CHUCK SWINDOLL TALKS ABOUT FATHERHOOD
BY CHUCK SWINDOLL
Remember when men were men? Remember when you could tell by looking? Remember when men knew who they were, liked how they were, and didn’t want to be anything but what they were? Remember when it was the men who boxed and wrestled and bragged about how much they could bench press? Remember when it was the women who wore the makeup, the earrings and the bikinis? Remember when it was the men who initiated the contact and took the lead in a relationship, made lifelong commitments, treated a woman like a lady, and modeled a masculinity that displayed security and stability?
I’m not thinking about the half-crazed Rambo types who suffer
from macho mania. . . those who look for a fight, walk with a swagger, never apologize and give that “Make my day” stare. Those guys may be able to destroy half of North Vietnam single-handedly, but they make terrible neighbors, horrible business partners and brutal husbands and dads. Being a man is not the same as living like a panther ready to pounce.
Neither do I have in mind the Archie Bunker-type loudmouth who slouches in his chair, barks out orders, and thinks the world gravitates around him. Since when do dogmatism, prejudice and selfishness mean masculinity? This type of fellow lives in a fantasy world, only imagining he’s running the show. In actuality, he’s a frightened child inside a man’s body–the object of sarcastic ridicule among friends and family alike.
True manhood calls for discipline of character, strong determination to set a course of action, and courage to stay at a task. But brutality? Vulgarity? Lack of courtesy? Hardly. Authentic men aren’t afraid to show affection, release their feelings, hug their children, cry when they’re sad, admit it when they’re wrong, and ask for help when they need it. Vulnerability fits beautifully into mature manhood. So does integrity.
I’m concerned about a vanishing masculinity that was once in abundance. I mean honest-to-goodness men who are distinctly that–discerning, decisive, strong-hearted men who know where they are going and are confident enough in themselves (and their God) to get there. They aren’t afraid to take the lead, to stand tall and firm in their principles even when the going gets rough.
Such qualities not only inspire the respect of women, they engender healthy admiration among younger men and boys who hunger for heroes. We need fewer spineless wimps we’ve never disentangled themselves from mama’s apron string, and more clear-thinking, hardworking, straight-talking men who, while tender, thoughtful and loving, don’t feel the need to ask permission for taking charge. I’m convinced that most single ladies would love to have men like that to spend time with . . . and most wives long to have men like that to share life with. Children especially like having dads like that.
During the last three decades there has been an assault on masculinity. The results are well represented in the arts, the media, the world of fashion and among those who have become our youth’s heroes. There are exceptions, I realize, but therein lies the problem . . . they are exceptions. Effeminately dressed males now prance to and fro on rock-concert stages across America. Poster-size portraits of male celebrities paper the walls in thousands of boys’ bedrooms. Many of the performers no longer even pretend to be masculine. Sex roles are deliberately being blended. Female impersonations are the hot ticket in show places all around the world, performing before mainly male audiences.
Several years ago, People magazine included a dialogue between a psychologist and his seven-year-old nephew. The professional asked the boy, “Is Michael Jackson a boy or a girl?” The boy thought for a moment, then answered, “Both.” If you don’t think it’s now cool to wrap both sexes into one package, you’ve not checked out the stores that handle the chic designer labels. We’re talking “Who’s What?”
This reminds me of a book I read recently on being a man. The author, Weldon Hardenbrook, referred to a new line of women’s lingerie released by Calvin Klein. The lingerie is modeled after men’s undershirts and jockey shorts. The ladies’ undies are not slinky satin or frilly nylon, but 100 percent cotton, available in six varieties of tops, eight types of bottoms, in 25 colors. And get this: The briefs are cut high on the leg, but the string bikini resembles a jockstrap and the boxer shorts actually have a fly. Will it sell? Are you kidding? Klein’s underwear line is expected to gross $70 million in its first 14 months. Unisex used to be limited to a few kinky beauty salons and off-the-wall jewelry stores–now it’s as close to us as undergarments. Shades of Boy George! Don’t kid yourself, gender blending is not a passing fad on society’s bizarre edge. It is here, and it is neither subtle nor silent.
The separate distinction of male and female is a biblical precept–“male and female He created them ” (Genesis 1:27). It is a foundational block upon which any healthy civilization rests. When the roles get sufficiently blurred, confusion and chaos replace decency and order. When effeminate men begin to flood the landscape, God’s long suffering reaches the length of its tether, ushering in the severest judgment imaginable . . . a la Sodom and Gomorrah. Romans 1:24-27 is still in the Book, isn’t it? Worst of all, because more and more men care less about being men, the family is thrown into confusion. Leadership is shifted to the wife and mother, and the children understandably reverse the roles, tragically perpetuating the unnatural trend.
A Portrait Worth Examination
Tucked away in the first century-one letter Paul wrote, we find one of those biblical pen portraits no one could improve. Even though the original purpose of the writer was not to describe the role of a father in the family, I think there is room for us to apply his words along those lines.
Read the following paragraph slowly and deliberately. Don’t hurry through it. I want to use it as the basis of some suggestions on how we men can become the kind of dads that wives appreciate and children admire.
“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:7-12).
I don’t know if you observed a rather bold contrast at the beginning and end of those verses. Paul, the writer, initially admits he was gentle “as a nursing mother,” then later he writes that he exhorted, encouraged and implored them “as a father.” When I first saw that contrast, it occurred to me there might very well be some hints for the home in a context that mentions both mother and father. The closer I looked, the clearer the picture emerged. In fact, I find no less than five wonderful traits in this portrait of a father in the home.
1. A fond affection. Paul had at his fingertips a half dozen or more Greek terms of affection he could have used that were familiar to the people in that day. He picked one, however, that is found nowhere else in all the New Testament. Gerard Kittel, in his massive, nine-volume set on New Testament words, tells us that the term translated affection means “to feel oneself drawn to something or someone. ” There is a strong intensity implied in the term. Zahn, a Greek scholar of German descent, says it is a term of endearment taken from the nursery, one that is both masculine and tender. It is the picture of a father who holds and treats a child tenderly, feeling himself affectionately drawn to that little one. As I write these words, I remember (as many of you who are dads also remember) the first time I held our first child in my arms. Ours happened to be a curly-haired little boy whom we named Curtis. That was way back in September of 1961. I remember carefully holding that little fella, afraid I would break him–or drop him. I had this incredible fear he would somehow fall out of my arms. I noticed right away he couldn’t hold his head up. It kept falling. I said stuff like, “Hold your head up, Curt!” and “Straighten up, boy! ” It didn’t help a bit. You see, I had never held a baby that tiny and fragile before. It’s amazing how mothers have a built-in knack for knowing how to do all the right things. Even though my wife, Cynthia, had never had her own baby before Curt, she seemed to know what to do. Moms know, but dads don’t! And so what do we do? We hold them very carefully, very tenderly . . . at least at first. Unfortunately, much of our tender affection fades rapidly if we’re not careful.
As the years pass, work increases, pressures mount, and the demands and deadlines grapple for more of our time and energy. In the meantime our child grows–no longer little and able to be held in our arms. Before we know it he’s about our height or even taller. In fact, we find our arms are no longer able to reach around his broad shoulders.
But don’t kid yourself, that “fond affection” is still needed! And I would add, it is especially needed from dad. I don’t mean that we simply think it, but that we demonstrate it. That is especially true as our children spread their wings and begin to break close ties with their parents. Such attempts at independence require a great deal of wisdom on- the parents’ part.
I am reminded of the prodigal son. It’s the story of a boy who reaches the age when he says, “I’m going to make it on my own. Give me what I’ve got coming, Dad, because I’m leaving. ” Off he goes. Perhaps it was a rather stormy, rapid departure. The young man hits the streets and lives there for an undetermined period of time. While he’s away there is no contact with home. The boy doesn’t write. He doesn’t attempt to get in touch. Who knows how long he stayed away. As times got hard the boy sank lower and lower. He wound up humiliated, bankrupt and depressed. Finally, at the very bottom, he comes to his senses and says to himself: “How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father. . . ” (Luke 15:17-18). By the way, he never once thought his father would not let him return home. Interesting, isn’t it? Our kids know us. They can usually predict our response.
I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; l am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men ‘ ” (Luke 15:18-19). Sounds to me like he is rehearsing his speech. He is now living with the scars of all these terrible memories. Awash in feelings of guilt, he tries to imagine stumbling back to the front door of his home, facing a dad who is liable to be ashamed of him. So he plans to say with sincerity, “I’m not worthy to be called your son.” He expects to encounter the wrath of Khan. But that’s not what he finds back home. The boy’s return is one of the most moving scenes imaginable! I never tell this story without having to fight back the tears.
“And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Wow! That’s what I call demonstrating tender affection. No hesitation. No inquisition. No probation. Only compassion. In fact (if you read the rest of the story), there was a celebration!
To you who bear the name “Dad,” I cannot impress upon you enough how imperative it is that we show our affection. We can do that in two ways. First, we affirm our child is; and second, we appreciate what our child does. This twofold assurance, however, must be given in more than words. Affection–the nonverbal communication of closeness, touching and even kissing–is among the most important experiences we share with one another.
Many a young woman who opts for immoral sexual relationships does so because she can scarcely remember a time when her father so much as touched her. Unaffectionate dads, without ever wishing to do so, can trigger a daughter’s promiscuity. All this leads me to write with a great deal of passion, dads, don’t hold back your affection! Demonstrate your feelings of love and acceptance to both sons and daughters. And don’t stop once they reach adolescence. They long for your affirmation and appreciation. They will love you for it. More importantly, they will emulate your example when God gives them their own family.
Between 1961 and 1970, God gave Cynthia and me four children. The one ingredient she and I have discovered that has held us close together has been the open expression of our affection for one another. Interestingly, what we demonstrated to them, they began to demonstrate to one another. The investment of “fond affection” throughout their growing-up years has resulted in wonderful dividends. It is a great delight to see our two married kids now carrying on the same affectionate tradition with their little ones.
2. A transparent life.
Question: Isn’t the gospel important? Absolutely. Well then, when it comes to the Christian family, isn’t the gospel alone enough? Absolutely not! To hear the gospel is a necessity for children. If they are to come to know the Savior whom you love, dad, they need to have you tell them of Him. I have no greater joy than the memory that our four children heard early in their lives the gospel concerning Jesus Christ from their dad’s lips. They heard that God loved them through His Son and sent the Savior for them. And that He died for them, paying the penalty for their sins. And if, as a child, they would simply trust themselves to the Savior, by faith in His death and resurrection, they would be given the gift of eternal life.
They heard . . . and each one responded. That is imparting the gospel. How terribly important to impart the gospel! But when it comes to rearing those children, how valuable it is to impart our own lives to them as well. The term impart carries with it the idea of making a contribution, sharing fully.
What would that include? I can think of several things that might be “imparted.” Our children want to learn a proper scale of values from us. They also want to discover how to make good decisions. It intrigues them to think we are able to stand alone and unintimidated. They want to know the techniques of such security (not just that you do it, but how you do it). They want to know how to handle their finances. They also need your approval . . . the assurance that you value them. I would also include a well-exercised sense of humor, a positive, contagious attitude toward life. Few memories are more pleasant than a father who laughed and had fun with his family. And how about including freedom from worry and stress? Or when stress comes, admitting your struggle with it. They’ll understand. In fact, you’ll be amazed. Your stock will go up several points in their minds whenever they see you under stress and observe your willingness to talk about it. Our children learn from our failures as well as from our successes. This is all part of living a transparent life.
Few experiences are more endearing than having one of your children lean over and tell you he loves you. . . that he understands and cares. Children find great security in finding us open and vulnerable. My kids, hopefully, are learning through a transparent life that their dad has needs. Sometimes my need is to be forgiven–so I must be willing to admit failure and wrongdoing. Then and only then do I become REAL! Do not fear that transparency will cause a child to lose respect for you.
3. An unselfish diligence.
Many of you who read this booklet have no better memory (perhaps for some, no other memory!) of your father than that he was a hard worker. But before you poo-poo that mental image, pause long enough to appreciate it in contrast to an irresponsible, indolent father. Those of us fortunate enough to have had a dad who was a diligent model of hard work have much for which to be grateful. Dads sometimes get the blast of preachers and authors who decry all that time at work. While it can certainly be taken to an unwholesome extreme, many a family has a hardworking dad to thank for their survival. And so I say to you men who are models of diligence in your work, stay at the task. . . but don’t quit there. Help your child discover what it means to be diligent and devoted and dedicated to a job. Help him know what motivates you. Help her know what spurs you on to do a quality piece of work and to get the job done. There are numerous lessons to be learned from hard work. Happy is the family who has a model of diligence in the man of the home. And happier is the family when dad keeps the right perspective on his diligence.
Hats off to you hardworking guys! And to all of you with fathers who have distinguished themselves as men of diligence and commitment, I urge you to say, “Thank you. Thanks for the years you invested that we might have a few things. Maybe you didn’t give us all of yourself, and maybe we don’t know you as well as we would like, but how greatly we’ve benefited from your work. You have taught us to appreciate what it means to be responsible. We love you, Dad!”
It is easy to let things you buy for your family, take the place of giving yourself. In our affluent era, how easy to provide too much too soon! Maybe a simple principle I learned will help you, too. Your child will not fully appreciate something unless he knows he deserves it. He won’t assess its value and have fun with something if it is just dumped on him. So help your child work hard, too. There are times you would be wise to restrain yourself . . . to keep your hands off and allow the child to work things through on his own. For all the right reasons, diligent dads can lavish upon their children so many things that the child becomes indulged and, ultimately, irresponsible. We need to work at keeping the balance.
4. A spiritual authenticity.
Like a coin, a life needs both sides before it is considered authentic. When it comes to being a father, few things are more significant than authenticity.
As difficult as it is to write the words that follow, I must. How rare are those families where the father is truly the spiritual leader! Usually, it’s the mother. Isn’t it about time we changed that, men? It is refreshing when the dad is the one who sets the pace, who takes the lead, who, more than anyone in the family, “hungers and thirsts after righteousness.” I’m not thinking about big talk and little walk, not that. . . but rather a life that is lived in beautiful balance, where Christ is truly living out His life in the man of the house . . . where the wife and the children learn from the man’s example what it means to truly love God.
Cynthia and I are very close friends with a family that lives in another state. There are four girls in that family, all very close in age and relationships. They attended the same high school, even the same university, sort of in stair-step manner, one after the other. All four are now happily married. What stands out in all four young women’s minds is the authentic model of true Christianity they witnessed in their dad. No question, if you asked any one of them, each would say their father set the pace, spiritually, in their home.
To give you an idea of his leadership, I want to quote from a letter he wrote them during their college years.
Dear girls of mine:
I’m enclosing this article I’ve read. It is one of the finest have seen with regard to pinpointing the necessity for proper family relationships. I am hopeful that it will be worth your time to not only read it but also study and keep it for future use.
Now listen to his counsel. Notice how obviously yet graciously he takes the leadership:
The men you girls marry need to fit into the mold of the husband as outlined in this article. I don t know of the author’s spiritual understanding, but he is using biblical principles in describing the family relationships. Now, your heart can play tricks on you with regard to looking for a husband. There is so much romanticism beamed at you from every direction, it is easy to fall prey to the secular version of the husband and happiness. I am confident that each of you girls will allow the Lord to choose your husband. He will pick a man who fulfills the scriptural mandates for the head of the house.
I love each of you.
That’s what I’d call being spiritually authentic. Isn’t it amazing, men? We watch our daughters grow, begin to date, move closer and closer to making life’s second most significant decision–marriage– and we virtually take hands off the whole thing. It is our tendency to back away and leave most (if not all) of the counsel up to the wife . . . when, in fact, the girl is marrying one like us–a man. And because she doesn’t quite know how to ask for our input, she waits for us to take the initiative. She longs to have that behavior that is marked by devoutness and uprightness of heart. It is so easy to let the eternal slip by unnoticed, isn’t it? We can do the same with our sons.
5. A positive influence.
In his letter, Paul refers to his ministry in Thessalonica as being one of active encouragement, “as a father.” Isn’t that interesting? When the Apostle searched for an example of someone who brought a positive influence, “a father” came to his mind.
Would you think of a father as best fulfilling this role? Does your dad come to mind, for example? It has been my observation that fathers in our generation seem to have lost sight of this trait. More often than not, we focus on the negative, the wrong, rather than the positive.
Dan Benson, in his book The Total Man, verifies that fact with a rather disturbing statistic. After an extensive survey was taken, it was found that for one positive statement made in the homes that were surveyed, there were 10 negatives–10 to one!
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how kids are put together. We scream, “Quit,” “Stop!” “Don’t!” And they do. Then we finally learn to relax and say, “Go ahead, it’s fine, do!” And, lo and behold, they’re no longer interested.
Oh, dads, when will we learn? How long will it take? Each day of our lives we make deposits into the memory banks of our children. By remembering that, I find I am more likely to work on the qualities that build a lasting relationship between my children and me. Naturally, there are times when I blow it, and my family must forgive me. But when I focus on the traits I’ve mentioned in this booklet, I’m motivated to become the dad God wants me to be.
I want to close by having us step into the time tunnel for a few moments.
Looking Back. . . Looking Ahead: A Plea
As you look back and stand in the shadow of your father, what one word would you use to describe him? A lot of people I know would answer without hesitation, “Absent.” Much as I would prefer to soften the blows or speak in defense of all dads, there’s a growing number of folks who refuse to be ignored any longer. They miss their dads! They don’t want substitutes: things to play with, a car for graduation, their own room, money for tuition or a Hawaiian honeymoon. No, not nearly as much as they wanted the presence and influence of a dad. Not all day, you understand, (they’re realistic enough to realize that can’t be), but time with him. . . to talk to, listen to, laugh with, mess around with, learn from, and grow alongside the man who loved their mother enough to conceive them.
“Where is he now?” they ask.
Dad, it is possible you’ve gotten overly committed, so involved in your work or some away-from-home project or hobby that it is draining your time and energy with your family. I understand. Believe me, I do. Maybe it’s hard for you to come up close and be vulnerable–even with your kids. You may really prefer “Father” to “Pop” or “Dad.” Again, I can’t fault you for the way you’ve been put together. You can’t be someone you’re not. . . nor should you try to fake it. But surely between a distant patriarch and a down-home, easy goin’ there’s a common ground . . . a place to meet, time to be, room to hear, to feel, to care, to touch. Yes, I’m pleading. The Absent Father has emerged. It’s time for you and me to cut a new course.
C’mon, dads, let’s lead a revolt! Let’s give it our best shot! Let’s refuse to take our cues from the system any longer. Let’s start saying no to more and more of the things that pull us farther and farther away from the ones who need us the most. Let’s remember that the greatest earthly gifts we can provide are our presence and influence while we live and a magnificent memory of our lives once we’re gone.
You’re not perfect? So, what else is new?
You don’t know exactly how to pull it off? Welcome to the club!
A graffito sign usually comes to my mind when I hear such excuses: “Life ain’t no exact science.” Which, being interpreted, means, “You ain’t Clark Kent, so don’t sweat it. ” Your family doesn’t expect profound perfection, command performances or a superhuman plan. Just you–warts and all–your smile, your affirmation, your gentleness, your support, your leadership, your involvement… YOU!
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, 1989, PAGES 3-14. THE ABOVE MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.