Fathers, Teach your Children

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The fourth chapter of Proverbs contains a beautiful picture of three generations of fathers passing along Godly wisdom to their sons: King Solomon taught his sons, and he remembered his father, King David, who taught him at a tender age. Each was taken under wing by a loving father and given instruction to prepare him for manhood.

“Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;
pay attention and gain understanding. 
I give you sound learning,
so do not forsake my teaching. 
For I too was a son to my father,
still tender, and cherished by my mother. 
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
“Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.” (Proverbs 4:1-4)

Author with sons, 2000

Proverbs is especially useful to prepare young men starting out in life, but we can apply it more broadly to any parent-child instruction – and to all of us who are adopted as children by the Father above, who freely offers us His wisdom and love.

A few years ago, author Gordon Dalbey led one of our men’s retreats and he told us a story about a Catholic nun who worked in a men’s prison. One day, she said, a prisoner asked her to buy him a Mother’s Day card for his mother.

She did, and the word got out to other prisoners, and pretty soon this nun was deluged with requests, so she put in a call to Hallmark Cards, who donated to the prison several large boxes of Mother’s Day cards. The warden arranged for each inmate to draw a number, and they lined up through the cellblocks to get their cards.

Weeks later, the nun was looking ahead on her calendar, and decided to call Hallmark again and ask for Father’s Day cards, in order to avoid another rush. As Father’s Day approached, the warden announced free cards were again available at the chapel. To the nun’s surprise, not a single prisoner ever asked her for a Father’s Day card.

I understand that Mother’s Day is the biggest calling day of the year for the phone company. However, in terms of call volume, Father’s Day is like any other day of the week.

Before his passing last year, Irving Kristol quoted the startling fact that “almost two-thirds of rapists, three-fourths of adolescent murderers, and three-fourths of long-term prison inmates were abandoned by their fathers. Another study revealed that 92% of prison inmates hated their fathers.

This is a grim picture. Something has gone terribly wrong. Why are there so many deadbeat dads? Why have so many young men and young women been wounded by the absence of a father – a father who’s been either physically or emotionally absent, perhaps both. Others have been deeply hurt by the presence of an abusive father.

Dalbey refers to this phenomenon as the “father wound.” I believe that many of us have been wounded to some extent by one of our parents, because none of us had parents who loved us perfectly.

Throughout the Book of Proverbs it may be seen that two schools are vying for the hearts of your children. One is the School of Godly wisdom and the other is a School of Folly, which is full of the world’s wisdom.

There is a lot at stake, because enrolled in the School of Folly are those who want to take your child for a fast ride downtown – on the broadway that leads to destruction. They are the party crowd, the drug dealers, and gang members.

Through peer pressure and the bombardment of the media, it’s very difficult for your child to avoid this crowd, which presents a “counterfeit masculinity” and “counterfeit femininity,” as described by Dalbey. MTV’s new program “Skins” is further evidence of the trend.

Counterfeit masculinity says, “You need to drink a six pack to be a man. You need a sexual encounter with a woman – even if you don’t know her, even if she’s just a fantasy image on your phone or computer.

Counterfeit masculinity says that to be a man you need to buy a gun or have a fast car. You need someone to blame if things don’t go right in your life. To be a man you need to make a lot of money.

Counterfeit femininity says you need the right figure before you go out in public, wear the right labels, shop at the right stores, marry a man with lots of money. Counterfeit femininity says you should dress in a revealing way to attract a man. And you should go to bed with him to seal the deal.[2] 

In the Book of Proverbs parents have been given an instruction manual to help counteract the counterfeits. Proverbs is meant to prepare your children for real life, before they leave home. In Proverbs 4, we see three generations of fathers instructing their sons.

They tell their sons how to recognize those who will harm them and those who will help them. It’s a valuable tool to counteract the lies of the evil one, but how many will use it for this purpose?

I started leading family devotionals in our home when our boys were small. When our son Sam was 14 and his brother, Nate, was 11 or 12 we had a devotional every Saturday morning in the Book of Proverbs. Family devotions can be challenging, to say the least. There were many times I could tell they didn’t want to be there.

Later on — as teenagers, they would plunk themselves down on the couch, slink down, pull the hood of their sweatshirts over their heads so I could hardly see their faces…and I wondered to myself, ‘Is this doing any good?’

I called Sam this week and asked him if he could remember anything from that study we did together on Proverbs – it was 10 years ago, so I wasn’t expecting too much. Did he even remember we did it?

He thought for a minute. Then he said, “I remember talking about the sluggard…that it’s important to work. I remember we talked about what to look for in a woman, from Proverbs 31.”  The fact that he remembered a few strand of truth after 10 years made me glad.

Fathers, you have been given a responsibility to teach your children. Moses gave the command in Deuteronomy 6. He said, “These words which I command you this day shall first be upon your heart; and then you shall teach them diligently to your children.” He said to talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road.

My wife Sally and I would look for teachable moments. If we had an argument with them or there was a power struggle going on, that would not be the time to teach or preach at them. A much better opening was in the moments before they went to sleep at night. At this tender, more vulnerable part of the day, perhaps a morsel of truth could be imparted.

Moses got it right. Amazingly, this is one of the things Crosby, Stills, and Nash got right too. Remember their song “Teach your children well?”

Fathers, don’t leave this responsibility to the school system. Don’t leave this responsibility to the pastors of the church, no matter how gifted they are. If a son or a daughter doesn’t have your engagement and involvement and tender embrace…if they don’t hear the words “I love you,” your distance will cause them to act out in inappropriate ways.

The only memory of my father actually saying the words, I love you, was when I was 49-years-old, lying in a hospital bed. Fathers, don’t wait that long to tell your sons and daughters you love them.

There came a point in my 30s when I became aware that I had some issues related to my father’s emotional distance. I found a pattern repeating itself, because I was fighting to overcome the urge to withdraw from my own sons.

I reached a point where I needed to forgive my parents for any wounding they might have caused me and move past that. The problem, I discovered, is that bitterness and unforgiveness can create a toxic stew in the body that leaves you stuck in life, unable to love others and move forward in total freedom.

The wonderful thing is that you and I – with God’s help, can stop the generational cycle of physical and emotional abandonment. It’s never too late with God to start anew, to re-engage with your kids, and to begin to love them with the Father’s love.

What does the Father’s love look like? For many years that seemed mysterious to me. But Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” If we want to know more about how to impart the Father’s love to our children, we need to study Jesus.

This week I attended a class at another church and watched the instructor, Sheneau Stanley, do something I had never seen before. He said, “I’m going to stand in the place of your father and go through a list of questions and ask you for forgiveness on behalf of your fathers.” He knew that for some, their fathers might never arrive at the place to do this themselves. Some in the class had fathers who were dead.

He said, “Will you forgive me for any word curses I spoke over you, such as telling you you are lazy or stupid or fat?” Will you forgive me for abandoning you emotionally? Will you forgive me for not teaching you about God? Or how to relate to men or women? Will you forgive me for not showing respect for your uniqueness? Will you forgive me for not validating your masculinity?

As he went through a long list, students in the class could nod or say yes if he question hit home. It was a powerful moment as some recognized their need to forgive their parents for hurts that had been buried at a very deep level, hurts that kept them in a place that made them stuck.

In a moment of silence after Stanley’s recitation, God showed me something important. God reminded me that my own father was emotionally wounded, because his father abandoned him when he was seven-years-old.

A book that’s become popular in youth ministry circles is called “Hurt” by Chap Clark. Our son Sam made us aware of it, and the basic premise of the book is that parents have been too busy for their children, which has resulted in a whole generation of young people battling loneliness. These young people say they want to hear from adults, but adults are not speaking into their lives.

In Proverbs 22:6 Solomon tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” But what happens if you did all the right things, you did your best as a parent, and your child goes astray?

The first thing to realize is that Proverbs are not promises, they are probabilities. Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise from God. It describes what usually happens if you train your child in God’s ways. But your child also has a free will. Despite your best efforts, he can choose to go down the path of folly.[3]

Let’s look at Solomon’s strong words to his son in Proverbs 4:5:

5 “Get wisdom, get understanding;
   do not forget my words or turn away from them.
6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
   love her, and she will watch over you.
7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get[a] wisdom.
   Though it cost all you have,[b] get understanding.
8 Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
   embrace her, and she will honor you.
9 She will give you a garland to grace your head
   and present you with a glorious crown.”

What is Godly wisdom? It is the capacity to make choices that will always bring about the best results from God’s perspective. Godly wisdom brings about that result though the best means possible.[4]

Solomon became one of the wisest men who have ever lived. But he was not born that way. The scripture says that folly is bound up in the heart of a child. As a result of his father’s teachings, apparently Solomon felt he needed wisdom, so he asked for it.

In 1st Kings 3:5 God appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon asked for “a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”   

God was pleased Solomon asked for this. He said, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

It is estimated that Solomon was about 20-years-old when he prayed this prayer. Now how many of us, if God asked us at age 20 for anything we wanted, would ask for wisdom?

But Solomon asked for wisdom and God freely downloaded wisdom in abundance! God even gave him what he didn’t ask for – riches and honor. God often gives us abundantly more than we can we can hope for or even imagine.

In Proverbs 4:10, Solomon says, “Listen, my son, accept what I say,
and the years of your life will be many.”

This verse echoes the Fifth Commandment given in Deuteronomy 5: “Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

The scripture says if you honor your parents and follow their teachings you will probably have a long life and things will go well. We’re bombarded with messages telling us to quit smoking, cut the fat and carbs, and get exercise to extend our lives. But I don’t hear very much about honoring your parents. I wonder why?

Proverbs 4:11-17 says:

11 I instruct you in the way of wisdom
   and lead you along straight paths.
12 When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;
   when you run, you will not stumble.
13 Hold on to instruction, do not let it go;
   guard it well, for it is your life.
14 Do not set foot on the path of the wicked
   or walk in the way of evildoers.
15 Avoid it, do not travel on it;
   turn from it and go on your way.
16 For they cannot rest until they do evil;
   they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.
17 They eat the bread of wickedness
   and drink the wine of violence.

Doesn’t this sound like the gangbangers in our society, those seduced by criminality? Sadly, many of these young men who go astray did not have a father involved in their lives.

If you are a father, recognize that the dark side wants to step into the void with your son or daughter if you’re absent. A loving mother counts for a lot, but she can never be a father. That’s why men in the church need to reach out and help support single moms by coming alongside their sons.

There comes a point in a boy’s life, about 12, 13, or 14, when he needs other men in the church or the village to pull him into the world of men. He needs other men to train him in some life skills. He needs a father or a father-figure to tell him he has what it takes to be a man.

Our sons were very involved in Boy Scouts. This is one of the only institutions we found who are actually doing this, but look at how the are under attack in our society.

Some men wait for validation by their fathers into their 20s and their 30s. Not getting this, they enter into a prolonged adolescence. They fill the void with other things. Our beach communities are a perfect place to observe this – men in their 30s and older who never grow up. These communities become a form of wildlife preserve for adolescent men.  

Gordon Dalbey quoted one man in his 30s, a magazine editor, who put it this way: “I’m still waiting for my father to talk to me about sex and success, money and marriage, religion and raising kids. The shame of it is, I don’t know a man my age who doesn’t feel like he’s navigating his life without a map.”[5]

In Proverbs 4:18, Solomon contrasts the way of folly with the path of the righteous:

18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
   shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
   they do not know what makes them stumble.

   20 My son, pay attention to what I say;
   turn your ear to my words.
21 Do not let them out of your sight,
   keep them within your heart;
22 for they are life to those who find them
   and health to one’s whole body.

The gangbangers are out after midnight, they spend the whole night seeking who they can harm. There is fear in the streets until the first gleam of dawn. As the sun comes out and the righteous emerge, the criminal elements shrink back into their dens.

Solomon begged his son to hold on to his advice, to take his words to heart. He said these words of wisdom are words of life. They will bring health to your body.

We can also say this about the whole word of God. There is something different about this book, that makes it different from any other book in the world. Your bible is not just words on a page. No, these words have power. They have life.

It is almost as if you were to cut these words…they would bleed.

Proverbs 4:23 is one of my favorite verses in the scriptures: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

If I look back on my life, some of the biggest mistakes I made were because I didn’t guard my heart.   Guarding the heart is an imperative; it’s a command. The English clergyman John Flavel, said guarding the heart is the most important business of a Christian’s life. [6] 

In guarding our hearts, it’s not as if we put up a wall around our hearts and make our hearts some kind of fortress from the world. Instead of using the word ‘guard,’ consider the King James, which says ‘keep’ your heart, and the NASB, which says, ‘watch over’ your heart with all diligence.

I think this is one area where women do a better job than men. They are more in touch with their inner life, the condition of their hearts. There are some of us men who are completely clueless about the condition of our hearts. There are men who have lived 50 or 60 years and never spent even one hour examining the condition of their own heart.

Fathers, parents, examine your hearts today. Have you been too busy to teach your children? Are you imparting Godly wisdom to them? Are you preparing them to leave your home? Our children are out of the house now; we’re empty nesters. It happened so quickly!

We have God’s promise that His wisdom is freely available to us, if we ask for it.  Our ultimate source of wisdom is Jesus himself. Remember when he taught his listeners “One greater than Solomon is here.” – referring to Himself. (Matt.12:42)[7]

Solomon spoke God’s wisdom. Well Jesus is the wisdom of God.[8] (1 Cor.1:24)

Therefore, Solomon’s command to his son to “Get Wisdom,” ultimately means “Follow Jesus!” In Him we find how to be wise parents, how to truly love our children with the Father’s love.

This is a grim picture. Something has gone terribly wrong. Why are there so many deadbeat dads? Why have so many young men and young women been wounded by the absence of a father – a father who’s been either physically or emotionally absent, perhaps both. Others have been deeply hurt by the presence of an abusive father.


[1] Dalbey, Gordon. “Father Hunger.” www.abbafather.com

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dobson, James.

[4] Grudem, Wayne. “Systematic Theology.” Zondervan. 1994

[5] Op. Cit. Dalbey.

[6] Flavel, John. Keeping The Heart Diggory Press ISBN 978-1846857072

[7] Johnson, Phil. “Wisdom Guards the Heart.” Grace Community Church. 2004

[8] Ibid.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Loved your article. I have three step sons (all moved out) and one of my own (10 years old). I wish I had read this years ago. I can see how my step sons have sufered because of their father not being interested, and my mistakes as well. I am going to implement the Proverb a day for my wife, son, and myself now. Is there anything else other than Boy Scouts to help my son at age 12?

    Thanks for your good advice,
    Darin

    • I’ve heard the Awana program is very good. But meeting with them one-on-one is also important. We usually chose Saturday mornings and went through Proverbs or other books.

  2. Glad my book Healing the Masculine Soul was helpful. If you’d like the “sequel” Sons of the Father: Healing the Father-Wound in Men Today, let me know your address. Keep up the good work. GD

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