A note from Janet: The article today is written by John Finch, with our editor, Blake Atwood. Our thanks to John and Blake (who edits for all our ministries) for sharing these words with us. We hope this article will find its way to the laptops of as many dads out there as possible, so please forward it to your lists. These words share a truth that is often left unsaid in our culture today, and needs to be shouted: Men who choose to be dads will shape their children’s perception of God. God is all things but when we bow our heads, we call him Abba or Father. This article will benefit everyone, but especially every man who wants to make sure the word Father means all God would intend.
If you had to describe your father in only three words, what would you say?
For me, I’d say hardworking, lost, and absent.
My dad worked diligently to provide for my mom and us three boys, but he could never seem to make ends meet. Eventually, he turned to organized crime in an attempt to earn easy money through a counterfeiting operation. He was caught and thrown into a federal prison. Eight months later, he was released.
But he couldn’t quit that lifestyle. He was sentenced to prison again, but he’d vowed never to go back there. He was also fighting inner demons I couldn’t have understood as an eleven-year-old. On April 10, 1979, likely within hours of dropping me off at school, my dad shot himself.
The most hardworking man I knew, who was so lost he couldn’t find any way out but suicide, left this world and our family behind.
I missed him then, and I still do.
When I think of the word father, he’s still my first thought.
How Do Your Kids Define Father?
Dads, if your children had to describe you in three words, what would they say?
I have three daughters, and I hope they would say hardworking, loving, and godly.
I’ve been a businessman all my life. Before God turned me around, I was the life-of-the-party kind of businessman, using the company’s dime to wine and dine clients across the country at the best resorts and restaurants. I worked hard and I partied harder.
But then God set me on a path toward forgiving my father, and on that journey I experienced God’s forgiveness more fully as well. In fact, that journey led me to film The Father Effect documentary, which led to The Father Effect book. Both the film and the book tell more of my story in learning to forgive my father, as well as relate insightful advice from fatherhood experts like Dr. Meg Meeker and John Eldredge.
God changed this hardworking son of a hardworking man to become more loving and, I hope, godlier. I knew I had to submit myself to God’s will after Dr. Meeker spoke these words in my documentary: “The reason it’s important for dads to teach their kids about God is because you are your kids’ first reflection of male love. You put a template over their hearts for how they’re going to relate to all male figures—including God. You are the conduit to God, the first male conduit to God.”
That’s a tall order I’d failed to live up to for so long, and all three of my girls deserved a father who wasn’t just present, but present, loving, and trying his best to lead them in a godly way.
When I think of the word father a bit longer, I hope my girls think of me as a good father.
How Do You Define God?
When you think of God as your father, what three words come to mind?
Now, I know that many of you likely have difficulty thinking of God as father because of the template you were given with your own earthly father. I understand. But I also would challenge your woe-is-me attitude. Very few of us have exemplary fathers. (And I know that my girls know my bad side as well.)
And even though us dads ought to strive to live up to the example God sets for us, just as any Christian must strive to be holy with the help of the Holy Spirit, thinking of God as father ought not make us look at our dads poorly. Thinking of God as father ought to make us look at God with great affection.
Consider this modified version of 1 Corinthians 13:4–5: “Dad is patient. Dad is kind. He does not envy or boast. He’s not arrogant. He’s not rude. Dad doesn’t insist on his own way. He’s not irritable or resentful.”
Who wouldn’t want a dad like that? Certainly, reading these verses this way gives us dads an example to aspire to, but, more than that, these verses tell us who God is as a father: patient, kind, not envious, boastful, rude, self-seeking, irritable, or resentful.
Dads, let’s put this template over the hearts of our children so that when they think of the word father, they only need one word: love.
John Finch is the creator of The Father Effect Movie and author of the book by the same title. He has been married for 24 years, has three daughters, and lives in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.