Father’s Day is right around the corner, which begs the question: “Do dads really ever get a day?”
While Father’s Day is on every calendar, both print and electronic, most dads I know have to be reminded when their day rolls around every June.
In fact, many men will tell you that it doesn’t feel “manly” to desire any special attention on Father’s Day.
For them, the day can be something of an embarrassment because of what they see as an unnecessary focus on their place in the home. Dads, they think, ought simply to blend in with the woodwork.
But what might appear on the surface to be admirable humility on the part of these dads can actually be a veiled unwillingness to embrace the critical spiritual responsibilities every father faces.
A careful reading of the Bible shows that far from being an inconsequential role in the home, dads occupy a vital place and bear a significant obligation in contributing to the faith development of every member of the family.
For that reason alone, it makes sense for churches to give special emphasis to this holiday.
How then might churches approach Father’s Day without feeling like they’re abandoning their unique place in culture as faith communities by surrendering to yet another day crafted by the marketplace to encourage consumer spending?
Here are some practical considerations:
1. Call attention to the history of Father’s Day and in particular how the church was an important inspiration in its creation.
Father’s Day is a relatively recent holiday, established at the turn of the 20th century when, in 1909, a daughter named Sonora Smart-Dodd heard a Mother’s Day sermon and thought it important to give fathers their due as well.
The idea took off and in 1924 President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation in support of a national Father’s Day, one that recognized fathers as a way to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”
The fact that Father’s Day began with a young woman’s response to a sermon should not be lost upon churches who may feel as if such an emphasis is another cultural encroachment on its distinct place in society; it is most definitely not.
2. Use the holiday to remind fathers of their critical roles in creating a spiritually healthy home environment.
There are plenty of Bible passages that highlight the place of fathers in leading their families to become maturing believers.
While some might argue that a number of these passages support a potentially damaging picture of a repressively authoritarian head of the household, a more comprehensive and nuanced interpretation of these passages reveals an understanding of the ideal father who values and even models sacrificial love.
3. Encourage fathers to be more transparent in their family interactions.
One of the struggles many dads have with Father’s Day is being the center of attention as if standing in the spotlight one day out of the year means that they have to turn in their “man card.”
This attitude usually leads to statements like “I don’t really need anything for Father’s Day” or “I don’t want you to spend anything on me.”
Such statements only keep dads from showing the type of vulnerability and openness that engender stronger and more affectionate relationships, which reflect a deeper image of masculinity.
Dads actually bless their families when they welcome the kindness their families show them on this special day by receiving such kindness as a token of appreciation for the many contributions fathers make.
4. Be sensitive to those in the congregation for whom this day brings painful memories or is emotionally challenging.
Some in worship will have lost fathers to death since the last Father’s Day celebration. They will need a gentle reminder that the memories of a loving dad will last the rest of their days.
Others will not have had the fortune to have grown up with a model father. They will need to be assured that God’s grace is sufficient for whatever damage still lingers, and if they are fathers themselves, they can learn from those deficiencies and break any cycle of fatherly dysfunction that might be a part of their family system.
Still others yearn to be fathers but cannot, or some have chosen not to be fathers (often for sound reasons).
These men deserve encouragement and support, even as we ask them to consider how they might find ways to function in fatherly ways to the people God has placed in their lives.
When we consider the many contributions fathers can make to producing spiritually healthy families, we see how important this holiday should be.
So, let’s give dads their due. They deserve the recognition as well as the reminder that their role is a critical one, a role that must not be vacated lest their families fail to become the strong and vibrant places of mutual love and support God created them to be.
Doug Dortch is senior minister of Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He is a father and grandfather with two children and two grandchildren. You can follow him on Twitter @DougDortch.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles for Father’s Day 2017.