THE CONFUSING WORLD OF FATHERHOOD
Happy fathers' day!
Nationally, we celebrate five holidays that honor either family members or the
family as a unit. Valentine's day is a day for all people who are in love. But it is a day of
special significance for wives and husbands. Mother's day exists to honor mothers.
Father's day exists to honor fathers. And Thanksgiving and Christmas have become
two of the most important family days of the entire year.
The sad thing is that these days that are intended to honor family or family
members have become painful, sad days for a large number of Americans. Between
alienating friction, divorce, and death, it is possible that more people suffer pain on these
days than experience joy.
A successful father (by that I specifically mean a man who is successful as a
father) is one of the most remarkable persons in our society. What is a successful
father? Are we talking about the perfect parent? No. Successful fathers are imperfect
parents who acknowledge and accept responsibility for their mistakes. Successful
fathers are comfortable in accepting the fact that they are not super human, are not
always right, and do make mistakes.
A successful father loves his children. He communicates his love with words,
kindness, fairness, and touch. He builds and nurtures relationships with his children
rather than assuming the role of an authoritarian. He dares to accept the challenge to
communicate with his children in the knowledge that communication is a hard and often
painful art to learn. He is kind even when his children exploit him. He is fair in all his
discipline. He seeks influence, not control. He literally loves his children enough to
want them to make their mistakes while they are at home. Then he can in love and
forgiveness help them recover and learn from their mistakes. He knows that it is
impossible to program a child to live his or her life in the ways that he as the parent
chooses. But he also knows that he can live as a positive force in his children's hearts
even after he dies.
- Today, of all family relationships, it is possible that fathers face the most
demanding family role in our society.
- While things have radically changed in all family relationships, no role has
changed more radically than the roles of husband and father.
- For the husbands and fathers of the 1940s and 50s, family roles were clear
- The role of children was to render strict obedience to their parents, and
especially to their father.
- The role of the wife and mother was to care for all domestic needs, to work
long and hard in the home, to stretch the dollar as far as it could go, to
meet the individual needs of family members, and visibly to be the
- The role of the husband and father was to maintain a job, to bring in a
paycheck, to work as hard as necessary to financially support the family,
and visibly to be the authoritarian.
- That was far from a perfect arrangement, but it was an easily understood
- If there was deep, genuine love in the home, those roles produced a stable
family unit that benefitted the family as a unit.
- If there was little or no love in the home, it created abuses that caused
emotional and physical suffering for the family members.
- However, that arrangement dealt with the two basic realities of every day
- Job opportunities were limited, money was hard to earn, and paying work
often involved difficult manual labor.
- The family unit had to manage well if everyone was to eat and be clothed.
- You cooked; you did not eat out.
- You sewed; you bought clothing only when absolutely necessary.
- You learned how to make do with what you had--and that in itself was a
full time job.
- The 1960s, 70s, and 80s were a period of enormous transition in the American
- It began dramatically but slowly in the 1960s.
- It made significant changes in the 1970s.
- And it was in major transition in the 1980s.
- The enormous transition in the family in these three decades is seen in:
- The sexual revolution that began among college and university students in
- The growing emphasis on higher education and career opportunities for
women in the 60s and 70s.
- The increasing acceptance of "live-in" relationships in the 70s and 80s.
- The growing divorce rate in those three decades.
- The revolutionary change in both roles and opportunities for women
throughout those three decades.
- The typical American family of the 1990s bears little resemblance to the typical
American family of the 1950s.
- The one person who has had the least amount of help in this redefinition of family
roles and responsibility was the husband and father.
- Typically, for the wife and mother, it was a time of discovery.
- I certainly am not implying that it was an easy transition for wives and
- It was not simple for the woman who sought to be wife and mother in this
period of redefinition, and it still is not simple.
- Typically, it was a period of great frustration for wives and mothers.
- But this redefinition did involve new opportunities and options, and women
did receive a lot of input--both good and bad.
- Typically, for the husband and father, it was a time of attack and confusion.
- He was told, often correctly, how his role had oppressed the family.
- The inadequacies and shortcomings of the father role in the past were
highlighted and stressed.
- He was attacked for being a man and ridiculed for being what he had
always been taught to be.
- Though he repeatedly was told that his concepts of masculinity and family
roles were hurtful, he received little constructive guidance or assistance in
redefining or improving those roles (people often told him what he should
not be; few helped him understand what he should be).
- My sons are much better fathers than I was.
- It was my father's responsibility to make a living, which he cared for with
dedication and single-mindedness.
- I never remember my father holding a baby (though I am sure that he did)
or spending time with small children until he became a grandfather.
- So, basically, I never had opportunity to learn from him how a man did
fatherly things with small children.
- That is not a criticism; it is just a statement of fact.
- When Joyce and I had children, I literally did not know how to help her with
- The first time I ever looked at a small baby was when Jon, our first child,
came home from the hospital.
- I remember being amazed that a hand so small could have fingernails.
- I also was scared to death to touch him because I was afraid that he would
- My job was to work, and to work hard--and I knew how to do that.
- Consider the common concept of masculinity that those of us who are over 50
- Masculinity was job oriented--a man defined success primarily in terms of his
- Masculinity was quiet--a man did not talk a lot.
- Masculinity did not:
- Ask for help.
- Show emotion (never cry!).
- Never acknowledged a weakness or a problem.
- "Tied to wife's apron strings."
- It would surprise me if the teenagers know what that expression
- It would surprise me if any person above 50 does not know what that
- If those things described you as man, you were masculine--a man's man!
- The definition of masculinity in the 1990s is totally different.
- Today, masculinity includes:
- Good communication with your wife and children.
- Shared child care--in the healthiest and most successful homes today,
fathers are very involved in helping meet all their children's needs.
- Shared domestic responsibility--if the wife has a job or a career, that is an
- Sharing feelings and being open.
- The 50s concept of masculinity, the transitional concepts of masculinity, and
the 90s concept of masculinity are alive and well in different age segments of
our society today.
- That is one of the significant contributors to the reality of our generation
- In fact, conflicting concepts of masculinity often separate the oldest
generation of men from the youngest generation of men by a chasm the
size of the Grand Canyon.
- Men's struggle with the concept of masculinity is also a significant factor in our
- Presently 51% of all first marriages end in divorce.
- The majority of those divorces occur within the first five years of marriage.
- It is in that period that men must define their role as husband and father.
- The Bible is not a manual on family relationships.
- In fact, the Bible in its brutal honesty documents the fact that some of God's
greatest servants did not succeed in influencing their children to follow God.
- Consider two examples.
- The leader and prophet Samuel was given to God before he was conceived,
and he was called by God when he was still a child (1 Samuel 1:11; 3:1-19).
- He provided the most significant godly leadership in Israel in the late
period of the judges and much of the reign of King Saul.
- Yet, one of the basic reasons that the nation wanted a king to replace
Samuel's leadership was the fact that his sons were evil (1 Samuel 8:3, 5).
- King David marked a major advance in personal relationship with God.
- No other king had as much godly influence on the nation as did David.
- Even with his mistakes, the Bible more than once calls him the man after
God's own heart.
- Yet, one of his sons raped his half-sister, and was in turn killed by her
brother (2 Samuel 13).
- One of his sons forced him to flee the capitol city of Jerusalem, and he
who killed his half-brother for raping his sister raped some of his father's
wives in public (1 Samuel 15; 16:21, 22).
- While the Bible is not a manual on family relationships, the New Testament does
declare four basic principals that stand at the foundation of healthy families.
- #1: Treat other people like you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
- Or, treat your wife and children with the consideration, understanding,
kindness, and fairness that you wish to receive from them.
- #2: Love your wife as you love your own body because loving your wife is
loving yourself (Ephesians 5:25).
- Or, in your love for your wife, show her the same quality of consideration
that you show yourself in your personal life.
- #3: Children, honor and obey your parents; this is the key to a fulfilled adult
life (Ephesians 6:1-3).
- Or, respectful response to your parents' guidance is the foundation for
meaningful adult life.
- #4: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the
Lord's discipline and instruction (Ephesians 6:4).
- Or, instead of angering your children by frustrating and irritating them,
guide them to an understanding of Christ's directives and teachings.
Fathers, may God guide you, strengthen you, and give you wisdom as you accept
one of life's most demanding challenges. Develop the willingness to learn to be a better
father in the same manner you want your children to learn how to be better sons and
daughters. Develop the willingness to better understand and sustain your wife in the
same manner that you want your wife to understand and sustain you.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 15 June 1997
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