The best dads are usually the ordinary ones. They may not set land-speed records or have media outlets cover their exploits, but they love their wives, they play catch with their sons and they protect their little girls.
Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual. But still: extraordinary.
I saw this in my own father. Dad is very intelligent, but he didn’t seek to make a name for himself. Like so many great dads, he gave generously of his time to others. He showed up to all of my basketball games. He taught my sister and me how to ride a bike. The simple stuff.
Beyond the basic good stuff, Dad was unusually committed to God and to prayer. One of my foremost childhood memories is of Dad eating a quick dinner on Wednesday nights. We were small-church Baptists on the coast of Maine, and as such we had a weekly prayer meeting. Dad always went. This prayer meeting wasn’t anything fancy. The pastor led a short study of a biblical teaching. The men and women would then separate and talk through prayer requests. Then they would pray for about 30 minutes. The whole event lasted roughly an hour.
But unlike today’s society, which runs a perpetual hurry-up offense, there was no countdown clock. My father and the few other men gathered took their time collecting their thoughts. They prayed with feeling and care for the small church they served. They did not offer superfast McDonald’s value-menu petitions. They addressed the Lord of heaven and earth with sobriety. They understood that they were not asking God for a mere handout. They knew they were needy sinners — sinners saved by the blood of Jesus — and they depended on Almighty God for everything: health, bread on the table, happy kids.
Years later, I am a father of three children. By God’s grace, I too love the Lord. But I have realized how few young men had what I had. On average, only one of every six American men go to church. Roughly 25 percent of women who go to church go without their husbands. These statistics make sense of the sad plight of the modern American man. More young men now live with their parents than with wives. Men commit roughly 90 percent of the violent crimes in America. By almost any metric, men are struggling. They are disengaged, frustrated and lost.
Though some cheer “the end of men,” women and children are dramatically affected by this sorry situation. Committed fathers are as rare as exotic birds in many American communities. Women must do it all, and at heavy cost. The rising generation is in increasing measure a fatherless generation with terrible fallout. Children are 32 times more likely to run away from home if they don’t have a dad.
Many men are hesitant about taking first steps to address their challenges. But here is the good news about Christianity: It is a faith for losers. Utter losers. Christians are those who admit we cannot save ourselves. God requires perfect holiness to admit us to heaven, and none of us — religious or otherwise — possesses it, hard as we try.
This is why God sent his son, Jesus. Jesus’ death in our place and Resurrection for our sake show us that the solution comes from him, not us. When we turn from our sins and give our lives to Jesus, he begins the process of making all things new. This is true for struggling fathers, abandoned children, exhausted mothers, venture capitalists, pipe-fitters, high-flown politicians and everyone else.
My father’s quiet spiritual leadership left a mark on me. It was not fancy. It was not front-page news. But it had an effect, showing me that God was real, that prayer was powerful and that the local church is precious.
So many American dads teach their sons about winning. They want to raise all-stars.
My dad taught me about praying. He wanted to raise a Christian.
It was nothing fancy, but still — Dad’s example was extraordinary.
• Owen Strachan is president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (cbmw.org) and associate professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is married and the father of three children. He co-wrote “The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them,” released in April, to help men and women understand who God made them to be.