I am afraid that our culture in general has reduced the role of fatherhood (along with marriage itself) to something nonessential or unnecessary. Even many men today regard parenting as being primarily the mother’s role and no longer associated with masculinity or real manhood, especially when it comes to spiritual formation.
Instead, many have succumbed to modern caricatures — encouraged by feminist psychology — and the primitive role of hunter-gatherer, and thus assume that this is their main contribution to the family. As a result too many men, including professing Christian men, express their role as father exclusively in terms of financial provider. The fact is children are not looking for financial provision; they are looking for love, guidance, and a role model for what it means to be a man.
During the colonial period, men were defined by the quality of their community involvement and fatherhood. Marriage and fatherhood were seen as being among the highest aspirations in a man’s life. Today the highest aspirations of many men are career achievement and personal leisure and it is against these they seek to balance marriage and family.
The lack of actively involved fathers has produced societal conditions necessary for the intervention of government. It is a sobering fact when the government is compelled to respond to the failure of such a fundamental institution as family! Beginning in 2001, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services under President Bush launched its Fatherhood Initiative with the following statement:
The President is determined to make committed, responsible fatherhood a national priority. … [T]he presence of two committed, involved parents contributes directly to better school performance, reduced substance abuse, less crime and delinquency, fewer emotional and other behavioral problems, less risk of abuse or neglect, and lower risk of teen suicide. The research is clear: fathers factor significantly in the lives of their children. There is simply no substitute for the love, involvement, and commitment of a responsible father.
While the research confirms that paternal absence (whether it is physical or emotional) is a significant contributing factor in almost every category of societal ill, my concern here is the spiritual consequence.
A rather obscure but large and important study conducted by the Swiss government in 1994 and published in 2000 revealed some astonishing facts with regard to the generational transmission of faith and religious values. (The full title of the study is “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. The study appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000. Sounds like a page-turner, right?)
In short, the study reveals: “It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.”
In summary, the study reveals:
1. If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all.
2. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.
3. If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church!
What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Amazingly, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and up to 44 percent with the non-practicing. This suggests that loyalty to the father’s commitment grows in response to the mother’s laxity or indifference to religion.
In short, if a father does not go to church — no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions — only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). One of the reasons suggested for this distinction is that children tend to take their cues about domestic life from Mom while their conceptions of the world outside come from Dad. If Dad takes faith in God seriously then the message to their children is that God should be taken seriously.
This confirms the essential role of father as spiritual leader, which I would argue is true fatherhood. Fathers are to love their wives as Christ loves the church, modeling the love of the Father in their most important earthly relationship. Fathers are to care for their children as our Father in heaven cares for us and finally, fathers play a primary role in teaching their children the truth about reality. It is the father who should instruct his children in their understanding of the world from a consciously and informed Christian worldview. It is the father who is essential for sending his children forth with a biblical view of reality and a faith in Jesus Christ that is rooted in solid understanding.
It is time for fathers to return to honorable manhood and reconsider their priorities and align them with God’s commands, decrees, and laws, teaching these things to your children “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7 NKJV).
Have a happy Father’s Day!
© 2012 S. Michael Craven
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S. Michael Craven is the president of the Center for Christ & Culture and the author of Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming Our Culturalized Christianity (Navpress, 2009). Michael's ministry is dedicated to equipping the church to engage the culture with the redemptive mission of Christ. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture and the teaching ministry of S. Michael Craven, visit www.battlefortruth.org.