Fatherhood Redefined

Father's Day is a bit of a joke. Sometimes it seems like nothing more than a way to peddle more ties and t-shirts to guys that need neither. Our stores even use the term "dads and grads" - lumping events together just to get as many people in the store as possible. If there was another word that rhymed, I'm sure we'd celebrate that too.

Me and my dad on our recent trip to Liberia.
For many, Father's Day is about expressing gratitude to their dad. But even then, I find that our expectations for Fathers are incredibly low. Visit your local Target and you'll find lots of Father's Day cards about dads playing backyard ball with their kids or working hard or providing sage advice. Those things are nice - but is that the standard we set for Fatherhood?

In recent years, there have been some groups trying to elevate the status of Fatherhood by quoting a bunch of statistics. You may have heard that 75% of adolescents in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes, 85% of children showing behavior disorders come from fatherless homes, and 90% of all homeless/runaway children are from fatherless homes. The statistics go on and on related to suicides, crimes, dropping out of school and the like.

But while it's a good start, these groups are still missing something. Because this new "focus on fatherhood" is primarily geared towards getting dads to be more involved in their family at home - to get dads home from work on time and staying faithful to their wives and teaching their kids what is right. And that's all great too, but we're still selling Fatherhood way short.

Our team served two children's homes and was involved in facility maintenance, sustainable agriculture, vacation Bible school, caretaker training, and expansion of a sponsorship program.
We need to completely redefine Fatherhood.

I just got back from a missions trip to Liberia. I've been to Africa three times since my wife and I adopted two orphans in 2007 and my involvement in Africa and adoption has turned my view of Fatherhood on its head.

In America, Fatherhood (and "good parenting") is about taking care of your biological offspring and giving them every opportunity to succeed and expand your family legacy. We've got to think bigger.

True Fatherhood is protecting, nurturing, and empowering those that are defenseless, weak, and abandoned - wherever they are.

One thing I never really grasped before adopting is that Fatherhood is a choice that has nothing to do with blood. I have absolutely no connection to my adopted son and daughter, born thousands of miles away with different skin, culture, and talents. But because they needed a father, I choose to be that in their life. And I didn't expect this, but I discovered that there is virtually no difference between the influence I can have in their life and the one I do in the life of my two other biological kids.

And once you throw out that whole concept of blood, your definition of Fatherhood starts expanding fast. The first time I travelled to Africa, the whole "it takes a village" culture really humbled me. Africans realize that Fatherhood is more than taking care of the kids in your home. In Africa, your family is whoever needs you - whether that's your nieces/nephews, the neighbors around you, or an abandoned elderly person from church.

Fatherhood has no boundaries.

Personally, I've made a ton of failures as a dad. But during our recent trip in Liberia (did I mention that my dad went too?), we had the absolute honor to work in two children's homes with some of the poorest kids in Liberia. These kids have no one to stand up for them - to make sure they are fed, to tell them they are loved, to protect and train them. It was a brutally hard trip on our team - but a joy to be able to work to make their buildings safe and secure, to expand a sponsorship program that will provide ongoing food, and to encourage and teach them.

Me, my wife Angel, and just a few of our "kids."
To me, THIS is Fatherhood. We need to throw out that weak picture of dad and child building a birdhouse. Wherever there are hungry, weak, defenseless women and children… there is a gaping hole waiting to be filled by true Fatherhood.

And while I happen to have a connection to Africa, the need for Fatherhood is everywhere. Fatherhood can be as simple as providing authority and guidance to unsupervised latchkey kids playing in your street. It's providing advice and encouragement to the young man just out of college that interns for you at work. It's building businesses and ministries that care for and employ the poorest in our cities in America and beyond. And it's definitely taking the kids in your home along with you on the journey… and showing them that you expect more from them than to grow up and live in the suburbs and play backyard sports with their own kids. 

So let's rewrite the standard. One of my favorite descriptions of God in scripture is from Psalm 68:5. "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Now that's the kind of father I can aspire to be.

And when we have more dads like that - celebrating one Sunday in June won't nearly seem enough.