A Meditation for the Father
23 years ago, my wife and children gave me a Father’s Day present that still hangs on the wall of my office. It consists of two footprints, one from my daughter and one from my son. Between these little feet are penned these simple words:
Wherever you go,
Whatever you do,
These little feet
Will follow you.
Crystal & Mark
With this plaque, they also gave me two picture frames which were promptly filled with adorable pictures we had taken at the beach several months before.
Over two decades later those little feet are no longer little. They have now “flown the coup” and are having children of their own. Nonetheless, these two pictures still remain my favorite pictures of my children.
Countless people have come into my office, seen this arrangement, and proclaimed, “How cute! That’s so adorable!”
But that is not what I think when I see this arrangement. I think, “How frightening! That’s so daunting!”—that those little feet, and those little faces, are watching whatever I do and going wherever I go.
That our children follow us is frightening and daunting, but it is also true. I can’t dodge or deny it. I’m a father, and that means I am a followed man. So on Father’s Day, let me share some thoughts for the followed:
1. Choose a good destination.
Perhaps this is obvious, but the first task of the followed is to make sure they are headed to a good destination. In Joshua 24, Israel had conquered the Promised Land, but didn’t know what to do with peace. Some wanted to follow the gods from beyond the river; others wanted to follow the gods of the Ammorites. Simply put, Israel didn’t know where to go. Joshua did: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)”
Perhaps the best legacy we can leave our children is to grow up in a house that “serves the Lord.” Both for Joshua and for us, that means choosing different gods than most of our surrounding culture. Both then and now, choosing a good destination means choosing a different destination—refusing to be conformed to this world.
2. Choose good paths.
Almost as important as choosing the right destination is choosing the right paths to get there. Jeremiah commands us to “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it…(Jeremiah 6:16 ESV)”.
The bible is full of descriptions of ancient paths where the way is good, but the problem for followers is translating ancient paths into their own times.
Jesus was a master of translating ancient paths. He saw that the much-hated Samaritan was the very neighbor the ancient paths of Leviticus commanded to be loved. He knew the mercies of God, which were new every morning, extended to Roman tax collectors. He knew that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
It is not only Jesus who can make “followable” translations of ancient paths. Paul commands others to follow him as he follow the Lord, and then he commands Timothy to appoint those who can follow him. In Titus, he exhorts the older to teach the younger.
In like manner, fathers translate the ancient paths for our children. We are to walk where the way is good in our day, among our people, in the midst of our problems. Our model helps them see who is the Samaritan to be loved, and who is the sojourner to be feed, and the tax collector to give welcome.
3. Stay the course.
A great gift a father can give his “followers” is the gift of constancy. Choose a good destination, choose good paths, and then keep on choosing them over and over again. It is a privilege for a child to be able to say, “I know what my Dad would think about this…”, even if they say it while rolling their eyes. In a bewildering social landscape that is almost completely devoid of stable landmarks a little fatherly consistency goes a long way to helping children find their way.
4. Accept grace.
In fact, I encourage you to wallow in it. God is mindful of the fact that we are frail. He mercies are new every morning for followers and the followed alike. Furthermore, one of the great joys of parenting is discovering how quickly and completely my children would forgive my failings. They were little two-legged buckets of grace—spilling love and forgiveness and kindness all over the father that they followed. Perhaps having those little feet following me wasn’t so frightening after all…
Happy Father’s Day!
Rick Langer is a Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology Department at Biola University and the Director of the Office of Faith and Learning. His specializes in the integration of faith and learning, and has also published in the areas of bioethics, theology, and philosophy. Prior to coming to Biola, he served for over twenty years as a pastor at Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands, California. He lives in Fullerton with his wife Shari. They have two grown children and two grandchildren on the way!