By Dennis Rainey
A father has the privilege of imprinting young lives that will carry the torch to the next generation. Unfortunately, most men starting out in marriage haven’t fully grasped their role as a husband before their wives inform them that they will be a father! As a newlywed, you know life is full of changes, but children may be something you hadn’t bargained for so soon.
To be better prepared for this thrilling, frightening moment—however far in the future—you should ask yourself now, What does it mean for a man to become a father? The responsibilities and challenges comprising the job description of fatherhood are the three M’s—manager, minister, and model.
Many men, who prepare themselves diligently and work hard to become efficient managers on the job, hardly give a thought to their role in managing a complicated and important organization like a family. When you think of it, much like a company, a family needs attention in the areas of personnel, capital reserves, facilities, cash flow, planning, inventory control, suppliers—even competition (for example, cultural influences seeking to undermine the family’s well-being).
The mother shares some of these managerial duties, but ideally, the father should look at the big picture and provide the security that results from responsible and faithful leadership. Here are some components for your new job description as the family manager:
- Know the strengths and weaknesses of those you supervise: “Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds” (Proverbs 27:23).
- Exercise self-control, and train those under your authority: “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
- Engage in ongoing enhancement of personal skills and exemplify high character: “He shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72).
- Abide by instructions and bylaws contained in the company policy manual (the Bible): “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4).
To be a family minister, a dad does not need to prepare a five-point sermon he will deliver in the family room while wearing a floor-length robe. But he does have the responsibility to oversee the spiritual well-being of those under his care. Another word describing this role is shepherd.
That’s right—a little flock of sheep share your living space, and a good dad will minister to his flock by voluntarily and eagerly caring for their needs. Just as you now should be caring for the needs of your wife, you will bear a new responsibility to care for those of your children.
The Shepherd’s Psalm begins with the sentence, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). What will your children “want”? They’ll want a lot of stuff—everything from the latest computer games to name-brand shoes. But God gives you the responsibility to provide for their most basic needs—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By providing them with basic security (a big part of this is loving their mom), you will help them “lie down in green pastures.”
Above all, the family minister-shepherd must bear the weight of transferring God’s truth to his children:
Hear, O sons, the instruction of a father,
And give attention that you may gain understanding,
For I give you sound teaching;
Do not abandon my instruction
You’ll learn more specifically about what this means, but for now remember: Your children will need you to lead them spiritually.
You can take advantage of daily opportunities to equip your children. What you want to teach your children needs to be clear in your mind. Early in the lives of my children, I started carrying around a list that started out as “Twenty-five Things I Am Teaching My Kids.” This list always faces my daily “to do” list. On this page, Barbara and I have listed things such as “being faithful in little things,” “becoming a man of character,” and “becoming a woman who has a gentle and quiet spirit.” This list reminds me of what is important beyond my daily tasks. Now the list has grown to more than fifty items!
Transferring truth includes life-skill training about sex education, morality, and manners. For example, your kids should know what to do in an emergency, such as a fire in the house. Or train them to know how to handle being bullied.
What’s your vision for your family? Determining your vision for your children and family doesn’t have to wait for your wife to say, “Honey, we’re going to have a baby.” You can formulate your ideas right now as you prayerfully ask God to help you gain His vision for what He wants your family to become.
If “all the world’s a stage,” as Shakespeare said, then every dad is always in the spotlight doing a one-man play for an audience that never leaves the theater—the tykes who always watch their daddy and don’t miss a thing. Every dad is the family role model, whether or not he wants the job. My father played that role well, modeling integrity and honesty for me every day of his life.
A weighty proverb states, “What a man is determines what a man does.” I like a quote by playwright Eugene O’Neill even better: “You do not build a marble tower out of a mixture of mud and manure.” You do well to begin the process of becoming the man your family will someday look up to.
I’m comforted by the fact that a man’s character is shaped by his relationship with God. That’s where my hope lies. God hasn’t given up on me. He’s still squeezing the mud and manure out of my life, building the strong, enduring marble tower instead.
Have you ever run on a relay track team or participated in a relay race at a picnic? Scripture speaks of running a different kind of relay that has God’s eternal truth as its baton. The psalmist said about the Lord and His works and intentions for all generations:
For He established a testimony in Jacob,
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which he commanded our fathers,
That they should teach them to their children,
That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
That they should put their confidence in God,
And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.
I want to run the father-son/daughter relay to the best of my ability. The dad finishing with his torch still burning brightly, though not necessarily first, will make an impact. And I want to run and give that torch of my love for Christ to my children, instructing them to carry it to the next generation.
An incredible way to model God’s care is to lavish affection and encouragement on your children. We dads should never stop embracing our children, hugging them, and running our hands through their hair. And let’s not forget to say “I love you” every day.
If I were to go to my grave today, one of the highest compliments to me would be to have it said that I was a father known for his love for his kids. Someday, I hope you will hear your wife tell you, “Sweetheart, you’re going to be a father!”
Excerpted from Starting Your Marriage Right © 2000 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Excerpt may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of Thomas Nelson Publishers.