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An African American mother, father and son sit outside on the grass in front of their home.


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Sons are a heritage from the Lord; children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. – Psalm 127:3-5

God is the ultimate example of fatherhood. He is the father of us all – young and old – and we are his children. There are no exceptions. Jesus says, "Call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). And even though he wants to be our father, he will never force himself on us. Instead, he wants us to feel our need for him, and turn to him for help. This is why the Lord's Prayer begins with the important words, "Our Father."

God is waiting for us and will help us with any and every need. As Jesus says, "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him" (Luke 11:12-13)!

This image of God as a loving role model cannot be emphasized enough. All children long for security – both emotional and physical. But a man who lacks character or is unsure of himself cannot provide his children with either. And when children are insecure, the consequences can be tragic.

True fatherhood entails far more than being physically present in the life of a child.

How can men best give this assurance to their children? Anyone who plans to be a father and bring children into the world should first know that his children will be strongly affected by his own relationship with God. Those who build on this relationship will be blessed, whereas those who start a family without it will quickly founder. It is God who gives us fatherhood, and we are charged with leading our wives and children in his stead. This is why, in previous centuries, fathers were seen as irreplaceable. They may not have been the primary caregivers for their children, but they still bore the ultimate responsibility for the well-being of their families.

In the last one hundred years this has changed dramatically. In a century marked by war, unrest, and instability, more children than ever have grown up without a father in the house. Now people question the need for fathers at all: Who needs a father anyway? Why not a single mother? Or for that matter, two mothers? But such disregard for God's order is bound to have devastating consequences – not only for our children, but for the whole world.

Of course, true fatherhood entails far more than being physically present in the life of a child. There are plenty of men who remain emotionally distant from their children even though they live in the same house with them. And how many fathers confuse their children's hunger for love and attention with the desire for material things? All too often, such men try to buy their children's affection with gifts, when what their children really want is attention – a hug, a smile, or a bedtime story.

In the first five years of my life, my father's work kept him away from home for a total of three years. Although I know that this had certain negative effects on my early childhood, I never doubted my father's love. We were separated physically, but he remained a positive presence in my life, and my sisters and I never questioned his faithfulness to our mother or us. Neither did we use his absence as an excuse for misbehavior. Instead, the things he had instilled in us kept us going and spurred us on in supporting our mother.

This experience taught me that it is quality, and not quantity, that a child remembers. But this should not be construed as a selfish excuse. It is still important for fathers to spend time with their sons and daughters whenever they can. Often it is during the seemingly pointless times – those long hours in a car, for example – when an attentive father can be surprised by how his child opens up and tells him the most amazing things.

Of course, fatherhood begins even before the birth of a child. A husband should carry the burdens of his pregnant wife by showing love and understanding – and not frustration – when she is nauseated, tired, or tearful. If she needs bed rest he should be ready to take on still more, helping around the house and caring for any children already there. And he must be a source of cheerful encouragement and reassurance, and pray with her when she is overcome by fear or anxiety.

Sometimes a pregnancy will end in a miscarriage or stillbirth, and then a husband must be especially patient and understanding. Whereas the father may feel able to move on fairly quickly, the mother will feel this loss as the loss of an actual child. Even if she accepts this as part of God's plan, her grief must be acknowledged and in no way minimized.

Jesus – the only true man – was not afraid to see himself as a hen gathering its chicks. As fathers, we should not be ashamed to apply this same compassionate image to ourselves.

From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.

child holding paper dolls of a family
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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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