“Tell me about your relationship with your father.” I’ve said this to countless men over the years because I’ve found it cuts to the heart of a man’s identity. The response usually tells me it is a tough subject. Many guys will pause, look down, and struggle to describe a subject that they probably wished I hadn’t brought up. Then I often hear some variation of, “It’s complicated. It’s a long story.”
Yes, it is. For many men the very word “father” or “dad” can elicit a wide range of emotions: fear, rejection, loss, guilt, anger/rage, anxiety, and ambivalence. Sometimes they just shake their heads as if to say, “I don’t get him. I have more questions than answers about him and about our relationship.”
Guys who have a great earthly father have no problem with the dad question and usually fire back something like, “My dad was always there for me. He came to my games. We did stuff together. I knew he loved me.” Those men often have a confidence, security, and strength that other guys pick up on, but cannot quite decipher. What is it about that guy that is different? we wonder. Often the most pronounced difference in these men is the positive influence their fathers played in their lives.
Fathers play a key role in the formation of all their children, but there is something unique about the way this plays out with their sons. A boy learns (or doesn’t learn) to be a man primarily from the most significant man in his life. If that man—his father or father-figure—is absent, abusive, or disengaged, that will shape the kind of man a boy becomes, whether by molding himself in that image or by battling against it.
This is not to say that mothers are not key influences on their children as well. But too often moms are expected to raise children on their own—without help from the men who fathered those children. The result is children left adrift—especially boys, who are trying to find their way in an increasingly complicated world without a man to guide them.
My deep conviction is that as the men go, so goes the culture. A culture stands or falls on the quality of its men. The same holds for the church: as the men of the church go, so goes the church. A man’s role is so crucial in all spheres of life that from the first man Adam to today, their actions—both good and bad—have profoundly shaped the course of history. And fathers play a central role in shaping boys into men who know how to use their strengths, talents, and gifts to love well, care for those who are weaker, and become faithful husbands and fathers.
Perhaps that rings true for you—you do feel adrift without the love and guidance of a father. The good news is that when a man becomes a Christ-follower, he gains a father—and not just any father, the Father. Even men who’ve experienced a wonderful earthly dad need a relationship with their heavenly Father for the simple reason that all dads are finite, imperfect, and temporary. God the Father makes all the difference in a man’s life and in the lives of all around him.
God the Father builds sons who come to grips with their core identity as his sons and develops his character in them to thrive in their various roles in life. When men thrive and flourish, they become the sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends that encourage others to grow and flourish.
It all starts with knowing the love of your heavenly Father. That’s what makes all the difference. Like Father, like son.
Excerpted from Like Father Like Son © 2015 by Pete Alwinson. Used by permission of New Growth Press.