The learning curve for fathers of young children is steep. It’s like being in graduate school with long hours, deadlines and lots of pressure, but with the added responsibility of tending an ant farm that has no walls. The kids are bigger and theoretically less numerous than the ants, but their strength-to-body-weight ratio seems comparable. In addition to figuring out how to nurture small people and cultivate his marriage, a father of young children is usually laying the foundation of his career. He is likely training, gaining new skills, changing companies if not jobs every few years, and navigating the new economy to provide now and plan for the future. His professional life is as new and demanding as his home life, both requiring intense focus, and both easily overwhelming.
It’s for fathers in this stage that I’m writing a series of posts because this is where I am. I have four kids between eight years and six months old. These issue have been, some still are, and others no doubt will again soon be mine. In many parenting aspects a father’s role is less demanding than a mother’s. I am not with the kids throughout the day changing diapers (that is what evenings and weekends are for, right? Heh.). My wife is like the heart of our home, pumping grace and wisdom to the kids all the time. But in other ways the role of father is more demanding and greater in scope. He has less direct time with the kids, but the responsibility for their upbringing resides with him: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the education and exhortation of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). He is like the immune system, responsible to make sure all parts of the body are healthy, thriving, and protected. And of course he has to nourish and edify as well. He is like a quarterback and coach, responsible to serve, lead and oversee the team. If she is the master of the house (1 Tim. 5:14), he is the head of the household, responsible for providing, protecting, blessing in the here and now, and prudently planning for the future.
I’m told by parents whose kids are older that things do not continue to get exponentially busier. I can see that. Even now, my oldest is learning how to make meals, can get himself ready for school, and can mostly do the dishes. But in the meantime, the roller coaster seems to be accelerating. It’s interesting that this is time of life when older parents pull you aside to say “Be sure to enjoy these years. You’ll never get them back. They go by way too fast!” Too many of us are thinking “I don’t want them back! I’m looking forward to not changing diapers and herding cats! Time, go faster!”
But we do need to enjoy them and work hard to be faithful–plowing, planting and trusting God to give the increase. Doing this now means that later on when things do slow down a bit, there will be more to enjoy. How many times have you heard parents complain about their teenagers? For sure teenage kids pose unique challenges just like any other age, but this testimony is largely the result lame parenting–led by fathers–when the kids were young. More on this later.
The point of this first in a series of posts for fathers of young kids, and a foundational reason for series itself, is that fathers must not pass the buck. This is the central issue for godly fatherhood and leadership. A father must recognize that everything that goes on the home (and the well-being of those living inside it) is his responsibility. Certainly not every problem or difficulty is his doing or his fault, but he must be willing to know, hear, learn, search out, help, serve, fix, correct and address anything that needs attention in his house. This isn’t uniquely true for fathers of young children–it’s true for fathers and husbands period–but it’s in this early stage of increasing complexity when men are tempted to compartmentalize and abdicate. “I’ll do my career, mow the grass, and show up for sports games. You do the rest.” Rarely spoken, but constantly practiced. Is your kid lazy at school? You should know about it. Is your wife overrun and disrespected by your son? That’s your problem. Do you know how much money comes in and goes out each month? You should. Do you have a plan, or goals, or things to pray about regarding how you’ll live in the next five years?
I’m not talking about nor minimizing the complementary responsibilities and duties of mothers. I’m talking to fathers who have a responsibility to sacrificially lead. For the first time in our nation’s history, for women under 30, more children are born to single mothers than married. Over 40% of children go to bed tonight without fathers in the home. And when they are around, men are prone to be absentee husbands and fathers, heading for the tv, tool shop, or gym when something is amiss, assuming that if he wasn’t part of the problem, he isn’t responsible for the solution. But he is. How aware of our problems is God our Father? He knows and cares. He tells us to ask, seek, knock and guarantees us help. The Father of lights gives wisdom liberally to all who ask (James 1:5, 17). This is how we should be as fathers. “Is there a problem? Come to me and if I can’t fix it, I’ll figure out how.”
The thought of taking responsibility for your family is first totally overwhelming, but second, wonderfully promising. The overwhelming part is natural and obvious, and any father who doesn’t sense it either completely underestimates the size of the task or overestimates his ability. This endeavor is far beyond what we can even pretend to be able to accomplish on our own, which should lead us directly to the second reaction, the sense and assurance of promise.
God doesn’t require what He refuses to provide. By taking the task on, we begin to work out what He has already prepared us to do (Eph. 2:10). Augustine prayed “Lord, command what you will, and give what you command.” The greater the command, the greater grace we can expect, which means any father endeavoring to serve his family by the grace of God is in for tidal wave of grace. The bigger the wave, though hectic at times, the better the ride will be. Time to grab your water wings.