What I Have Learned from My Dad

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once praised the influence of her father, saying,

“I just owe almost everything to my father [and] it’s passionately interesting for me that the things that I learned in a small town, in a very modest home, are just the things that I believe have won the election.”

I love this quote because it goes to show the power of a father investing himself in his child. What I love even more about her words is the simple, everyday-ness of her father’s investment. While the grand memories of learning to ride a bike or going to a baseball game with your dad are very special, they are not the stuff of fatherhood.

A man is most influential in the life of his child through his every day presence and intentional, often sacrificial investment in her formation. That is the standard set for fathers by Jesus himself. Both 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 speak of the husband as the head of the family, and that headship is to be a reflection of Christ’s headship over the church. Shockingly, Christ exemplified his responsibility in two inglorious ways: First, by becoming human and dwelling among us. Second, by sacrificing himself for us on the cross.

Those two actions define Christ’s headship over the church and set a counter-cultural standard for husbands and fathers. Ironically, Christians often miss that contrast as often as the world around them. The language of daily parental presence and self-sacrifice is more often used about moms than it is dads. Mothers are frequently reminded of the eternal value of their sacrifice as they stay at home with their children and endure the day-to-day banalities of parenting. Motherhood is both a blessing and a cross to bear, so mothers are exhorted to take it all in joy as their special calling in life.

I think that message has its place, but it is a lop-sided one at best. If some women are called to motherhood, then their husbands must have a similar calling on their lives. When a child enters this world, it is the responsibility of both parents to nurture and raise her, not just the mom. In fact, the language of motherhood as a “special calling” did not emerge in the church until 150 years ago. As much as we use this language to exalt the role of mother, it simultaneously downplays the role of the father.

Fathers do have a special call to model Christ in the home, one that entails presence and sacrifice. It is not always a glorious calling by the world’s standards, and it may involve setting aside earthly ideals about manhood in favor of a more Christo-centric one. But it is glorious to God and invaluable to their children.

A father is therefore a parent first and a provider second. Financial stability is important, but it is secondary to the investment of faith and love. Jesus certainly provided for the physical needs of his followers, but his greatest gift to us was himself.

I say all of that as the daughter of a man who invested himself in me profoundly. In many ways we had a traditional family structure: My dad worked every day until 4:30, and my mom taught piano lessons in the afternoon. My mom was responsible for a lot of the chores around the house while my dad managed our finances, fixed things that broke, mowed the lawn, etc. However, my childhood is not marked by the presence of one parent more than another. I can count on my hand the number of times my dad was gone on business. Every weekend was spent doing fun activities as a family.

But most importantly, my dad took a special interest in shaping my brother and me into people of character who honored God with our lives, and he did this through his own daily actions. My dad is a tough guy who survived a childhood with alcoholic parents and the premature death of his own father. He is a self-made man who is as smart as he is strong, but you’ll never hear him brag about it. His strength and wisdom instead manifest themselves in the forms of humility and gentleness. If, for instance, my dad ever responded to me in anger, he was quick to apologize and ask forgiveness, even if I was in the wrong.

My dad also believed that God granted him financial success only for the purpose of blessing others. As a result, my parents were very generous with their money and my dad instilled in us that same priority of stewardship.  Even today, my dad writes a financial blog that is primarily about the economy but is peppered with spiritual insights on stewardship from his own Christian faith.

My dad always put us before himself. Always. In fact, he does this to a fault. Sometimes he worked so hard to plan the perfect vacation for us that he would become utterly distraught when the slightest thing went wrong. When I was younger I found this tendency kind of annoying, but the older I get the more I recognize it for what it was: An urgent desire to make us happy and show us his love.

Now that I am a grown woman, my dad continues to shape the way I live out my faith on an almost daily basis. He holds me accountable if my lifestyle choices do not match up with the gospel. He believes in me more than anyone else in the world (except my mom) and regularly affirms the gifts God has given me. He helps me to be a better wife to Ike by sharing lessons from his marriage to my mom. He is unconditionally supportive of the choices we make as a couple, but he is also there to help whenever we need it.

The woman I am today is a beautiful blend of both my parents. Both of them were ever-present in my childhood, and I continue to discover new ways in which their careful sowing into my heart is bearing spiritual fruit.

Reflecting on all the things my dad has taught me, they can be summed up as this: What I have learned from my dad is both the character and magnitude of the love God has for me. That is, I believe, the ultimate calling on every Christian father–to point his children to the love of the heavenly Father by the way he lives his life. In doing so, fathers make faith a little bit easier for their kids to embrace. We can conceive of the perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, self-investing love of the Father because we’ve experienced a shadow of it here on earth.

So on this Father’s Day, I want to say THANK YOU to my dad for being the kind of father for whom I am intensely proud. Thanks for investing yourself in your kids at a time when many fathers in our country have not. And thanks for loving and serving God with a consistency that gives me something to aspire to. I am so fortunate to have a dad like you, and I pray my generation will reclaim the calling of fatherhood to a vision that looks less like worldly masculinity and more like Christ.