This blog is in celebration of Father’s Day, June 19.
Steve Thomas, MDiv, is the U.S. coordinator for Mennonite Men. A graduate of Hesston (Kansas) College, Goshen (Indiana) College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (now Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) in Elkhart, Indiana, Steve has served in pastoral ministry for 33 years. He and Linda Lehman Thomas have 4 children, live in Goshen, Indiana, and are members at Walnut Hill Mennonite Church. He enjoys leading retreats, arboriculture, woodland management, furniture making and being “Poppy” to his granddaughter.
If you’re a father or a father-figure for someone, what do you want for your children? I want our children to know who they are; to become strong, loving and wise; and to contribute to the world. At the end of our bedtime prayer with our children when they were little, Linda and I would close with these words: “May they know who they are as your beloved children and be filled with your Spirit, who makes them strong, loving and wise.” We sought to imprint these words — based on 2 Timothy 1:7 — in their hearts and minds for their development. Our daughter took this a step further and had “strong, loving and wise” tattooed on her body. Etched on her skin, these words are also traits of her character. We hope our children embrace who they are, embody these virtues and build a better world, each in their own way.
Because our organization, Mennonite Men, promotes healthy masculinity, let’s focus for a moment on fathering our sons. In “Boys Will Be Men,” Paul Kivel provides a vision of raising boys for a better world. He writes:
“I imagine a world in which boys are successful in school, active participants in the life of their families, and responsible members of the community. A world in which boys are strong and powerful, but also gentle and caring. …
“To create this better world, we would have to raise boys who feel connected to the environment so that they will take care of it. We would have to raise boys who are able to express a wide variety of feelings so that they can empathize with the situations of others and reach out to them with caring. … I want them to treat others with fairness and respect, and to intervene when others are being discriminated against or treated disrespectfully.”
It’s challenging to raise boys to become such men when so much in our culture is counter to this.
When boys hear someone say, “Be a man,” it often means, “Be invulnerable, act tough, take control and dominate situations.” As fathers we can help rewrite these scripts and give our boys better scripts for their health and the good of others.
Regardless of our children’s gender, we want them to do well, participate in community, contribute to the world and care for the earth. We want them to live with respect, compassion and love. We want them to work for freedom, justice and inclusion. We want them to stand up, speak up and act for God’s shalom. Most importantly, we want them to realize who they are as God’s beloved children. We want them to know that they, along with everyone else, are created in the image of God. And we want them to be rooted and grounded in God’s love.
If we want this for our children, we can help by seeking and modeling this in our own lives. We need to show what it looks like to follow the way of Jesus for God’s shalom in the world. Hopefully, our children will also choose to follow Jesus for a lifestyle of love.
If we want our children to pay attention to our lives, we must be involved in theirs. Research shows that societies with involved, caring fathers are more likely than those with aloof fathers to produce positive child development and to form healthy masculinity among males, more respectful treatment of women, greater gender equality and more peaceful, less violent communities. Fortunately, men are more present and involved as active caregivers from the birth experience and through the growing years than in previous generations. This has provided more opportunities for fathers to establish deeper bonds of love with their children. Being more involved may also mean experiencing more pain and difficulty.
Despite the challenges, we will likely experience greater love being involved with our children than being distant from them.
A few final tips on fathering. Say “I love you.” Give lots of affection and affirmation. Nurture your children’s esteem by reinforcing that a person’s worth is based on who they are and not on appearance, performance or ability. Show respect to their mother and your partner/spouse. Remember that what is “caught” (from example) is more influential than what is “taught” (from instruction). When — not if — you mess up, fess up. Admit your mistakes, apologize and make amends. Know there’s no such thing as a perfect father, so seek to be a good father. Keep doing your work to grow in strength, love and wisdom — which will encourage your children. And find ways to bless your children throughout life.
If you are a father, you have an important role in helping your children become who God created them to be, enjoy a good life and build a better world.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.