There's a Father's Day card that reads, "Dad, everything I ever learned I learned from you, except one thing. The family car really will do 110."
It is stressful to be a father today. Some of us have jobs that require 5560 hours a week and we feel guilty that we don't spend enough time with our children. The redefining of gender roles has left many dads uncertain about what is expected of them. The breakdown of morality also creates stress. How can we get our children to adhere to Christian morals when they're attacked every day? The media portrayal of fathers as inept and irrelevant hasn't eased the tension either.
Sometimes at church we add to the pressure by beating up on dads for their neglect or poor examples. One little boy said to his preacher, "Boy, that was a good sermon. My dad slumped way down today." It's not the intent of this message to beat fathers up but to build them up.
Let's look at a father in the Book of Genesis who faced some similar pressures. His name is Jacob. The Bible says there's nothing new under the sun, and Jacob experienced many of the pressures that young fathers face today.
Fathers face pressure from the failures of their past
First, there was the pressure of Jacob's imperfection. Jacob did not have a good reputation as a young man. One day in his youth he was out barbecuing some beef stew when his older twin brother, Esau, came in from an unsuccessful hunt famished. The aroma from that stew cooking smelled great to a ravenous hunter, and Esau begged for a portion. Jacob said, "I'll give you some, but it will cost you your birthright." Esau said, "What good is a birthright if a man dies of starvation?" Jacob had his deal, but it was a raw deal.
Some time later Jacob cheated Esau again, this time out of his inheritance. It was custom that the older son would receive a double portion of the father's estate when the father died. So Jacob, with his mother's help, disguised himself as his older brother and manipulated his blind father into guaranteeing him the inheritance. That would be the equivalent of signing the will under duress today.
When Esau learned about that, he was furious; he vowed that he would kill his brother when his dad died, and then Esau would get it all. So Jacob fled for his life.
Jacob's reputation in the land of Canaan was one of a schemer, a con man, somebody not to be trusted. That's the kind of reputation most fathers want to prevent their children from learning about. Jacob did not have an untarnished reputation, and the sons knew about it.
Most of you know some things about your dad that were imperfect. Maybe he was prejudiced or greedy or a heavy drinker or a womanizer. Maybe when you first discovered those things you were disillusioned. Your confidence was shaken. But be realistic. There's no perfect father. The Bible says all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Don't have an unrealistic standard. Be forgiving. The Bible says we're to forgive one another as we want God to forgive us. So extend some grace.
But be discerning, too. Remember, you don't have to repeat the offenses of your father. One of our staff members told me that he felt one of the pressures of being a father was not repeating the offenses of his dad, though his dad was a good person. He said, "You've always heard 'like father, like son.' But there are some areas that I'd like to do just the opposite of what my dad did. For example, my dad was not a good handler of money, and I decided not to be like that. I learned from his mistake, watching him throw money away. And my dad was not all that affectionate around my mother. If I'm not careful, I tend to be the same way. So I've worked to change that."
You don't have to be like your dad. You can profit from his mistakes. So love him in spite of inadequacies. Proverbs 19:11 says, "A man's wisdom gives him patience. It is to his glory to overlook an offense."
Fathers face pressure of providing for their families
Another pressure Jacob faced was in providing for his family. God blessed Jacob, and he became rich. Genesis 30:43 says, "Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and donkeys." He promised God that he would give back a tenth of everything he made, and he was generous with his sons.
But a famine hit the land, and Jacob became desperate. He had eleven sons and a number of daughters and grandchildren. In fact, the Bible tells us that Jacob felt responsible for the 66 people in his clan. When this severe famine came, he sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain so that he could find some way to sustain his family.
That's a major pressure that fathers feel today. Dads want to create a feeling of security in the home. With the downsizing of many corporations, there are a lot of dads who live with constant pressure to try to make ends meet. It hurts our pride if we can't provide our families with their needs and wants.
That's why many dads get defensive and testy when you talk about financial matters in the home, because they feel like a failure by comparison. One of the best ways to help relieve that stress is to be frugal and to be supportive. If your dad is well off financially, express gratitude. Don't take it for granted, because every dad wants to be a hero in his children's eyes. But if your father is like most of us and has to struggle to make ends meet, learn to be content with what you have.
Mark Farree, a deacon in the Christian church in Clarkville, has two children. He sets aside $10 every week in an entertainment fund for his family. If somebody wants to go to a ball game or to Dairy Queen, they take money out of that sack. When it's gone, that's all. They've had to learn to discipline their desires.
Some time ago Mark said to his wife, "You know, $10 a week isn't very much for the whole family. Maybe I ought to give more." She said, "No, I think they're learning some valuable lessons." At the end of last year, his two children had a surprise for him. They had saved up enough out of the entertainment fund to take him out to eat at a nice restaurant, to offer thanks.
Fathers experience the pressure that comes from being a single parent
Jacob's wife, Rachel, died giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob was devastated by her death and was left to raise Joseph and Benjamin with no mother. He had other wives, but none was the boys' mother.
A USA Today article reported that about 36 percent of children live apart from their biological fathers. That number has tripled since 1960. About 70 percent of juveniles in correctional facilities did not live with both parents growing up. Fatherless homes are a real problem.
Several months ago I spoke to a support group for single dads. It was started by a divorced father. He wanted to support Christian single dads who are committed to being the best fathers that they can be. It is tough financially to pay for two households sometimes, and tough spiritually to try to impart your values when you see the children so seldom.
Single Parent magazine carried an article, "Making Visitation Work," by Bobbie Reed. Reed suggested, "Have the children ready on time. Send the appropriate clothing for their planned activities. Don't turn 'pick up' and 'drop off times into forums for arguing with the other parent. Understand that emergencies do arise, and that sometimes changed visitation plans are necessary. Give the other parents as much notice as possible when the plans are changed, but be flexible. Don't expect or allow the children to spy on the other parent. Accept the fact that the rules of the other house are in effect during the children's stay. Do not belittle or discount the former spouse." And, lastly, "Share copies of school pictures, report cards, and photos of special events in the children's lives and other vital information."
If you're a child in a divided family, cooperate. Sacrifice your selfish desires to maintain harmony. Proverbs 17:9 says, "He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends."
Fathers face the pressure of trying to be a positive influence at home
The greatest pressure Jacob may have faced was that of trying to be a positive influence in his home. Even though Jacob was imperfect, he tried to be a spiritual leader to his family.
Even though he was an old man and his sons were grown, Jacob called all twelve of his sons, and he blessed them individually. He said, "Reuben, you're going to excel in power and honor. Judah, your brothers are going to praise you, and your enemies are going to be conquered by you. Dan, you're going to provide justice to people. Asher, your food is going to be rich." One by one he blessed his children. With all the imperfections in this family, these twelve sons became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Christian fathers feel a lot of pressure to be a spiritual influence on their children, and that's hard because we worry about drugs and guns in school and teen pregnancy and AIDS and youth suicides and all those things that are countering the values that we want to impart. We don't know how to bless our children and keep them walking in the way of the Lord.
Gary Smalley wrote a book some time ago called The Blessing in which he encouraged modern fathers to pass a spiritual blessing to their children. He said that it's more than taking them to church or praying with them or setting a good example. He talks about five practical ways to pass on a blessing.
Number one is a meaningful touch. Jacob embraced and kissed and laid his hands on his sons and grandchildren. By giving a hug or a touch or an arm about the shoulder or a Dutch rub or butterfly kisses, we communicate love and a blessing.
Second, Smalley says we pass on a blessing through verbal affirmation. Children long to hear their dads say, "I'm proud of you." "You've done that well." "I love you."
Third, we pass along a blessing by attaching value. To bless means to honor. We honor our children by letting them know that they are valuable to usthey're the most important people in the world to us. That means we sacrifice time for them. That means we look them in the eye when we talk to them, and we stop and we listen to them.
The fourth way we pass along a blessing is by picturing a positive future for them. Jacob pronounced a positive future on Reuben and Judah and Dan and Asher and the others. We can bless our children by attaching high value to their gifts and then picturing for them a positive future. "You really love people. You'd make a great salesman some day." "The way you love animals, you'd be a good veterinarian." "You want to be a policeman. That means you're courageous." "The way you love church, you're going to be a great church leader some day."
The fifth way that Gary Smalley says we bless our children is by an active commitment. It's not enough to speak the words. There has to be a willingness in the parent to sacrifice for the child, to pray, to spend time in helping develop their gifts, to spend money for lessons and for higher education.
To be honest, many men find it difficult to do some of those things and to verbalize how they're feeling and to pass along a blessing. Mom, you can sometimes help Dad do that by communicating what he says to you in private about the kids. You can say to one of your kids, "You know what your dad said about you last night? He said, 'I think that's the smartest girl I've ever seen.' " Or "You should have seen the look on your dad's face when you walked up on that ." Or "When you got that hit, he was beaming. His buttons were going to pop. He is so proud of you."
When my sons were little, we used to join hands and have prayer at the end of the day. Then I'd give them a kiss good night. When my son Phil was about 9 years of age, he got in bed one night and said, "Mom, I can't remember whether Dad kissed me good night or not." So, Judy told me. I tiptoed up the steps, and I bolted through his door like I was a monster and dove in his bed and wrestled with him and tickled him. We laughed, and I kissed him. Then we just laid there in the darkness for about fifteen minutes and talked, one of those rare special times with your child.
The next night he got in bed and said, "Mom, I can't remember whether Dad kissed me good night tonight or not." So again I bounded through his door and jumped in his bed and wrestled and tickled and laughed.
Every night for weeks after that, as soon as we'd say "Amen" he'd runaway from me and get in bed and say, "Dad, you didn't kiss me good night." And I'd have to come and jump in his bed and wrestle and carry on. It was a great ritual. I knew it would have to come to an end someday T years old and got a wife and two kids, and I come knocking on the door....
One night I was in his room. We were wrestling and carrying on. I finally said good night and walked out, and walked by his older brother's room, and I said, "Good night, Russ." He said, "Good night. Dad." I got to thinking, Every night Russ hears us laughing and carrying on in the next room, and I go by and just say good night. Maybe he'd want me to do that to him.
So I bolted through his room, and jumped in his bed and started wrestling with him. Nearly got whipped, if I remember. It settled down, and I decided it was time for me to express how I felt. I have to be honest. I have a hard time saying to a person individually sometimes what I want to say. I said, "Rusty, I want you to know how proud I am of you and how special I think you are. I want you to know I love you." He said, "Okay, Dad." No big thing. But I felt better because I had expressed it.
The next morning as I was walking by his door, Russ said, "Dad, could you come in here a minute?" I went in. He hemmed and hawed a bit and pawed the floor, and said, "Dad, thank you for coming in last night. I never get too old for that."
Kids, if your dad does something right, tell him. He'll act like it's nothing, but I guarantee you, he'll remember it the rest of his life. You have no idea how much your father loves you, even though it's difficult to express.
How much a father loves
Patrick Morley in his book Man in the Mirror, tells a story about an fishing trip. A group of fishermen had landed in a secluded bay in Alaska and had a great day fishing for salmon. But when they returned to their sea plane, they were surprised to discover that it was aground because of the fluctuating tides. They had no option except to wait until the next morning till the tides came in. But when they took off, they only got a few feet off the ground and came crashing down into the sea. Being aground the day before had punctured one of the pontoons, and it had filled up with water.
The sea plane slowly began to sink, and there were three men and a 12 son, Mark. They prayed, and then jumped into the icy cold waters to swim to shore. The water was cold, and the riptide was strong, and two of the men reached the shore exhausted. They looked back, and their companion, who was also a strong swimmer, did not swim to shore because his 12 son wasn't strong enough to make it. They saw that father with his arms around his son being swept out to sea. He chose to die with his son rather than to live without him.
There is a fact of life that most kids do not know. We love our children so much that we would die for them. If I were to ask every father in this room to stand up who would do that same thing for his son or daughter, I dare say every father would leap to his feet. And greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Bob Russell is senior minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and author of When God Builds a Church (Howard, 2000).