I am afraid that our culture in general (and as a result, many fathers themselves) has reduced the role of fatherhood to something nonessential or unnecessary. Many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother’s role and somehow no longer associated with masculinity or “real” manhood.
Instead, many have succumbed to modern cultural caricatures—along with radically feminist psychology—and the label of hunter-gatherer, and thus assume this is their primary contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as father exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is children are not looking for financial provision; they are looking for love, guidance, and a role model for what it means to be a man.
During the colonial period in America men defined themselves by their level of community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in a man’s life. This is likely due to the fact that people at that time were less individualistic. Today the highest aspirations of men seem to be career success and personal leisure; and against these they seek to balance marriage and family.
The lack of actively involved fathers has produced societal conditions necessary for the intervention of government. It is a sobering fact when the government is compelled to respond to the failure of such a fundamental institution as family! In 2001 the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services under President Bush launched its Fatherhood Initiative with this statement:
The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority … [T]he presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.
While the research does indeed show that paternal absence (whether it is physical or emotional) is a significant contributing factor in almost every category of societal ill, my concern is the spiritual consequence.
A rather obscure but large and important study conducted by the Swiss government in 1994 and published in 2000 revealed some astonishing facts with regard to the generational transmission of faith and religious values. (The full title of the study is: “The demographic characteristics of the linguistic and religious groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. The study appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000.)
In short, the study reveals that “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”
The study reported:
- If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.
- If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.
- If the father is nonpracticing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!
Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or nonpracticing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the nonpracticing, as if loyalty to the father’s commitment grows in proportion to the mother’s laxity or indifference to religion.
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). One reason given for this distinction was that children tend to take their cues about domestic life from Mom while their conceptions of the world outside come from Dad. If Dad takes faith in God seriously then the implication for children is that God should be taken seriously.
This confirms the role of father as an essential spiritual leader, which I would argue is true fatherhood. Fathers are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, modeling the love of the Father in their most important earthly relationship. Fathers are to care for their children as our Father in heaven cares for us and finally, fathers are the ones to teach their children the truth about reality. It is the father who should instruct his children in their understanding of the world and everything in it using God’s revelation as the basis by which they analyze and respond to life’s challenges and opportunities. It is the father who is essential for sending his children forth with a biblical view of reality and a faith in Jesus Christ that is rooted in solid understanding and not merely blind tradition.
It is time for fathers to return to honorable manhood and reconsider their priorities and realign them with God’s commands, decrees, and laws, teaching these things to your children “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7 NKJV).
Happy Father’s Day!
S. Michael Craven is the President of the Center for Christ & Culture. Michael is the author of Uncompromised Faith (Navpress).The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit the Center for Christ & Culture.