By Candy Arrington
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage (Psalm 16:6, New Revised Standard Version).
After my mother died, I tackled the job of cleaning out her house. My father’s death had occurred 20 years earlier, so I was surprised she’d never emptied his dresser drawers. Among the contents were his WWII army pants, folders from various church committees on which he served, paper valentines with my childish handwriting, and a packet of thank-you notes addressed to “Dear Sir” in an envelope from a local department store.
In reading those notes, I discovered that my father had paid, anonymously, to clothe the children of a woman whose husband was a slave to addiction and absent from his responsibilities to his family. My father and this man were polar opposites. I folded the letters and thanked God, once again, for the gift of a godly father.
While generosity was one of the traits my father possessed, there were many characteristics that made him a cherished dad. I respected him, not because he demanded my respect, but because he lived his faith in tangible ways.
Fathers who bring the stresses and frustrations of their jobs home with them often wear an invisible “leave me alone” banner. Children sense this and are sometimes afraid to approach their fathers for affection or with questions. But the Bible tells us we can approach our heavenly Father because Jesus bridged the gap between sinful man and Almighty God. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). If we have permission to approach Holy God, children also have the right, and should feel free, to approach their earthly fathers without fear.
I never had to wonder what my father believed, how he would act or react, or where the boundaries were regarding acceptable behavior. He was consistent. The lessons he taught me didn’t change over time.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 instructs parents to memorize God’s laws and teach them to their children. These verses make it clear that this instruction is not a single occurrence but part of daily life. A godly father always teaches. He looks for ways to reinforce God’s laws in everyday events. He doesn’t wait until a certain time, but teaches as circumstances present themselves.
My father’s father had nine children, so he knew the value of consistent discipline. My grandfather owned a lumber company, and customers often stayed to chat after making purchases. One day, a man tried to carry on a conversation with my grandfather while the man’s son pulled on his sleeve and begged for money to get a soda from the drink machine. A number of times, the father promised his son the money “in a minute.” The boy persisted, and finally, the annoyed father said, “If you don’t be quiet, I’m going to give you a whipping.”
When the man finished talking, my grandfather reached under the counter and brought out a switch and a quarter and handed them to the man.
“What are these for?” the man asked.
“You promised your son both the money for a drink and a whipping if he didn’t stop bothering you. Now do what you promised.”
A good father is a consistent disciplinarian and doesn’t frustrate his children with changing rules or punishment that is harsher than the offense. We all need boundaries. Otherwise, we grow up without a concept of right and wrong. Make boundaries clear. Children shouldn’t have to be mind readers.
Parents often decide that having their children like them is of prime importance, so they lay aside discipline rather than risk being unpopular. But it’s a father’s job to get children on the right path, headed in the right direction. “Teach your children right from wrong, and when they are grown they will still do right” (Proverbs 22:6, Contemporary English Version).
The night before my father died, his brother-in-law, a hospice volunteer, came to the hospital. “I’m going to spend the night with your dad,” said Uncle David.
“Thank you, but you don’t have to do that,” I said.
“Yes, I want to. It’s the least I can do. He gave us our house, you know.”
I didn’t know. My father was a builder, and that night I learned that he had built my aunt and uncle’s house free of charge.
At the visitation following my father’s death, I heard more stories of his generosity. Although I knew a little of what my father had done, I didn’t realize the extent of his generosity because he never talked about what he did. He just quietly acted out the Lord’s directives.
He sent his crew to a widow’s house to re-screen her porch. He built houses for two of his brothers who were missionaries, kept those houses rented for them while they were on the mission field, and managed their stateside bank accounts. In cleaning out my father’s files, I found that he’d bought cars for several family members over the years—all things he never mentioned. “When you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3, New Living Translation).
While not all fathers are capable of financial generosity, a spirit of selflessness and servanthood is something to work toward. Be generous with your time and your love.
Children pick up on even the smallest deception, and once honesty is compromised, they get the message that it’s OK to tell a little white lie now and then. But I learned at an early age that my father valued honesty and frowned on fabrication. One day I test-drove a lie at the dinner table. My father put down his fork, looked me in the eye, and said, “We don’t do that.” There was no need for additional discussion. I knew what he meant. There would be no tolerance for dishonesty.
Recently, as I unloaded my shopping cart into the car, I saw a $0.99 gift bag the attendant had failed to scan. It was late and cold and my car was in the far corner of the parking lot, but after I unloaded my bags and locked the car, I trudged back into the store to pay. I smiled as I got in the checkout line, because I knew it’s what Daddy would have done.
Before I went to my first teenage party, my father said, “If anything makes you uncomfortable, call me, and I’ll come pick you up. I won’t ask questions. You can even blame your leaving on me: ‘My mean ol’ dad says I have to come home.’” I was thankful for his offer, and I took him up on it a time or two.
Sometimes fathers have the attitude that once children reach a certain age, they’re on their own. But today’s world is often difficult to navigate, and even college-age children are still learning. This doesn’t mean running their lives or doing everything for them. It means being available to advise, sharing wisdom you’ve gleaned from your mistakes.
Our lives are full of gadgets—pads, pods, phones, computers, pagers, beepers. While we may be able to stay in touch with each other now more than ever before, relationships sometimes suffer because we’re glued to individual forms of technology. Fathers attending school programs or sports events are often texting or talking, connected to work rather than to their children.
Building relationships requires a father’s time and undivided attention. Children get the message that they aren’t very important to a father who constantly says “not right now.” If children hear this enough, they eventually find someone else to spend time with and learn from, and that person may not be a good influence. Decide now to spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Do something non-techie, like riding bikes, shooting hoops, or going fishing. Talk on a deeper-than-surface level. Discover your child’s interests, but also uncover fears and frustrations.
Positive Role Model
One of my fondest memories is entering our kitchen early in the morning and seeing my father at the table, Bible open, hands folded, and head bowed in prayer. Let your children see you reading God’s Word. Quote it often. Let them hear you pray. Make sure your attitudes, actions, and reactions reflect your faith rather than damage it.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Teach your children to be Christ followers by your example. Be the kind of father your children don’t want to disappoint.
Candy Arrington is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
How Are You Doing as a Dad?
Take some time to evaluate how well your life matches the qualities discussed in the article (and any others you’d like to add).
• Relationship Oriented
• Positive Role Model
Choose two that you do particularly well. Ask God to help you find ways to maximize your impact in these areas and ways to pass on your abilities to other fathers.
Choose two areas where you struggle. Ask God to help you find manageable, genuine ways to reflect him better in these areas, and ask him to provide someone to teach and encourage you.