How do you define the word “father”?
A number of years ago I took part in a Impactus | Promise Keepers Canada workshop called Fatherhood. One of the first things we were asked to do was write out a definition of the word “father.”
Extraordinary. No one had ever asked me that before!
Well, I wandered around a bit while I prayerfully looked up the word “father” in the dictionary of my mind. Nothing. Nada. Total blank.
Oh, the word was there in my vocabulary all right – I could use the word in a sentence, for sure. But what did the word actually mean to me?
If you look up the word “father” in the dictionary of your mind, what does the word mean to you?
Years later, as a men’s pastor and now leading the same workshop in a number of different locations, I have since had the privilege to ask literally thousands of men that question. A number of fascinating things have emerged that I would like to share.
Our Definitions Are Loaded With Emotion
First, for most men, the word is loaded with emotion. For most of the men I have asked, they are immediately hit with such an intense wave of emotion that it is at first difficult to actually see what they are looking at.
Imagine the thick smoke of a fire that hangs in the air. Some men are assaulted by the haze of emotion that blocks the view. Some men are indifferent to it. For some men, the haze has hung in the air for so long they barely notice the haze.
Why bother digging it out now? Why is it important? Because more than any other role, more than any other way in which we define ourselves, being a father is the closest we come to reflecting the image of God. Think about it for a moment. How did Jesus say we should pray? “Our Father…” Throughout scripture, God tells us that he desires to be our father. Not just a father. Our father.
More than any other role, being a father is the closest we come to reflecting the image of God.
So what does the word even mean to you?
Our Definitions Are Universal
The second thing I have found out is that there are themes that emerge when men finally sit down to write out what a father is. Mentor, Discipline, Love (affirmation, nurturer, etc.) and so on – I know of about 10 themes that emerge – there are possibly more. What comes to your mind?
And the fact is that the themes of fatherhood are universal. Dr. Steve Masterson says they are “written on our spiritual DNA.” I find it amazing that these similar themes inevitably emerge. If there is any evidence of being made in the image of God, then surely this is it.
Defining Ourselves As Fathers Can Be Difficult
“Father” remains a largely unexamined word for most men. Is being a father simply a role for us, or is it something that we actually define ourselves by? When asked, “Who are you?” most men don’t answer, “I am a father of James, Todd and Mary.” The kids come up later if they come up at all.
“Okay, but really, what do you do?” is really what we want to know. Yet of these two things -what we do and being a father – which is the more lasting and real? Jobs come and go. Careers can change in a heartbeat. Yet every man with adult children knows that you never really stop being a father.
Jobs come and go. Careers can change in a heartbeat. Yet every man with adult children knows that you never really stop being a father.
Which brings us back to the emotions that surround the word “father.” This is another one of my discoveries. That most men I have talked to are confused, or uncomfortable, or feel uneasy defining themselves by a word soaked with emotion. Like a wrench or plug dropped in the oil pan filled with oil you have just drained, you have to reach into that goop and fish it out, let it drip, and then wipe it off before you can continue using it.
Which may be why it is a largely unexamined and uncomfortable part of our lives.
If we are to know who we were created to be, then we need to know what it means to be made in the image of God – who is our Father. We need to re-connect ourselves to the word “father.” We need to look at how we define the word. We need to take it apart, find the parts that need attention and re-assemble it, so it is useful again—kind of like taking a carburetor apart.
Some parts need cleaning, some need replacing, some need straightening.
What does your definition look like now?
Rebuilding My Definition Of Father
So back to my story. My definition needed a whole new rebuild. It’s taken me over 12 years to come up with something I am definitely proud of. I take it out now and then, just to admire it. It’s still not finished, and I keep tinkering with it and trying new things, but it works beautifully for me.
Want to see it?
A father, primarily through example of a living faith, is to lay down the foundational belief systems in his home which will guide his immediate family and future generations toward a healthy, God-centered relational view toward life, the world, and humanity.
Whew! Take a look at them apples! Like I said, it took a LOT of work, literally hundreds of hours. It’s not just a list of do’s and don’ts anymore. Not just a list of character traits that I try on to see how well they fit. Noooo… it’s a mission statement. Something to live up to but also something that reflects who I am. Who I aspire to be.
It’s bigger than my job, it’s bigger than, well, everything. Except God. It’s a definition I find myself drawn into, who I was created to be – that is, a man made in God’s image.
So, what does your definition of the word “father” look like? Does it need an overhaul?