and DNA and little else, I might find in Him sustenance.
I believe in God, the God who I have come to know as father, as Abba-Daddy.
I always envied boys I saw walking hand-in-hand with their fathers. I thirsted for the conversations fathers and sons have about the birds and the bees, or about nothing at all—simply feeling his breath, heartbeat, presence.
I had been told about my father’s drinking problem and felt more than anyone the void created by his absence: from school assemblies where I received awards, at graduations and church plays and at all of those irredeemable moments that occur in a little boy’s life.
STILL DAD: “It didn’t matter that Daddy was ‘no good.’ What mattered was that he was my dad.”
Still, it mattered not that Daddy was “no good,” as I was told, nor that the physical portrait of him that had once existed in my mind by my teenage years had long faded. What mattered was that he was my dad. And I was his son.
That fact alone drew me to him. It also made paternal rejection my cross to bear.
As a boy, I used to sit on the front porch of our apartment, watching the cars roll by, imagining that eventually one day, one would park and the man getting out would be my daddy. But it never happened.
When I was 18, I could find no tears that Alabama winter’s evening in January 1979, as I stood in a small church finally face to face with my father, lying cold in a casket, his eyes sealed, his heart no longer beating, his breath forever stilled.
Killed in a car accident, John Fountain Sr. died drunk, leaving me hobbled by the sorrow of years of fatherlessness.
By then it had been years since Mama had summoned the police to our apartment, fearing that Daddy might hurt her—hit her—again. Finally, his alcoholism consumed what good there was of him until it swallowed him whole.
I had not been able to cry at his funeral. But sixteen years later, standing over my father’s unmarked grave for a long overdue conversation, my tears flowed. They flowed freely as I began to have that talk that I had always dreamed of having someday with my father.
Much of what I said at the gravesite that day remains a blur, though I do recall telling him who I was, telling him about the man I had become. I told him about how much I wished he had been in my life. But it was only those words that I found most liberating that I clearly remember saying:
“I love you, Dad,” I said, wiping away tears, “and I forgive you.”
With that said, I climbed into my car and drove out of Long Corner Cemetery, away from Evergreen, Alabama, away from death and back toward life. And I realized fully that in his absence, I had found another. Or that He—God, the Father, God, my Father—had found me.
This post is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood. For more information, visit WestSide Press Books.
I’d Rather Have You
By John W. Fountain
I’d rather have your breath
Have your touch
Just one day.
Rather see your face
Again and again with my eyes
Than imagine in my mind.
Rather have you here
Than have to seek to find.
Rather know your foibles
And love you in spite.
Never have to imagine with all my might.
I’d rather know your imperfections
Than be left with my own reflections of the man
I can’t see
And each September forget which day
Was the day you were born.
Instead I mourn
The man I never knew.
How much I’d give
How much I’d do
Just once to hear you
Just once to see you
Just once to be with you
To walk again hand in hand
To know and touch the man
Who is my father.
This poem is an excerpt from Dear Dad: Reflections on Fatherhood by John W. Fountain.