What happened to the traditions of fatherhood?
As far as I know: nothing.
Dad still sits anxiously in the corner while Mom labors, breathing through her contractions. He still teaches his son how to throw a ball or his daughter how to ride a bike. He still tells corny jokes and complains about the dog and has “first rights” on the last slice of meatloaf.
Dad still ends the night with “in the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” He still wrestles and tickles and tucks his kids into bed. And, he still wakes up the next morning to do it all over again. Anything else would stand against our social norms and long entrenched understandings of what it means to be a “good dad.”
What has changed, however, are certain portrayals of fatherhood. Flip through the TV and you’re hard-pressed to find the Andy Griffith archetype who instills responsibility, respect, and honesty in his son—the dad who doles out such humble and foundational advice as “when you make a solemn promise to a friend, it ain’t right to go back on it.”
Instead, today’s TV fathers look more like buffoons, hardly able to change a diaper, let alone parent a child. Good Luck Charlie, Shameless, and a host of other shows portray dads as downright incompetent at being the head of a family. When asked once if he read the fine print on a loan contract, Peter, the dad in Family Guy, responded with, “Um, if by ‘read’ you mean imagined a naked lady, then, yes.”
This portrayal of fatherhood (and manhood!) in popular comedies is, well, a joke. It’s parody, yes—but it seems we’ve successfully caricatured our way into a view of dads and husbands that strips the role of its dignity and castrates its ability to flourish with the confidence required to see past the drone of television screens and sixpacks of cheap beer.
And with these portrayals comes the fear of lowered expectations of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a dad. But us dads aren’t taking it lying down (in the La-Z-Boy). Research shows promising news: dads are active, involved, and even changing diapers. (For more on these trends, see this CNN article, this Pew Research fact sheet, and some funny commercials from the Ad Council promoting fatherhood.)
Be A Man
A Pew Research study showed that “almost all fathers who live with their children take an active role in their day-to-day lives through activities such as sharing meals, helping with homework and playing.” In fact, the amount of time Dads spend with their kids has nearly tripled since 1965 and 85% of dads spend more time with their children today than their fathers did with them.
This is great news. But, does it go deeper than the activities we do with our children? Is it more than the time we spend? What does a man look like? Our culture seems to say that it’s certain things we do—killing a deer, watching NASCAR, and drinking beer—that make us men, but this misses the point. It’s not what men and their kids do, necessarily: it’s being together, being there.
Sometimes I (Jason) take one of my sons to Taco Mac, the local sports bar. After the chips and queso and his third root beer, I push him toward something different. Here our activity of going to Taco Mac shifts from being something we do to experiencing togetherness.
“What are you thankful for?” I ask.
“Um,” he pauses. “I don’t know.”
“Well, think about it for a second.”
“Um. That the Giants won the Super Bowl.”
“Yeah, that’s good,” I reply. “What about something else?”
“I guess I am thankful for Eliana,” he says.
“Yes, God has blessed you with a beautiful sister.” I smile. “Has God shown you anything new or neat lately?”
“I guess to be thankful for lots of stuff,” he answers.
Sure, when we head to Taco Mac, it’s about going somewhere together. But when we connect through meaningful conversation, our encounter is elevated. By initiating our conversation, I model how he should act around other men as he grows older. I want him to know that it’s okay to ask his buddies about thankfulness. I want him to probe and be unafraid to ask his friends if God has shown them anything neat. Why not?
A relational exchange occurs when I talk with my son about football and thankfulness at Taco Mac. Christians call this “discipleship.” The activity is just the beginning, the platform from which to press deeper into each other’s lives.
Manhood rises from the fires of testing ourselves against the men who mean the most to us. My children run up against me, testing how tender my soul feels, how deep my joy runs, and how firm my love stands. In daily events I model for them what a man looks like and how he acts. In our togetherness we bond, and with time I see the little boy who snuggled in the crook of my arm sprout into a man.
Our Calling As Men and Fathers
Not only are TV dads making us all look like a bunch of incompetent boobs, but the pressure delivered by the 30-second commercials trumpeting the “American Dream” kicks us around as we try to manage the family schedule with the work schedule. Our emails ding and phones ring well into the evening, reminding us of the constant pressure to succeed.
Between the two of us, we have seven kids. We both have full-time work that keeps us more than busy, I (Tim) in my full-time doctoral work and Jason as the owner of a design studio. We understand the pressures of work and family.
What does it look like to navigate these worlds? Is it really the “choosing to cheat” dichotomy or can we approach life in a way that brings together both in a way that glorifies God?
Jason and I are not only dads when we roll into the driveway after “work” or walk downstairs from the study. It’s our vocation, our calling. Like you, we possess multiple vocations in this life: community, church, occupation, spiritual, familial. We don’t wear the “dad hat” when it’s convenient or expected; we live it all the time. Jason must perform in his occupational vocation with the same virtue and righteousness he does as a father. I must apply the same responsibility and care to fatherhood that I do in my community engagement.
Choosing to cheat applies less to fatherhood and more to our time management skills—or lack thereof. What strengthens and encourages us as fathers, husbands, workers, citizens, and children of God is his many roles: the Father, King, Savior, Warrior, Creator, Lamb, Comforter. God doesn’t switch hats; he remains the same in different roles—a model worth emulating.
Perhaps the one television show in recent memory to nail fatherhood was Friday Night Lights. Coach Taylor sounded like Andy Griffith reincarnated. Whether he was navigating his relationship with his wife, trying to relate to his high-school daughter, or mentoring one of his troubled players Coach Taylor lived according to the same virtues.
Maybe that’s what we need more of: men who approach life with Godly universals—integrity, trust, fidelity, courage, compassion, and honesty. After all, clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
Reflect on This
As you consider what the traditions of fatherhood look like in your family, we offer these three thoughts:
- First, contrast the sitcom dad with the virtue of courageous faithfulness.
- Next, contrast the benumbed male intellect with the pursuit of a robust mind for God.
- Finally, contrast the fumbling weak-willed caricature with the sacrificing hero.
And, if you dare, discuss these with your sons and daughters. We think you will be surprised at the rich conversation.