Do you know the difference between a right and a privilege?
We often get the two confused, and in doing some research on these two terms, I’m not certain the confusion was fully resolved. However, a right is usually described as something inherent, fundamental, related to the notion of natural or God-given law. A privilege, on the other hand, is something that is given and possibly could be altered or revoked by the person or entity granting said privilege.
Our U.S. Constitution includes the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing our rights to certain things like voting, free speech, religion, assembly, bearing arms, and others. Increasingly, it seems, some of these rights are being treated as privileges, to be granted or withheld by governing bodies.
I raise the question of rights vs. privileges because as Father’s Day approaches, I’m struck by the great privilege it has been – and continues to be – to be a father, grandfather, and now a great-grandfather. I don’t see fatherhood at all as a “right,” because being a father entails a whole lot more than being on site at the moment of conception.
At the same time, I think the role of father in our society has become greatly undervalued, underappreciated – and dare I say, under attack. As I’ve said in other posts, I have nothing but admiration and respect for single moms. They’re basically trying to do a nearly impossible job, one person fulfilling the work and responsibilities of two. In Ecclesiastes 4:9 it says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work,” and I believe this applies as much to parenting as any other endeavor that comes to mind.
Sadly, there have been countless instances of absent fathers, neglectful fathers, abusive fathers and preoccupied fathers. Many of us have failed miserably in fulfilling this God-given privilege of serving our children. I know I did at times, especially early in my working career, putting job responsibilities and opportunities ahead of spending both quality and quantity time with our children.
One psalm writer recognizes this when he candidly prays, “Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (Psalm 79:8). And in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we read about how the wrongs of the fathers have the potential for having an impact on even the third and fourth generations of those who come after them.
Examples of failed fathers, however, don’t diminish the importance of the father to the family. If anything, these failures – and the consequences that have resulted in many cases – underscore the vital importance of training and preparing devoted dads for raising healthy, stable, well-adjusted and productive young people.
In Deuteronomy 6:5-7, God directs parents – and especially fathers – to be diligent to teach their children, imparting not only knowledge but also wisdom and faith: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Of course, this underscores the necessity for fathers to be present and attentive, not distracted by their jobs, TV programming, smartphones, computer games or other hobbies.
The apostle Paul, in writing to followers of Christ in the Greek city of Thessaloniki, described the role of a good father: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
To members of the church at Ephesus, Paul addressed specifically what a father should not do: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). How can we as earthly fathers – If we cause conflict and angst among our children – effectively teach them about our loving heavenly Father?
So with Father’s Day just a few days away, I’m reminded that just as God instituted marriage between a man and a woman, to become “one flesh,” He also designed the family to be made up ideally of two parents, a father and mother who both carry their fair share of the parental burden – as well as its joys.
We don’t need to attack the institution of fatherhood. We do need to train, support and encourage fathers to fulfill the great privilege they’ve been given, not dismiss or discredit them because of those who have failed to embrace that unique and sacred privilege.