The Dad Gap – Fatherhood in changing times
Sermon on Father’s Day 2019 at Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church
According to Wikipedia Father’s Day as a day for the celebration of fatherhood has its roots as far back as the 5th Century among Coptic Christians in North Africa. In the west, Fathers Day started among Catholics in Europe dating back to the early 16th Century (circa 1508). It was linked to the Feast Day of Saint Joseph who was referred to as the fatherly Nutritor Domini or Nourisher of the Lord. As a civic celebration in the US, it was inaugurated in the early 20th century(circa 1908) to complement Mother’s Day by celebrating fathers and male parenting. And here we are today on Fathers Day 2019 honouring fathers and celebrating fatherhood. We are giving thanks for the God-given paternal bonds and influence of fathers in society as nurturers along with mothers of our children. We know it may be easy to become a dad but it takes much to be a father.
However as we gather today recent research speaks of the ‘dad gap’. It says modern family is fractured and there is an alarming trend of fatherlessness across the UK. It says a teenager sitting GCSEs is more likely to own a smartphone than live with their father. That a million children in Britain have no significant contact with their fathers. The report says fathers are crying out for better social and emotional support in order to be the great fathers they want to be. The MP who chairs the Parliamentary All Party Group on Fatherhood says, these findings are extremely concerning and show just how much work there is to be done to promote active fatherhood, especially among working class fathers.
So, what’s going on? You may ask. Recently the Catholic Church published a report titled, ‘Male and Female He Created Them’. This report takes issue with a modern area of study ‘Gender Theory’. The ideas of social scientists brought through gender theory are driving social trends in our world and are being conveyed through the education system. According to this report gender theory denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of man and woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. The report says that although gender theory allegedly conveys a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet it in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason and is at odds with a Christian vision of humanity. The proponents of gender theory assert it as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. This neutralising of male/female difference renders the concept of family empty of meaning as each individual demands the freedom to act arbitrarily in answer to their own feelings as if there were no truths, values or principles to provide guidance and everything that is possible is permissible.
In this environment the idea of ‘father’ comes under question. Increasingly, conception is thought not to require man and woman coming together to give life to a human being, but conception can be given by other scientific means that make the natural mean seems out of date. In the modern age a child can have two moms, two dads, or even three or more. Many of us simply are being taken along for this ride but today I am saying we need to engage with these issues, and as the father of three daughters and grand-father of four I am a witness for the defence of fatherhood. Of course I am aware that life moves, changes, grows. But a stable family and a stable society requires solid social and spiritual foundations and if those foundations are to remain firm all of us have a responsibility to engage in the change and not simply to turn our lives and the lives of future generations over to those who have dismissed God from their world and now are determined to dismiss God from our world too. If gender theory is to benefit us it must have God the Creator at its centre, not just fallen human inclinations. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The Christian look to God through the Scriptures for guidance. And so I want to pick out from our two texts three principles that I believe can help us on this Fathers Day, and on all the other days in the year.
In the Matthew text, we find both an expectation for earthly fathers as nourishers and an understanding of how our heavenly Father is towards his children. The first principle is ‘give only good gifts to your children’. If your child asks for bread don’t give them a stone; or ask for fish don’t give a serpent. The quality of our gifts to our children, fathers, must not be fake, or an imitation. Give only of your best to your children. That is how God treats us…even if sometimes this does not appear to be so. God has our best interest at heart always. And we should have this attitude to our children and everyone we come into contact with.
Second, from our Proverbs text we learn that fathers are responsible to teach precepts (principle, rule, code, doctrine, guideline) to our children. It is our responsibility fathers to help our children understand the codes of life likely to lead to good outcomes. One of the points made in the Catholic Church’s report is this, it is a God-given fundamental right and responsibility of parents to create the pedagogical environment for the educational formation of children. The school does not have this right. Fathers take this responsibility seriously.
And finally from our proverbs text, we see the value the essential nature of wisdom. Search her out, seek, knock and ask for her; love her and she will guard you. Whatever else you pass on to your child pass on the desire to seek wisdom, because it is wisdom that will exalt them in the end. Our text says wisdom makes beautiful. Where does wisdom come from? Ask God, and God will lead you to the sources that give you experience, knowledge, good judgement. So much of what is happening around us shows bad judgement, lack of experience, lack of knowledge.
So I am saying that the world around us seems to be going down a path that is leading away from valuing what fathers have to contribute to society. I am saying there is evidence that fathers are failing. There’s a dad gap. I am also saying the bible gives us direction about how to be Fathers after God’s own heart. And I am highlighting three things: give only the best to your children; take responsibility for the education of your children, and make the acquisition of wisdom a priority.
But you may say, I come up well short. So my final message is it is never too late to start. The issues we face go well beyond the celebration of a day. In fact we know that some are turning their backs on these kinds of celebrations saying it can be cruel for those who have lost their fathers or who have bad experiences of their fathers. And that we should appreciate each other every day. This is true but if you feel you have failed or are failing as a father it matters not whether its one day or 365 days.
What needs to happen is that we turn to God and to each other for help to make a fresh start. Call the family together and agree to put God at the centre of your family. Call that long lost son or daughter, no matter what age and start to rebuild that father child relationship. Commit yourself to giving them of your best which often means you. Commit to taking responsibility for teaching, passing on lessons in life to your children and grand children. Commit to making wisdom a lifestyle – weighing things up, thinking things through, reading up and finding out more about things, taking wise counsel, giving wise counsel. Its never too late to start. Let’s fill up the dad gap!