Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” –Psalm 68:5 (ESV)
Being a good father is hard work. It takes sacrifice, love, and patience. It’s much more a marathon than a sprint, learning to overcome miscommunication, hurt feelings, and mistakes, all for the goal of raising a mature and healthy child. One of the biggest challenges for fathers is the lack of role models. Many of us grew up with a father who was either emotionally or physically absent. That absence leaves many dads asking, “What does it look like to be a good father?” The good news is, there is still time to learn and grow.
For starters, your children need you to be available and present. I don’t just mean physically present. Your children need you to be emotionally present. This means being a good listener and paying attention to who your child is becoming. It means turning off your phone, listening, and remembering what you heard. Being emotionally present is sharing your own life experiences, the successes and failures. Be willing to be vulnerable and genuine.
Dads, your children also need you to give them space. When they’re young, your children need you to maintain boundaries, while allowing them to make choices within those boundaries. When they enter teenage years, your children appreciate space to establish their identities and learn from their decisions. This doesn’t mean you abandon them. When they begin to distance themselves from you, it’s good to help them establish the wider community they rely on. You can get to know their friends’ parents, and spend time with them.
Finally, your children need you to model God’s sacrificial love. As a Christian, my understanding of the love God has toward us is rooted in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. Sometimes, sacrificial love is apologizing to my daughter when I lose my temper, and it’s learning to listen before I speak. Sacrificial love is pointing my family toward the One Father whose love is perfect, who is a father to the fatherless. ■