For the Fathers and the Fatherless on Father's Day

TAGS: parable, prodigal son, christianity, inspirational, fathers, God, Jesus, dads, bible, faith, motivational, dad, Father's Day, parenting, Mark Dugdale, fatherhood

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Father’s Day traces its roots to a daughter seeking to honor her Civil War veteran dad some 119 years ago. Yet, for many, June 16th will be a painful day due to strained or estranged relationships with absentee fathers.

In 2009, Branch Warren and I went into the Twin Rivers Penitentiary for a seminar filmed for the LEGACY documentary and saw first-hand the scars, devastation, and emotional torment left decades later on grown adult men by bad fathers.


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Footsteps

The quote below eloquently and succinctly sums up what guys, young and old, need most from a father. You see, the road to honorable masculinity is not something you read in a book. It’s not merely knowledge gained, but something we must experience to fully understand.

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” — Jeremiah 6:16

The road to honorable fatherhood isn’t blazing a new trail, but walking in the footsteps modeled by a good father who traveled the path before you. Placing your feet on solid ground or “ancient paths;” a path that does not lead to anxiety but to a restful and satisfied soul. This is the intent and calling of fatherhood. But what about those who lacked a good father?

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Power

One great problem pertaining to men, masculinity, and fatherhood condensed into a single question is this: When can you trust a man with power? Fathers wield tremendous power over their posterity by both their presence and absence. They carry the power to shape future generations through both their kids and grandkids.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” — Spider-Man

Power and responsibility go hand-in-hand. A man’s ability and readiness to handle them well come only after his character is forged in the fire of struggle and hard work. Don’t equate a difficult season of life with something wrong. There are lessons to learn and character to be built in seasons of difficulty and waiting. Anything gained quickly dwindles, but that which is gained through hard work is multiplied.

This is why boys who impregnate young girls often times make such bad fathers. They’re thrust into a power role before they’re ready. Most leave or fail to walk and model the good path previously mentioned, resulting in a legacy of hurt for their children. What about guys lacking a good father to lead them down a path to live abundantly?

Approval

The maturity level of Evan Centopani immediately stood out to me upon meeting him in 2009. It was something you rarely see, especially given he won a National title at 25 and the New York Pro the next time he stepped onstage. Speaking with Evan, after he nearly killed me on a leg workout, he mentioned something vitally important in a father-son relationship while explaining the great relationship he enjoyed with Victor (his dad).

“My dad always had confidence in me.” — Evan Centopani

By its very nature, the truancy of a father or absence of paternal approval undercuts the self-assurance and independence boys and men of all ages need to flourish. That doesn’t mean men who lack their father’s approval can’t succeed; it just often impacts the confidence needed to be initiators with the balls to take risks. Boys who miss out tend to be dogged by self-doubt; sometimes for a lifetime. In Evan’s case, Victor’s stamp of approval from a young age left a lasting mark of confidence and humility.

“The only ones who fear failure are those who have never tasted it.” — Simon Sinek

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Good fathers are initiators who leave a pattern of action to those behind them. No risk, no reward is true in pretty much anything in life. There’s a cost to excessive caution. Choosing aspiration over retreating to security is easier when you distinctly hear your dad’s voice of approval in the back of your mind. Hearing his disapproval or chastising words makes it all the more difficult.


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The blessing of a good father doesn’t mean following his career path or doing everything his way, but the assurance of a good father provides freedom to go all-in in life. So what about the fatherless or those who suffered under constant criticism?

The Greatest Story Ever Told

That’s what I recently heard someone say regarding the story I’m about to tell you. It’s a story of a man who had two sons, in which the younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my inheritance now.” Notice the deep deficiency in the son’s character by asking for what’s only due to him upon his father’s death. “You are as good as dead to me” was essentially the message to the father.

Coincidentally, the father divided his wealth and gave the younger son his portion. The son departed to a distant land and quickly wasted his fortune on a reckless and loose lifestyle. Remember the lesson of ill-gotten gain, unearned power, and responsibility before its time: it never ends well. The son circumvented the masculine journey and sought to blaze his own trail outside the confines of the well-worn, ancient, good path to an abundant life.

Hungry, broke, and destitute, the son comes to his senses and decides to return to the father, hoping only to work and assume the identity of a hired servant because he no longer felt worthy to be called his son. He sets off for home, and here’s the epic part that’s for all of us…

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The father goes on to restore his son’s identity as a welcomed member of the family and throws a massive celebration saying, “My son was lost and now is found; he was dead and is now alive again!” Don’t miss the two big takeaways:

  1. The father initiates by seeing and running to his son;
  2. The son never even apologizes before the father embraces him.

This story was told by Jesus as a parable to give us a picture of the heart of God as a father.

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For the Fathers

Regardless of your biblical convictions, if you bear the title Father, much can be learned from the story of the Lost Son. While I never fathered a son, I am the dad to Madison (20), Lauren (18), and Julia (16) and learned several things the past few years which relate specifically to this story. Yes, I sought to model what it looked like to walk the good path while raising my girls. While imperfect, I took the responsibility seriously. I set my love, affection, and approval upon them from a young age. However, in recent years, the story of the Lost Son rang true in a very practical sense.

At some point, teenagers wander down paths that you do not approve. It is vital we allow them the freedom to find their own identity and make their own choices. Folly often ensues, but don’t make the mistake of owning their failure as your own. Seeing the pain your children experienced from poor decisions will hurt as a dad. I related with the good father’s sorrow in watching his son leave.


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I also learned the power of initiating. Good dads go first. By first, I mean we continue to pursue our children’s hearts, even when their behavior says they don’t want us. Tap into the foundation of trust and love that you laid while they were young. Most important, be like the good father and love your children back to the good path. Withhold criticism and run to embrace them. I learned the true beauty of grace and forgiveness. I learned that God doesn’t shame or guilt us back into relationship with him; rather he loves us back. Do the same for your children. 

For the Fatherless

Regardless of the good or bad imprinted on you by your earthly father, God is not waiting for you to clean yourself up before embracing you as his son. You don’t need to labor to earn his love or “fix” yourself first because God initiates. He sent Jesus to provide both a picture and a path which leads to a fulfilled life. God is not in love with a future version of you. You can meet with him right where you are, regardless of personal circumstances. God pursues us in love and is calling you home. All you need to do is turn and place your trust in him. God wants to be the loving dad that maybe you never had on Father’s Day. God is the perfect father.

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