by Lou Gutheil, GFA guest writer
“You fathers–if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not!” (Luke 11:11-12 NLT)
One of His disciples had asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. On that occasion, Jesus gave them a format for prayer that we some call The Lord’s Prayer and others refer to as “The Model Prayer. His comment quoted above serves as an exclamation of how remarkable our Heavenly Father is.
Having just taught them to ask the Lord for daily sustenance, He used the illustration of how earthly fathers would respond to the same request from their own sons. He reasoned with them that, if a father would gladly give his children the essentials of life – and even more so, not only give what they needed and requested but also not substitute harmful things instead – how much more would a thrice-holy Father respond in goodness, grace, and kindness?
We can infer that Jesus expected even sinful fathers would treat their children with kindness, although that kindness could not compare to the remarkable love of our Father in Heaven.
The Matter at Hand
I have struggled with and prayed over this report for several weeks. On the one hand, it is an honor to write about remarkable fathers. On the other hand, how does one adequately define what a remarkable father is. Three things have been stumbling blocks in my venture to do that.
- Jesus expresses a father’s loving care as normal, not remarkable.
- A remarkable father would have to be someone who consistently and continually exceeds normal expectations to all his children over an entire period of fatherhood.
- A meeting of men I attended several years ago that opened my eyes to a world of fatherhood of which I had been naively unaware.
My recollection of the meeting is limited by both confidentiality and discretion. Confidentiality because those of us in the meeting committed to it. Discretion because I can find no compelling reason to describe the details of the stories I heard that evening or to be able to do so in a way that would serve to benefit any reader.
Much like this report, the plan was to honor and memorialize the fathers of those in attendance. The meeting began well as the facilitator shared a tribute to his father. It wasn’t long before several men began wiping tears from their eyes as one, then another shared memories of their past. Then things took an unexpected turn.
It was the fifth, or maybe the sixth, who said, “You guys don’t know how lucky you are. I hated my dad.” Twenty-four pairs of eyes stared in disbelief. Then he told his story. As I listened in utter dismay to what could only be described as despicable, my consternation evolved into incredulity as the next man began with, “If you think that’s bad, you should have known my dad.”
This is where discretion becomes the better part of valor. It has been five years since that conversation. No fewer than four respected men shared the horror of growing up with fathers who, at least for me, redefined anagrammatic vile and evil traits that had never crossed my mind as possible, let alone been a part of my experience.
To this day I have shared what I heard that night with no one. And I never will. Suffice it to say that these men had fathers who would have given them a snake instead of a fish or a scorpion instead of an egg. However, I would be remiss if I did not also say that the Lord turned that evening into a learning experience for those of us whose fathers had done an admirable job and a healing experience for those who were far less fortunate.
The Measure of a Remarkable Father
It doesn’t take a lot of Googling to discover that there is very little information about how to measure a father’s performance or success. That begs the question, then, of how to measure remarkable. A definition of the distinguishing adjective turned out to be a good starting point.
Remarkable means “notably or conspicuously unusual” and “worthy of notice or attention.” That being the case, it occurred to me the measurement of a remarkable father is done not by rank or percentile, but by comparison. That turns out to be fortunate for another reason. The only meaningful and applicable statistics on fathering appear to be relative to poor fathering. Governments, institutions, and agencies don’t seem to measure good.
Good fathering is most easily defined as not being characterized by bad fathering. However, good fathering is significant because “About 80% of the world’s men and boys will become fathers in their lifetime. Their actions throughout their children’s lives can have profound effects for the good.” Here is a sampling of fathering statistics from the 2017 State of the World’s Fathers, prepared by MenCare, a global campaign to promote men and boys’ involvement as equitable, non-violent caregivers.
- Between 133 and 275 million children per year witness different forms of violence in their home.
- One-third of women around the world experience violence from “a male partner.”
- 75 percent of children aged 2-14 experience “violent discipline” in the home.
- Men who witness of experience violence as children are about 2.5 times more likely than others to perpetuate violence against partners later in life.
Assuming the correctness and continuity (no change in percentages) of the foregoing statistics, we would expect that more than 687 million men will be violent fathers in their homes by 2029.
Other compelling statistics that does not bode well for successful fathering come from the National Center for Fathering.
- There are more than 24 million married fathers with children in the U.S.
- The number of single-father households increased nearly nine-fold from 1960 to 2011 to 2.7 million.
- The number of children with a father in prison increased by 77% from 881,500 in 1991 to one-and-a-half million in 2007.
- 25 percent of working fathers spend less than an hour a day with their children.
A 2009 report from the National Center reported that:
- Only 64 percent of those polled believed that American fathers “have a good picture of what it takes to be a good father.
- Only half believe that most fathers know “what is going on in their children’s lives.”
- 97 percent believe that fathers need to be “more involved in their children’s education.”
The Missing Remarkable Fathers
The greatest amount of available statistical information about fathers documents the impact of absentee fathers. According to National Kids Count, 25 percent of children under the age of 18 live in a fatherless, single-parent home. That equates to 18 million children. Regardless of individual circumstances and outcomes, an article entitled Statistics on Fatherless Children in America sagely observes that
“Children who grow up in fatherless homes have a greater risk of major challenges in life than those who grow up with a father at home.”
The U.S. Justice Department puts children from homes where there is no father present comprise:
- 63 percent of all youth suicides
- 70 percent of all juveniles in state-operated detention centers
- 71 percent of all high school dropouts
- 75 percent of all adolescents in substance abuse treatment
- 80 percent of all rapists
- 85 percent of all children exhibiting behavioral disorders
- 90 percent of all runaways and homeless youth
Although the numbers may vary from one report to another, regardless of the organization compiling data, any variant stats are well within each other’s margin of error. And, the statistics are disturbing.
In the face of discouraging data, it is interesting to discover that most fathers don’t think they are doing a good job, let alone a remarkable job. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 21.3 percent of 7,327 fathers polled believe that they are doing “a very good job.” In other words, a job that would distinguish them from others and, therefore, being remarkable.
- 32.3 percent believed they are doing “a good job.”
- 22.6 percent believed they are doing “an okay job.”
- 23.8 percent believed they are “not doing a very good job.”
There is also encouragement from numerous surveys, including one from Woke Daddy that indicate that 62% of fathers want to do a better job of being a father.
The Making of a Remarkable Father
We are now positioned to reason about our definition of ‘remarkable’ as it applies to fatherhood. It would be specious to compare ‘remarkable’ only to the statistical evidence of the state of fatherhood. What we can infer is that our society is in desperate need of remarkable fathers. Remarkable is not defined as not being numbered among the masses of delinquent fathers or even among the 21.6 percent who believe that they are doing a very good job.
Remarkable means ‘notably or conspicuously unusual.’ That is above and beyond good or very good. We must establish a standard of what constitutes ‘conspicuously unusual.” Luke 11:13 is a good place to start. Without pausing, Jesus continued His illustration saying, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give?”
The standard for being a ‘remarkable father’ is God the Father. Jesus did not hesitate to refer to His own disciples as ‘evil’ fathers. He did not intend this to be a slap in their face. He was simply pointing out the truth. Peter, one of those to whom Christ spoke, recognized that the first step to becoming a remarkable father is to “be holy.” (I Peter 1:16) In fact, Jesus asked the Father to “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
Jesus asked the Father to make these ‘evil’ fathers – and those of us who have followed – remarkable by their holiness and unity with Himself and our Heavenly Father.
It is important that emphasize there is nothing in this context that would suggest that being a Christian is enough to be or equals being a remarkable father. Of necessity, it is a starting point because it positions earthly fathers with imputed righteousness and with the power of the Holy Spirit to become actively holy by forsaking the ways of the world and pursuing the purity of holiness.
The first and major ‘conspicuously unusual’ measure for being a remarkable father is to be a born-again believer pursuing a holy life.
The evidence of a remarkable father is in that father’s faith, virtuous life, knowledge of the Word, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, and love. “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful.” (II Peter 1:5-8) While the demonstration of these traits are distinctives of a remarkable father, they are that because they are first the characteristics of a remarkable person; one who has denied himself to follow Christ.
The Mistake of Searching for Remarkable Fathers
A search for truly remarkable fathers could be the wildest goose chase in history. It all comes back to being ‘conspicuously unusual.’ That implies that out standard for measurement is how we compare to other fathers. How do we measure that?
While presence is certainly a factor, several men at “the meeting” might be inclined to disagree based on their personal experiences. Nearly any other factor would be highly subjective as most personal comparisons are.
So, after having pursued the ‘conspicuously unusual’ as remarkable, it’s time to turn the definition of remarkable on its head.
While we have used Scripture sparingly, both writer and readers know that there are many more passages that could help define the Lord’s acceptance of a remarkable father. In fact, that is the point. The only reliable measure of a remarkable father is the Word of God. The Word of God is truth, it is objective, and its standards never change – and it is the Living Word of God who will ultimately judge our conformity to His image.
Many were offended by things that Jesus said during His earthly ministry. He spoke frankly and in ways that were necessary to “expose people for who they really were and eliminate their pretentions to goodness.”1
Many are offended by the Word today because it is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, and there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to who we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12b-13)
Things That Matter
To be sure, there are things that matter to be an effective father if not a remarkable father. We may not be able to accurately measure our success as a father because, ultimately our children become accountable for their own lives. Dr. James Dobson once described parenthood as the launching pad from which our children lift off. Our job is to ensure that they are ready for launch when it is time for them to launch.
There are many aspects of fatherhood that we can embrace that will keep the missile stable in preparation for launch. Those include, but are not limited to:
- Loving the Lord and evidencing it by living for Him. Only then will a father be able to effectively teach Biblical principles and watch their children embrace them in their lives.
- Loving the children’s mother. Their children must see that, whatever the situation, he always values her and treats her with respect and love.
- Openly admitting failure and accepting that failure is not final.
- Unconditional love and acceptance. A remarkable father loves his children – no matter what – and is a support and an encourager.
- Compassion and understanding. Realizing that the children will make mistakes, empathizing with them when they do, and using those occasions, not to berate them, but to guide them toward understanding the consequences of bad choices and to teach them how to make better ones.
- Being a protector. It is an ugly, sinful world out there with children surrounded by temptation and misinformation.
- Believing in them even when no one else does.
- Having a servant’s heart. Being a father is not about being a dominant, demanding force to be reckoned with. A father is servant of God who has the privilege of raising children to be His servants as well.
- Able to demonstrate the power of God working in his life, not just having a form of godliness. A father can instruct in all manner of good things, but it he does not demonstrate the power of God in a life that is remarkably different, what he has taught will be questioned at best and, potentially be completed disregarded.
- Being sure and steadfast in faith, trust, and obedience without question.
The Sum of the Matter
Being a remarkable father boils down to being a man who loves the Lord God with all his heart and soul and strength. When it is the aim of a man to bring honor and glory to God in all that he does, he will be a remarkable father, because, by God’s standards, he will be a remarkable man. Because he searches the Scripture so that the Scripture searches him, he will be continually learning how to be a remarkable father.
It would be naïve to believe that all Christians are remarkable fathers. It would be just as naïve to believe that we can judge who is and who is not a remarkable father. Even if we limited our search to Christian fathers, our path would eventually bend in the direction others have. Even in the best of fathers, we would find their flaws compare them based on those flaws.
Even if the fathers of the men in ‘the meeting’ had not done the things they had done, that would not make them remarkable. Perhaps good, but not remarkable. Every earthly father, even the best – whoever that may be – is flawed. But we can continue to press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, allowing Him to shape us into better fathers.
Our time would be best served, not by searching for remarkable fathers, but by being them.
- State of the World’s Fathers, The Cycle of Violence
- Dictionary.com, Remarkable
- National Center for Fathering, Trends in Fathering
- U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, America’s Families and Living Arrangements
- National Center for Fathering, Fathering in America
- National Kids Count, Child population by household type
- U.S. Department of Justice, What Can the Federal Government Do to Decrease Crime and Revitalize Communities?
- Live About, Statistics on Fatherless Children in America
- CDC National Health Statistics Report Number 71, December 2013
- Woke Daddy, 10 Fatherhood Statistics That Will Make You Smile
- The Good Men Project, 7 Things a Son Needs from His Father
- Parenting, Why Kids Need Their Dads
- Burning Point Ministries, Spiritual Fathers and Sons