I realized this evening that it has been 17 years since I had the chance to call my father and wish him a happy Fathers’ Day. Dad passed away in March 1994, so his last Fathers’ Day was in June 1993.
Fathers’ Day has gone through a number of changes for me since then. For a couple years, I took my family out for dinner. Granted, I was paying for the meal, but it still felt like they were treating. (I did get to choose the restaurant.)
Beginning in 1997, Fathers’ Day had a new format for me. My wife and I were separated the previous November, and eventually got divorced, so my son lived with her in Missouri throughout the school year. Daniel would arrive on or around June 15 each year for his summer in New York. So, Fathers’ Day was frequently the first (sometimes the second) Sunday of his two-month stay with me. Just having my son with me was all I needed for Fathers’ Day. There were a couple years when his mother sent him out a little later than usual, and in those cases I refused to celebrate Fathers’ Day until Daniel arrived. It just did not count without him.
It did take a slightly different turn after Joyce and I married in 2000, as now we were also celebrating with her father. Nevertheless, for me the biggest part of Fathers’ Day was having my son with me.
Over the last few years, Fathers’ Day has been in a state of metamorphosis in my life. My son is now grown and married, and celebrates his first Fathers’ Day this year. (In reality, it is his second. He was a father one year ago; but at that time, his child was still in the womb.)
This will make for a change in Fathers’ Day for both of us. Last year, Daniel sent me a card and called me on Fathers’ Day. This year, he not only gives honor, but also receives honor as a father. I will celebrate, not only as a son and father, but now as a grandfather as well.
I have experienced Fathers’ Day and fatherhood from a variety of perspectives over the years. Two years ago, I was trying to enforce a curfew for a recent high-school graduate. Now, I find myself learning to relate to my son as two men: still as father and son, but no as longer man and child. My status as a father has not changed, but the role has evolved and I have had to adapt. My role as a father is no less important now than it was a few years ago; it has just adapted to a new situation.
With each change in my fatherhood status and role over the years, I have become more keenly aware of the important job fathers have. As I prepare for Fathers’ Day this year, I am reminded of how much God values fathers. The New Testament reveals God as a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Ten Commandments urge us to honor our fathers and mothers. Fatherhood is so important in the mind of God that the entire Old Testament ends with a statement about fathers:
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6, NASB).
Many Bible-believing Christians believe that, even though Jesus said Elijah returned as John the Baptist, this refers to a future reappearance of the great prophet before the second coming of Christ. (Some will debate whether Elijah actually returns to Earth, or a great man of God emerges in the spirit of Elijah, or a mighty movement manifesting Elijah’s spirit emerges among God’s people. Another of those issues that I will not go into at this time.) I am inclined to believe that this passage does refer to a future restoration, preceding Christ’s return.
Fatherhood is so important that God wants to restore it before His Son returns. We live in a sad age. With approximately half of all marriages ending in divorce, and out-of-wedlock births becoming socially acceptable, a huge number of children grow up without Daddy in the home. In a recent column, 2008 Constitution Party presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin writes:
The ramifications of raising children without a father are taking a toll, not only on children, but also on society itself. According to published reports, 63% of teen suicides come from fatherless homes, 90% of all runaways and homeless children come from fatherless homes, 80% of rapists come from fatherless homes, 85% of children with behavioral problems come from fatherless homes, 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes, and 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.
These are tragic numbers. I realize we can always point to women who raised their children solo and succeeded. Yet, the numbers do not lie: generally speaking, children are worse off when they do not have both a mother and father in the home. I would dare say that, in most cases, those women who did a good job raising a child without the father’s help would have done even better, if Dad had been there doing his job.
In the light of Malachi 4:6, coupled with those statistics and other research, I would dare say that anybody who is committed to furthering the breakdown of the family in American society is an enemy of Christ’s gospel. This is a serious issue, perhaps one of the two most significant social issues facing the church in America today.
Is it any wonder that, if the hearts of fathers and children are not returned to each other, the land will be cursed? Our culture continues to fall apart at the seams. We can look to the government to fix things; we can keep boycotting sponsors of lewd or otherwise immoral television programs; we can keep handing out Bibles and tracts; we can keep protesting outside abortion clinics or handing out voters’ guides in our churches. However, if we do not seek the restoration of fatherhood to its proper place in the home and society, our culture will continue to slide into a sociological abyss.
As a former pastor, I would urge all sincere ministers of the Gospel to continue to value fatherhood, and to encourage the men of their churches to become seriously committed fathers. Yes, the hearts of fathers must be turned back to their children; that means that many fathers have their hearts in the wrong places. Some have their hearts in the right place, but do not know practically what God expects of them (the hospital always sends those babies home without an owner’s manual). Being the head of the household is much more complicated than bringing home a paycheck and commandeering the television remote control.
In recent months, I have felt that God is really trying to impress upon me the importance of a spiritual legacy. Even though my son is grown, and he is raising his family 1200 miles away, my job is not over. Having raised Daniel, trying to instill an ideal of godly manhood in him, now comes the next phase. What will it mean for me, and then Daniel, then James and his future siblings. and then their descendants, to preserve the “Lynch” name? I thought about this, and made certain to share it with Daniel as quickly as possible during our most recent visit. Rest assured, he will hear it again.
I gained a vision of what our heritage should be at my father’s funeral. Dad and I did not always have the greatest relationship. For most of my childhood, alcoholism kept him from being the father God wanted him to be. He tried to make up for it after he obtained sobriety, while I was in high school.
At Dad’s wake and funeral, I met many people whom he had sponsored or otherwise influenced through a 12-step program to stop drinking. There were people who told me, “Your father saved my life,” and other glowing testimonials. When we arrived at the church for his funeral, the place was packed. A passer-by might have thought that some famous local dignitary was being buried that day; instead, it was just some guy who struggled through life, had little money, and held no important-sounding official title.
There is the legacy that I want to pass on to my son, and to his son, and so on. Our goal should not be wealth, fame, or worldly power; it should be to positively impact the lives of those around us. I desire to impact others for eternity, drawing them to Christ. I hope and pray my son does the same, and teaches his son(s) to follow suit. Maybe it will not be through a 12-step program; God will gladly use us wherever He places us in life, using the gifts He has given us and the experiences He has brought us through.
So, this Fathers’ Day, let us place the barbecues, the cards, and the new ties in their proper place. Fellow fathers, let us renew our vows to build a godly heritage.