Friday, February 15, 2013

Making the old man proud

I’m going to comment on this:

1) You are loved. Every boy needs to hear and know that his father loves him. Without this affirmation, a man carries deep wounds that affect his most important relationships. I’ve talked to men at all stages of life who yearn to hear those magic words that mean the most when they come from Dad: I love you. Today, my son is only four years old, so it’s easy for me to do this. I suspect as he gets older, it will become a bit more awkward. But I plan on doing it still. Behind the sometimes rough exterior of every young boy is a heart that longs to experience the love of his father. What you don’t realize is that the first image your boy will have of his Heavenly Father will be the image of the human father looking down on him. So tell your boy you love him.

Although there’s some truth to this, I think the emphasis is off. Hearing your father say he loves you is not the only way, or even the most important way, to experience a father’s love. While it’s probably good for sons to hear that, I think it’s more important to a son for his father to show love rather than verbalize love.

For one thing, there’s physical affection: hugs. To be demonstratively affectionate.

Over and above that, a son can experience a father’s love by the things they do together. Shared time doing things they both enjoy. Or the freedom a son should feel to talk about anything with his dad.

2) I’m proud of you. I can’t tell you how many men I know who, to this day, are still living their lives in search of their fathers’ approval. Down deep in their hearts they wonder, Am I good enough? Did I make it? Is Dad proud? I’m learning that it’s important for us dads to be hard on our sons in many ways (see below), but we should never withhold our approval. They need to know, at periodic junctures in their lives, that they measure up, that there is nothing they have to do to earn our favor. Sure, at times they will disappoint and they should know and feel this. And yet we should not be taskmasters who, in trying to motivate our sons to greatness, withhold the very ingredient that will fuel their success: confidence. I’m reminded of God’s approval of Jesus as His Son was baptized by John the Baptist. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17; Mark 19:35. Yes, there are important theological ramifications to that phrase beyond mere approval, but still I can’t help see God’s approval for Jesus as a model for our relationship with our sons. If your son doesn’t make Division 1, if he gets accepted into a school other than Harvard, if he becomes a truck driver instead of a pastor, don’t ever give him the impression you like him less. Don’t damage his soul this way.

Once again, there’s some truth in this, but I think we need to be more discriminating. Certainly it’s damaging to a son’s psychological development to feel constant disapproval from his dad. To feel that he never measures up. That nothing he does is ever good enough.

On the other hand, fathers shouldn’t make their sons emotionally beholden to them. Ultimately, God didn’t put us here to make the old man proud. Pleasing dad or measuring up to his expectations shouldn’t be your goal or motivation in life. 

That may be fine when you’re really young, and Dad is a placeholder for God, but as a son approaches adolescence, he needs to begin acquiring some emotional independence. He ought to transition from his father as a godlike-figure to God as a father-figure. Not only is that better for the son, but it’s better for the father. Just as fathers shouldn’t hold their sons to inhuman standards, sons shouldn’t hold their fathers to inhuman standards.

Christian fathers need to make it clear that dad is not the standard of comparison. In the long run, the only approval that counts is God’s approval.

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