In Sacred Scripture, “the word, father, is a designation used not only for the immediate male progenitor, but also for the head of a people or tribe (Gen. 19:37), or for the founder of a town (1 Chron. 2:41–52), or of some institution (Gen. 4:20–21; NRSV: “ancestor”). The plural, “fathers” (NRSV: “ancestors”), refers to previous generations (Jer. 31:32; Ps. 22:4; Lam. 5:7). “Father” can also be a name for advisers to the king or high governmental officials (Gen. 45:8; Isa. 22:21) or an honorary title given to prophets and priests (Judg. 17:10; 2 Kings 2:11; 6:21; 13:14). And, of course, “father” is an important appellation for the deity (Exod. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; 32:6; Hos. 11:1; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9; Ps. 103:13).” (Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, p. 284)
Now for those of us blessed with wonderful fathers, we know that in their own particular way, they care for, provide for, and love us. Like our beloved mothers, they often do without and stand-in-place so that we might venture forward.
The advice they give is precious, as well, if only we listen. Alan Redpath, the former pastor of Moody Memorial Church, remembers the time his father, after a brief period of tension in the home, looked across the table at his wife and said, “I’m so sorry I spoke to you the way I did. I’m ashamed of myself.” Redpath noted that at the time, he was not a Christian. Nevertheless, he recalls going to his room after the meal, kneeling, and praying: “O God, I thank you for a father like that. Make me more like him.” (The Speaker’s Quote Book, Roy B. Zuck, pp. 191).
In addition to these qualities, we would be remiss if we did not mention that fathers dream, too. For fathers who were blessed to have grown up in loving homes, they dream of the same—for their children. And for fathers who’ve grown up in less than ideal family situations? They dream of a far different reality for their children, the children God has sent into their midst.
During the season of Advent, we are reminded that as the Divine Child draws near, fathers are blessed in a special way. In the Gospel of Matthew (1:20), the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and spoke: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…” And from that moment onward, Joseph surrendered his life to the will of almighty God. Day by day, he came to realize that his role in the Divine Plan was to provide a home for Jesus and Mary.
This Christmas Day will mark the sixth anniversary of my father’s death. Not long ago, while looking through some of his papers, I found this prayer that he had kept, a prayer written long ago by General Douglas MacArthur. It was MacArthur’s dream for his son.
Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee….Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clean, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”