The Secret to Fatherhood

This Father’s Day, RZIM Asia-Pacific Regional Director Max Jeganathan reflects on what fatherhood means and who ultimately holds the key to the secret of true fatherhood.

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Dale Jensen is a high-flying corporate head-hunter. Expensive suits, multi-million dollar commissions and ruthless competition are part of everyday life. Amidst the rat-race, Dale’s son Ryan feels neglected. So goes the movie A Family Man starring Gerard Butler. Eventually, Ryan is diagnosed with a life threatening illness. In his hospital bed, Ryan says that all he ever wanted was to spend time with his dad. Ryan tells his father that every night as he is going to bed, he would listen for the top step in their home to creak. If it did, it meant that Dad was home and would come in and say goodnight. All too often, the “creak” never came, and Ryan would fall asleep without having said goodnight to his dad. His father was not dependable.

Ryan’s yearning for a father lives inside all of us. The myth of independence has not missed a generation. We associate independence with strength, resilience, and self-sufficiency. However, the chaos that 2020 has reigned across the globe has given us pause for reflection. A world-changing pandemic. Global protests amid racial tensions. The spectre of economic uncertainty. When the unthinkable happens again and again, perhaps it is time to re-think our presuppositions.

June 20 is World Refugee Day, when we honour the courage and strength of families who are forced to flee their homeland. For me, the parallels with fatherhood are immense. Thirty-six years ago, my father and I were huddled in a bathroom in southern Colombo, Sri Lanka. Seeking to break down the door was a group of para-military rioters who wanted to kill us. I was one year old. I was vulnerable. I was helpless. I was completely dependent.

As I look back on that story, I begin to understand the Secret to Fatherhood. That day in that bathroom, I was in the hands of both of my fathers. My earthly father and my heavenly Father. My mother, my father, and I survived. I was utterly dependent but I was dependent on the right people.

I thought fatherhood was supposed to be about control, about leadership, about providing stability for your family. I was wrong. Fatherhood begins with dependability.

My late mentor, friend, and spiritual father Ravi Zacharias wrote that fatherhood is best exemplified by the understanding that fatherly “duty is the handmaiden of love and honor. It is doing that which is right rather than that which is convenient.” In a world where convenience is king and our feelings are its handmaiden, let us–fathers–take this day to re-commit to the sacred calling of duty, love, and honour. Ravi was right. Fatherhood is not about being in control. It is about doing our duty through sacrificial love manifested through relationship.

Far from providing control and stability, fatherhood is about giving of ourselves in sacrificial love amidst the instability.

In another of my favourite–but not widely acclaimed–films, Blended, the great philosopher Adam Sandler declares: “You gotta be there for your kids. It should be boring how reliable your parents are.” I couldn’t agree more.

However, even with the right heart we earthly fathers are necessarily limited by our humanness. My Appa (Dad) has been a father for 37 years. I have been a father for just three. However, in our 40 years of combined fatherhood, the most important lesson we have learned is that we need to reach out beyond ourselves to discover and experience the beauty of ultimate fatherhood. The heart of true fatherhood rests in the eternally dependable heart of God.

In the film A Family Man, little Ryan recovers, Dale leaves his job, and their relationship is restored. Dale finally gets his priorities right. Ironically, for you and me it is not our Heavenly Father who needs to get his priorities right, but us. Are we making time for Him? In the most powerful line in the movie, Ryan tells his dad that the reason he knew that the “creak” of the step meant that Dad was home was because his dad was the only one in the family heavy enough to make the step “creak.” Amidst the chaos we face today, there is only one Father who can make our step creak. In the Bible, the word for God’s “glory” can be translated as “weight.” As we lie in our beds, we wait for someone or something to give us reassurance amidst the uncertainty. There is only one person who can do that. God Himself, your heavenly Father. If you haven’t reached out to Him, listen carefully for the creaking of the step. He loves you, He is coming for you, and He is eternally dependable.

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