June 20, 1999

WHO NEEDS DAD?

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).

Gloria Steinem once said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  A number of women are now taking that notion to its most extreme conclusion.  Women who don’t want a man often find that they still want to get pregnant and have a child. They want to be mothers, but they don’t want a man to share their life or their bed–and thanks to modern technology, they can have their wish.  They simply visit a sperm bank.  Writer Susan Seligson describes how a woman can study a catalog of donors and pick the one she’d like to provide the other half of her child’s DNA.  Then she can take a tiny frozen vial and go off by herself to a room at the clinic and inseminate herself.  Who needs dad?

One man who serves as a donor thinks he’s a big help to women.  He says, “It’s sort of an accident of nature that some women can’t have children if they don’t have a man.”  And in our brave new world of technology, why should a woman put up with this “accident of nature”?

Susan Seligson suggests in her article that this fits in with pro-choice thinking.  Abortion and insemination of single women are two sides of the same coin.  Modern ideology says it’s the woman’s body, and modern technology gives her the power of life and death.  If she’s pregnant but doesn’t want a child, she can destroy the baby without the permission of her man.  And if she’s not pregnant but does want a child, she can create a baby without the involvement of a man.  It’s her body, and she can do what she wants with it.  Men are demoted from dads to donors, and children are commodities that can either be manufactured or trashed, depending on what the woman happens to want.

What’s the result of such thinking?  Well, for millions of unborn children, the result is death.  The womb of their mother, which ought to be the safest, most secure place in the world, becomes their death chamber.  And on the flip side, what about children who are conceived from donors instead of dads?  What happens to their sense of identity?  One woman is teaching her son that when someone asks his father’s name, he should reply, “I’m a donor-insemination baby.”  Imagine saying that to your friends on the playground!

Let’s make a huge jump now and go from the muddled to the miraculous.  When Jesus Christ came into the world, he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, without any earthly father.  Mary was as wise and good a woman as you could ever hope to find.  The child Jesus was obedient, with no evil tendencies.  If there was ever a case of not needing a dad, this was it.  No man was needed for Mary to get pregnant, and you’d hardly think a man would be needed after the baby was born, either, with such a fine mother and such a perfect child.  But God thought otherwise.  He wanted Jesus to grow up with a man in the house.  The man God chose was Joseph.

Joseph was engaged to Mary, and when he first learned that Mary was pregnant, he felt crushed.  He knew he hadn’t fathered the child.  What should he do?  Joseph figured he had to break the engagement, but he was decent and kind, so he decided to do it as quietly as possible to spare Mary from any more problems than she already had.

But after he had considered this [says the Bible], an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.  And he gave him the name Jesus (Matthew 1:20-25).

Have you ever wondered why God didn’t just let Joseph go ahead and break off his relationship with Mary?  Why couldn’t Mary and Jesus just be on their own?  Apparently something about Joseph was important.  God wanted Mary to have a husband.  He wanted Jesus to grow up with a human father.  And so God went out of his way to make sure Joseph would take Mary as his wife and treat Jesus as his own child.

God’s message to Joseph is quite a contrast to the mindset that wants donors but not dads.  God puts more emphasis on having a man in the home than the man-haters of today.  [On Father’s Day, especially, we need to remember that.]

I started out by talking about women who think dads are dispensable, but I don’t want to pick only on them.  They’re just a small minority.  For every woman with a donor child, there are far more women and children who long for a husband and father, and yet the man refuses.  And for every woman who chooses an abortion regardless of what the man thinks, there are far more women who are pressured into abortions by men who won’t accept their responsibility.

If we look below the surface of man-hating rhetoric or pro-choice platitudes about a woman owning her own body, we’ll find that these things are often reactions to the failure of men.  Many man-haters are made, not born.  Anti-male ideology doesn’t come naturally.  Nearly all mothers and children have an instinctive sense of their need for a man in the house.  But if bitter experience shows that men are likely to fail you, then it’s no wonder if you try to convince yourself that you don’t really need a man anyway.

But even though much of the anti-male and pro-choice ideology is an understandable reaction to the failure of men, it still isn’t the right reaction.  Gloria Steinem sounded clever when she said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” but women and children need men, no matter how much some folks try to pretend otherwise.  In fact, the notion that women can do fine on their own plays right into the hands of men who looking for an excuse to leave them on their own.  These men want sex, but they don’t want marriage or family responsibilities, and Gloria Steinem’s ideology gives them the excuse they’re looking for.  They can just say, “Woman, you don’t need me.  It’s your body and your choice, not mine.  If you have a baby, it’s your problem, not mine.  And besides, raising kids is a woman’s job.”

This Father’s Day, we need to reject once and for all the silly pretense that mothers and children don’t need men.  Fathers matter.  A family needs a dad, not just a donor.  We all need to respect the importance of a husband and father, and those of us who are men need to accept the honor of being the man of the family and the responsibility that goes with it.

It’s an awesome thing to be the marriage partner of the woman God gives you, and to be the father of children God puts in your care.  When you hold a child in your arms, it can make you feel more important than you’ve ever felt before–and more scared and inadequate too.  I know I’ve felt that way.  I think, “Wow! Isn’t it amazing?  Isn’t this great?”  And then I think, “Who am I to have someone else depend so much on me?  Who am I to have such a huge part in shaping another person’s development?”

If I feel that way about my family, I can only imagine what Joseph must have felt.  God chose Joseph to take as his wife the lady who was blessed above all women and to raise as his child the incarnate Son of God.  What a staggering privilege and responsibility.

Joseph must have prayed many times, “Father, show me where I fit into this plan of yours.”  All of us who are fathers need to pray that way.  “Father, show me my place in your plan, and help me to follow that plan.  You’ve brought this woman into my life. Help me to treasure her and be faithful to her.  You give us children, so beautiful and yet so vulnerable.  They’re your children too, Lord.  How can I ever be a father to your sons and daughters?  I don’t know, but you’ve called me to this, and I trust you’ll give me the help I need.  So, Lord, I obey you and accept this great gift and responsibility.  Make me the man you want me to be, the man my family needs me to be.”

If you still doubt the importance of fathers, if you’re still tempted to say, “Who needs dad?” then here’s a quick survey of the facts.  Three out of four teen suicides occur in homes where a parent is absent–usually the father.  Eighty percent of teenagers in psychiatric hospitals come from broken homes.  Five out of six adolescents caught up in the criminal justice system come from such homes.  When the father is absent, children face greater risks of drug and alcohol problems, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and abuse by boyfriends and stepfathers. Fatherless homes are far more likely to fall below the poverty line, and the children are up to 40 percent more vulnerable to sickness.  Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain documents these things in a recent article, and she summarizes it all by saying:  “Father absence is the single most important risk factor for children…  Children growing up fatherless have the odds stacked against them in ways no government program can remedy.”

Does this mean that if you’re a single mother, you might as well give up?  Does it mean that if you’re a kid growing up without a father, you’re doomed to disaster?  No.  But it does mean you have bigger obstacles and disadvantages to overcome than families where a father is present.  Single moms and their kids are sometimes able to overcome the problem of not having a man in the home, but the fact that some of them overcome the problem doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

People in fatherless families need special encouragement and support.  But let’s not pretend that fatherless families are an equally good alternative to two-parent homes.  That is totally out of touch with reality.  You can dream up rosy new ideas and say, “Who needs dad?” and you can try to convince yourself that any family arrangement is as good as any other.  But that’s just not true.  The sinfulness of sleeping around, or living together outside of marriage, or breaking up a marriage, is becoming more and more obvious as we see the disastrous results of so many families without fathers.

[A man matters.  If there was ever a case where a single-parent family should have thrived, it was the blessed virgin Mary and her perfect child Jesus.  But God still wanted them to have a husband and father, and he made sure Joseph got the message.]

What is it that makes a man so important to the life of a family?  To start with the obvious, a father provides and protects.  A father helps provide the food and clothing and shelter that a family needs, and he also protects his wife and children from those who would harm or destroy them.

Joseph was a provider and protector.  He was there to help the pregnant Mary.  He helped her find shelter when the baby was about to be born, and he was there at the birth to take care of the needs of mother and baby.  Later, as Jesus was growing up, Joseph worked hard as a carpenter and earned enough income to provide for his family.  Joseph had an important part in God’s plan to provide for Mary and Jesus.

Joseph also had a vital part in God’s plan to protect Mary and Jesus.  When little Jesus was endangered by king Herod’s evil campaign to destroy all baby boys born in Bethlehem, God made sure Joseph found out about it.  And Joseph took immediate action.  He got up in the night and took his wife and baby and set out under the cover of darkness and took them on a long journey to Egypt.  After Herod died, Joseph led his family on the journey back to Israel, and he settled in Nazareth, an out-of-the-way town where they could keep a low profile and remain safe from any other murderous ideas that might occur to Herod’s successor.

Joseph’s family needed him to provide and protect, and families today still need dads to do that.  If you don’t believe it, just look at the facts.  In homes without a father, poverty and hardship is far more frequent.  Government programs can try to make up for missing fathers by providing for single mothers and their children, but what’s the outcome?  More poverty than ever.  I’m not saying the programs aren’t needed.  I’m saying fathers are needed.  Any attempt at welfare reform will be a disaster if there isn’t fatherhood reform.

Fathers are needed to provide and to protect.  A strong, decent man means strength and safety for those he loves.  They’re more secure from things like robbery and rape, and his very presence can also protect them from other kinds of intimidation. For example, you probably know about the surveys which show that car salesmen are more likely to pull tricks on a woman shopping alone than on a man or on the man and woman together.  Also, in families that have a husband and father, far fewer women are battered and far fewer children are abused or molested than in families with step-fathers or live-in boyfriends.  So who needs Dad?  Anybody who needs a provider and protector.

But that’s not all.  As a father, I’m not just here to pay the bills and keep trouble away.  I also play a vital part in shaping the identity of my children.

I do this in partnership with my wife.  A father and mother need each other, and kids need both parents, if for no other reason than that raising children is just too much for one person to handle.  But there’s more to it than that.  If it were just a matter of splitting the work in half, then two men or two women could raise a child just as well as a husband and wife.  In fact, a growing number of gay and lesbian couples are trying to do just that.  But a child doesn’t just need some combination of two adult parent figures–a child needs a female parent and a male parent, a father and mother, to learn from.  The Bible makes this clear in Proverbs 1:8 which says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”

And what does Proverbs say right after that?  It warns against running with gangs.  “If they say, ‘Come along with us …let’s waylay some harmless soul …we will get all sorts of valuable things…  throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse–my son, do not go along with them” (1:11-15).  Listen to father and mother, and don’t run with gangs–the Bible puts these two lines of thought together, and we can see all around us that this connection is no accident.

We can’t understand the problem of violent gangs until we look at the breakdown of the family.  Kids who never see their parents are the most likely to join gangs.  Gangs provide an alternate family and sense of belonging.  Boys who have a mother but no father are more likely to join gangs.  Boys don’t just need mothering.  They need fathering.  Boys need a strong, masculine person to relate to, and if they don’t find him at home, they’ll find him on the street.  Who needs Dad?  Boys do.

If you’re a father, you can show your sons what it means to be strong without being violent, what it means to take charge without taking advantage.  If we fathers have a healthy and holy masculinity, our sons won’t be nearly as attracted to the cruel male bonding of the gangs, and our daughters won’t be so likely to fall for the first loudmouthed punk that comes along.

A girl with a strong, gentle father who loves her enormously will have a better sense of who she is as a woman, and of what to look for in a man, than a girl who doesn’t have a father.  A girl with a good father is likely to have so much dignity that she won’t be vulnerable to some jerk who doesn’t treasure her for who she is, and she’ll know the character of a real man too well to fall for some guy whose only qualities are a hot car or a hot temper or hot hormones.  Who needs Dad?  Girls do.

But I still haven’t mentioned the most important aspect of being a father.  It’s a tremendous responsibility to teach and shape our children in their personalities and relationships to others, but our supreme responsibility as fathers is to shape our children’s spiritual identity and relationship to God.

This is the most glorious part of being a father, and, sad to say, it’s the part that many fathers neglect completely.  Too many men think “religion is for women and kids,” and they leave it to mothers to read Bible stories with children and pray with them.  Dad leaves it to Mom to teach right and wrong and discipline the children.  He leaves it to mom to take the children to church and Sunday school.  If she doesn’t do it, it doesn’t get done.  Even men who pride themselves on being the head of the household, who see themselves as energetic and strong, are too often lazy wimps when it comes to the spiritual nurture of their children.

But God wants both father and mother to be involved in the spiritual identity of their children.  Again, if we look at Joseph, we don’t see him leaving everything to Mary.  When Jesus was eight days old, both Joseph and Mary took him to the temple to have him marked as one of God’s children.  Later, as Jesus was growing up, Joseph, as well as Mary, was involved in taking Jesus to the great religious festivals for worship and learning.  Jesus was unlike any other child, of course, but even so, Joseph was eager to encourage and support the child’s spiritual identity.

The Bible plainly commands us fathers to bring our children up in “the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). So, once again, who needs Dad?  Who needs a father?  Anybody who needs an introduction to our Father in heaven.

The Bible speaks of God as “the Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14-15).  Your family can be a taste of God’s family.  Your fatherhood can be a reflection of God’s fatherhood.  If you model, even in a small and imperfect way, how God the Father loves his children by the way you love your children; if you show, even with your limits and faults, how Christ loves his church by the way you love your wife; if you lead your family into the truth of God the Father by being true to your calling as a father; then you join Joseph and all other godly men who obey the Lord and accept the joy and responsibility of fatherhood.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, we praise you for fathers on earth who provide and protect, shape and teach, love and discipline, and who, by your grace, give us at least a faint glimpse of your eternal fatherhood.  Help us men to obey you and delight in our calling as fathers.

Some of us, Lord, feel a sense of failure.  We realize that as fathers we haven’t lived up to your calling.  Forgive us for the sake of our Lord Jesus and his blood shed on the cross, and by your Holy Spirit help us be the husbands and fathers you call us to be.

And now, Lord, we pray for all those who have bad fathers or no father at all, the many children and young people and single mothers who suffer from the lack of a man in the house.  Father, help them overcome this.  Move godly uncles and friends and men of God to be as fathers to those who have none.  And above all, Lord, show yourself the Father of the fatherless and the Defender of the helpless.  Gather them under your care and into the family of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.