Think of a father figure on TV or in film over the last, say, 20 years. Just think of the first one who comes into your head.
Got one? OK, what’s he like?
Strong? Reliable? Capable? Loving? Warm, witty and wise? Fun, firm and forgiving? Someone people look up to? Someone who can fix anything? Someone people – not least his family – respect?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any one of those, I’d be surprised. If you answered ‘yes’ to even half I’d be downright stunned.
In the week after fathers’ day this year, there were several programmes on the TV and radio (in the UK) about fathers. I didn’t see any of them, but read the descriptions of them in the paper. They were mostly documentary-type films looking at how fathers have been presented in film, literature and television as useless, out of touch, embarrassing, incompetent fools, unable to understand or engage with the world they live in. They are disrespected by their children, their wives, their colleagues and anyone else they come into contact with during the average day. Anything they turn their hand to breaks or, in extreme cases, blows up the house/shed.
Any time they are prevailed upon to intervene in a ‘situation’ and talk to their son (usually) about his behaviour/truancy/sexual habits etc etc, it is clear that they have no actual relationship with the child on which to build. They approach exuding embarrassment and discomfort. They adopt an excessively pally approach, trying to play the ‘I’m still cool and I just want to be your mate’ card, and thus open the door for the sneering youth to run rings round all their arguments. Said youth always wins, of course, and usually manages to get dad to give him extra pocket money/relax the curfew/give his blessing to whatever scheme he had been sent in there to prevent.
How, with such a low expectation on them, can we expect boys in our culture ever to grow up into fathers like the one I described at the beginning? Especially when so few have got good role models (or even any role models) at home.
In Psalm 68:5, God is called a ‘Father to the fatherless’, but for so many in our culture, hearing God referred to as ‘Father’ is a sure way to make them run from him. Their only models of fatherhood are either abusive, absent or ineffectual, so they have no framework for a vision of God as a loving, gentle, trustworthy father.
What can we do about this?
If you’re a writer, particularly a TV or movie writer, I’d exhort you to start writing some positive, Godly depictions of fatherhood – lets challenge the stereotype and redeem it.
If you’re a man in a church or community with lots of fatherless children (or even just with one or two), can I encourage you to prayerfully consider taking an active, fatherly role in their lives? This needs to be done with great wisdom, so you neither neglect your own family nor develop an inappropriate relationship with the children’s mother, but if you feel God calling you to such a role, it will be a powerful ministry to the church and the community.
There are a few young guys doing just this in my church at the moment, and it is wonderful to see the relationship of love and trust they are developing with the children they’re reaching out to, and wonderful to hear the mothers saying ‘I was so worried about where he would see a positive male role model, and I’m so thankful for X taking the time to be that for him’.
We can change our culture’s perception and experience of fatherhood, and I believe it will be transformative if we do.
And by the way, my description above of a good father could be a description of my dad – sorry to embarrass you, dad, but thanks for being who you are!