Want to make an impact with your life? Be a godly dad.
The importance of fathers is obvious, yet often overlooked. Everyone has a father—whether good or bad, present or not—and the actions (or inaction) of our dads has a profound effect on us for the rest of our lives. It’s been shown to affect everything from IQ to income levels, and from graduation rates to incarceration rates. It’s why “daddy issues” is a recognizable term, and why so many people go through life trying to earn their father’s approval. A person might have some slight influence with coworkers and peers, but it is dwarfed by the impact a dad has on his kids.
To make sure that is a good impact, you should take your cues from the only father who is fully and perfectly good—our heavenly Father. Below are five characteristics, taken from God’s Word, of what a good earthly father should be like.
Your child’s education is not the responsibility of the school or the church. Those are just supplements. Kids only spend about 10 percent of their childhood hours at school,* meaning they are learning from you 90 percent of the time. It is primarily the job of parents to “Train up a child in the way he should go,” so that “even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
“Train(ing) up a child in the way he should go” is less about arithmetic or algebra and more about learning God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says that God’s Words “shall be on your heart,” and “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” That’s the 90 percent: your kids are always learning, so you should always be teaching (and living it out).
You can’t be a godly father unless you live out what it means to be a godly man. That’s because, although kids may fail to do what you say, they rarely fail to do what you do. And no matter how much you try to teach them something, they will be unlikely to listen if they see you doing the opposite. They are little hypocrisy detectors, and even if they don’t say anything about it now, it will definitely show up in their behavior later. They won’t behave because they won’t believe; as it says in Romans 2:21-24:
“You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”
On the other hand, if you do live out what you teach, your children will benefit: “The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!” (Proverbs 20:7)
The “D” word here is not always popular, both because it is not fun (for the parent or the kid) and because there are some bad examples of how some ungodly, unloving fathers use it as an excuse for abuse. However, godly fathers (including God the Father) discipline out of love. When a child is insistent on heading down a harmful path, the most loving thing you can do is to correct them; it would be unloving to not provide discipline. That is why the Bible says that “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).
Discipline should be fair; when done unfairly, inconsistently, or hypocritically, it can rightly frustrate your children. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) Done correctly, discipline is only momentarily unpleasant and brings about long-term benefits. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
The motivation behind all of this—disciplining, modeling, teaching—is love. A godly father loves his children, and therefore desires what is best for them. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)
If you love someone, you will build a relationship with them. It means you have to spend time with your kids. The first rule of parenting is that you must be present to win. Having an absent father is one of the surest predictors of all kinds of negative outcomes for children; being physically present but emotionally uninvolved or uninterested in their lives can’t be much better.
If you don’t actively love your children—or don’t make it clear that you love them—then they won’t want to listen when you try to teach them. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) They will have no reason to trust your discipline, and they would be better off not following your example.
To be a godly father, you need God’s help. You can’t do it by yourself. None of us are perfect dads; we are all works in progress. And despite the huge influence you have on your children, you don’t actually control them. You can do everything right as a parent and still potentially have a prodigal son. After all, God actually is a perfect Father, and we still all rebel against Him at times in our lives.
Therefore, out of love for your kids, you should pray. “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Pray with your children and for your children. Pray that they would grow to follow God and trust in Him. Pray for yourself, that you would know how to be a good father. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)
Teach your kids. Live out what you teach. Correct them when they stray. Do everything out of love. Pray continually. That’s your basic job description. The world needs godly fathers, and your children need you to be one.
*Based on the required instructional hours for Texas, which is higher than most other states, and assuming 13 years of school (K-12) over the first 18 years of life. The time at home does include sleeping hours, but even if a child sleeps 12 hours a day, that still means they’re spending only 20 percent of waking hours at school.