This Sunday is Fathers Day. Fathers throughout the Okanagan will be celebrated, the aroma of sizzling barbecues will drift gently over our neighbourhoods.
As a father of four, I have taken a keen interest in being a healthy father.
Books and articles I have read, plus recent research, generally make similar points, stating that children benefit from emotionally supportive father figures; and this creates more satisfaction with life.
They also have healthier relationships with teachers and other children.
The father’s love or that of a father figure’s love makes a difference.
Professor Michael Lamb from Cambridge University, who has been studying fathers since the ’70s, says, “it comes down to the emotional availability, recognizing the child’s needs, responding to those, providing the comfort and support that the child needs.”
Most research has been invested in mothers. Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who is also doing a series of studies into fathers, states, “Half of parents are fathers, yet 99% of the research on parenting focuses on mothers.”
Yet, there are strong themes that appear: availability, engagement, the importance of play and activities.
Being patient and affirming, and emotionally supportive. Dads may say, “how do I do that?”
We dads need to do it in a way that feels authentic, allowing us to be entirely and consistently involved in the relationship.
One of the most significant examples of a Father’s love is the well-known story Jesus told about the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-31.
We often focus on the son’s journey of rebellion — leaving the father’s house, taking his inheritance, and ending up in the pigpen.
I believe the power of the story is in the father’s love. When the son returns, the father sees his son from afar, through the lens of compassion rather than rage — indicating that the father is waiting with a heart of love.
Then extraordinarily and culturally objectionable, the waiting father runs, bounding towards his son, his beard and robe flapping in the wind, a scene that speaks of deep energetic enthusiasm.
He kisses his son and embraces him; the passage infers many kisses repeatedly. A kiss in biblical times was a blessing, despite the failure.
The father then offered him the best robe, ring and sandals and threw a party. He did not rub the son’s failure in his face; he opened his arms and celebrated him. It could be renamed the parable of the father’s love.
I have seen many fathers watching the door and waiting for the apology until finally, the doorbell rings. The father answers, and a polite and distant greeting commences; awkward silence follows as a cup of tea is offered, and the father waits for the grovelling to commence.
We see the existing research reflecting the father’s heart in Jesus’ story — compassion, availability, enthusiasm, and affirmation. Let us be fathers whose arms and doors are open.
Happy Fathers Day.
Phil Collins is pastor at Willow Park Church Kelowna.