Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What The World Needs Now Is . . . Fathers!

The film, Courageous, will be released in theatres at the end of this month. It’s a film about fathers. I’ve not seen the film, but I did have the privilege of narrating the companion book, Resolution for Men.

It’s actually quite amazing to see how many films in recent years have been about fathers. From Finding Nemo to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to Iron Man II to Courageous, many have plot lines that directly deal with the relationship of fathers to their sons – and often the need for reconciliation between the two. Fathers have not done a particularly great job of leading their families for over half a century.

In the mid-1950’s, there was another important film about fathers that offered a very insightful social commentary on the society of the day. It was recognized by the American Film Institute in 1998 as #59 in its list of the 100 most important films of the twentieth century. It was a film that explored the reasons behind the growth of the peer dependant, teen culture that was developing in those years and is still with us today. But, more than that, it was a film about the lack of strong fathers.

Rebel Without A Cause is an iconic film starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo.

James Dean's father was weak. One of the key scenes in the film shows Dean earnestly pleading with his father to support him for standing up for what is right in the face of his mother’s fears. His father backed down.

Natalie Wood’s father was insensitive. She was becoming a beautiful young woman who wanted her father’s affection and affirmation. Instead, she hears him repeat crude remarks about her looks. When she tries to steal a kiss from him, he slaps her.

Sal Mineo's father was absent. We’re not really sure who he is or where he is. He just isn’t there.

Each of the three principal characters was looking for a strong father – someone who would stand with them when they faced the tough decisions of life; someone who would stand near them as they navigated the changes that happen in life; and someone who would just be there when needed. They didn't find those qualities in their real fathers, so they looked to each other.

It was getting late when we watched that film several years ago as a family. So, I said to my teenage kids, "Let's turn it off for now and finish it at another time." Their response was immediate and earnest - "No, dad. You can't do that. We're seeing our friends in this film!" Many of their friends had weak, insensitive or absent fathers and they were getting a better understanding of their friends' situations.

Are Fathers Expendable?

Ever since the sixties and seventies the role of men has been downplayed in our society – to the extent that many see fathers as a necessary evil in families. They may provide needed income, but they are too volatile and undependable to be of any real value in the long-term. Unfortunately, far too many men have contributed to that understanding by abandoning their families in pursuit of self-centered agendas. I'm no longer amazed when I hear of politicians, sports figures, celebrities, or even religious leaders who have left their wives and children in their desire to find "greener pastures" somewhere else. In reality, they're not acting like men – they’re acting like little boys.

But, are fathers expendable? Do they really fulfill an important, on-going function in a family or is their role finished once a child is conceived? Outside of their necessity in pro-creation, do fathers really need to stay around?

Some time ago, I came across some staggering statistics that made the answer to those questions absolutely clear:

  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from homes where no father was present
  • 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes
  • 71% of teenage pregnancies are born to children who grew up in homes with no fathers
  • 71% of high school dropouts come from homes without fathers
  • 70% of juveniles in long-term detention grew up in fatherless homes
  • 36% of all children in America live in homes without their biological father
  • 40% of children who live in fatherless households have not seen their fathers in at least a year

We face a lot of problems in our culture. But, one of the greatest problems by far is the lack of strong, responsible fathers. Those men provide stability in a family, proper discipline for children, and guidance. Without them, the culture disintegrates.

For Generations To Come

One of the most important messages of the film, Courageous, and the companion book,Resolution for Men, is that fathers can have a significant, positive influence on their families for generations to come – regardless of how good or bad their fathers were at parenting.

A friend of mine who grew up in another culture once asked me why I was the kind of father I was to my children. He was having difficulties with his own family and appreciated some of the things I had been doing. He asked if it was because I was a Christian, or because I was an American, or because I was from a Greek background. What was the most important influence in my growth and development as a father?

I was about to tell him it was because I had studied Scripture and learned important principles about parenting from God's Word, when it suddenly dawned on me that the real reason behind who I was as a father was my own dad. I was the kind of father I was because my dad was that kind of father to me. I modified some of the things he did because of my faith, but the way I approached being a dad was basically modeled after him. He was approachable, and I could always rely on him for guidance when I had a problem. He spent time with my brother and me. And, he laid the groundwork in my life that encouraged me to pursue truth regardless of where it led. My dad was a good father, and my brother and I have benefited tremendously from his example.

But, my father did not learn that from his own father.

I once asked my dad about his relationship with his father and he said, “I grew up at a time when children were to be seen, but not heard.” His own father was not the role model my dad followed. He sought something different. And God, in His grace, gave my father what he needed to raise his two sons. And, those two sons, with all our weaknesses and shortcomings, are passing along that heritage to the next generation – who will prayerfully carry it on for generations to come.

Real “fathers” are not boys. They are God’s image bearers who are called to be responsible leaders in their families. God gives grace to the humble and wisdom to those who ask Him for it. There are many resources available for men today on how to be fathers, and many men will freely share what they have learned with others if only they are asked.

What is most important is for fathers to see that fathers are important. It’s what the world needs . . . now!

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