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A good father is good to find

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by Rod Wilson

I have heard that a man’s view of God is heavily influenced by his relationship with his father. Is this true?

As a young boy grows up, he learns what it means to be male from the males around him. Typically the males that are close, in terms of friendship or social ties, are the ones who have the most influence. He also learns what it means to be in authority. Teachers and parents, in particular, give him implicit messages about what it means to be in charge. All of this early learning happens quietly, subtly and often outside of awareness. But that it happens is undeniable.

The phrase, “heavenly Father,” as a description of God is often heard through the ears of our earthly experience. Those of us who had distant, removed, emotionally disinterested fathers are not warmed by the term “Father,” and the fact that “heavenly” is put in front of it only serves to reinforce our sense that God is distant, just like dad. On the other hand, those of us who had caring, compassionate and vulnerable fathers who showed mercy and grace find ourselves drawn to our heavenly Father because we have experienced a good example here on earth.

These realities make us aware of the need to live our lives as fathers in such a way that our sons and daughters see a parental authority who is seeking to model his attitudes and actions after his heavenly Father. Those of us who have had bad modeling need to fill ourselves with Scripture and with the examples of other godly fathers so that the brokenness of our own histories does not lead to an inaccurate understanding of what God, the best father, is really like.

My father has been very removed emotionally from me my whole life. Is this going to impact me negatively?

Many men go through this challenge, so be assured. You are not alone. The “father wound” has plagued many men and severely hampered their abilities to be loving fathers.

Many fathers have bought into the idea that doing is more important than being, that thinking is more valuable than feeling. This creates an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, many of these men are successful, have accomplished careers and are highly respected for their ability to think through issues and finish many tasks. On the other hand, they are often “successful failures,” in that they learned to do and think but have not learned to be and feel.

In the family environment, children who are raised by doing-thinking men often do not experience personal nurturing from their father, but only from their mother. As a result they feel the loss of affirmation from their father and never really learn the ability to understand or express their feelings. Often later, when in their own family environment, they realize they are not well prepared to deal with the personal and relational side of life.

Rather than simply focusing on your father’s distance, it is often best to deal with one’s own struggles and ensure that you do not slip into being an emotionally distant person. Seeking wisdom and counsel from others, whether personal or professional, can help us walk this difficult road. With God’s help it is possible to break generational patterns and start a new direction that will be more wholesome and wholistic.

My wife really wants our children to turn out well. Should she be this intense about her parenting?

You have raised an important question because it does not relate so much to our desire, as parents, but more to the intensity of our desire. I am assuming that you, as a dad, also want your children to turn out well, but you are thrown by the intensity of your wife’s desire.

All parents want their children to turn out well. It would be highly unusual and even odd to not want this for your sons and daughters. And in this sense we are like our heavenly Father who wants the best for his children.

But there is a big difference between wanting it to happen, working to make it happen and demanding that it should. When all our parenting is oriented to having great children, we can lull ourselves into thinking that we make this happen. The quality of parenting becomes an obsession because we think that by doing all the right things we will have great children. We then slip into demanding that our children do well so that they meet our agenda. If they are successful, we are perceived as competent.

Having the desire to have our children be good people and live full lives is appropriate and deserves our intense and faithful prayer. But we cannot make that a goal because we cannot guarantee it will happen.

Alternatively, if being a faithful parent is our major goal, we can leave God with the outcome. It is not easy to do but pretty straightforward—pray for your desires and work toward your goals. Working toward your desires can create unnecessary intensity.

Rod Wilson is president of Regent College in Vancouver, where he also serves as professor of Counselling and Psychology. He is the author of How Do I Help a Hurting Friend: Practical Help for Leaders and Laypeople (BakerBooks, 2006).

The article above was featured in the July 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.