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What is a Father?

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, June 13, 2013

What is a Father?

This is “Father’s Day” weekend.

Ironically, due to a series of circumstances, this will be the first Father’s Day that I will not be with three of my four children.

My oldest daughter and her husband just moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where he will be a physician in residency at the Mayo Clinic. My other daughter and her husband just accepted a position in youth ministry in Tampa, Florida after graduating from seminary. My oldest son, fresh from his own college graduation, is on a mission in Argentina.

(My youngest will have to take up the slack.)

Still, as a father of four and a father-in-law of two more, I feel my role much more viscerally than ever before – despite not having all of them around.

So what IS a father?

I’ve given that some thought of late.

When I gave my second and last daughter away through marriage, I spoke during her service about a father being someone who protected, provided, and cherished.

Once I did, I passed that baton on to her husband.

I stand by that description.

But there is so much more.

Here I offer a fuller list; not simply to those parents who still have primary care of their children (just so you don’t miss anything), but also as a reminder to those children who may have forgotten just how much your father brought to bear on your life.

So, having said that,

...a good father is… who knows that children have only one love languagetime;

…one who daughters want to marry, and sons want to emulate;

…one you know will protect you and defend you;

…one who provides everything you need (but not necessarily everything you want);

…one who is brave when you are scared;

…one who races you to the emergency room;

…one who teaches you how to treat a woman, and what you should expect from a man;

…one who cherished your mother;

…one who is stronger, and taller, than you (at least, at first);

…one who taught you how to swim, how to ride a bike, how to throw a ball, how to open a door for a woman, how to… you get it;

…one who spanked you when you deserved it, and you’re glad he did (but you never saw how much it broke his heart);

…one who taught you how to drive;

…one who set curfews;

…one who didn’t make a big deal of the things you thought he would, but did of the things that you know, now, mattered;

…one who either stayed up late, or got up early… just to see you off;

…one who answered your questions… one after another after another after another;

…one who said, “Oh, come on Mom, let ‘em do it”;

…one who finally said “okay” to the puppy;

…one who took you out “trick or treating”;

…one who drove you to your first day at school, your first day at college, and your first day at…;

…one who went with you to get your ears pierced (whether daughter... or son);

…one who let them braid his hair;

…one you could tell, “I kissed her!”;

…one who took you on trips;

…one who talked to you about that boy (or that girl)…

…one who paid the ticket;

…one who was a wreck walking you down the aisle, or bursting with pride waiting by your side at the altar for your bride;

…one who introduced you to God;

…one who, most of all, loved you so much he would have laid down his life for yours in a heartbeat.

And still would.

Happy Father’s Day.

From all of us Dads. 

You’ll never know how much we love you.

Or maybe, now, you will.

James Emery White


Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

What is a Father?