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Father Privilege



By Nick McDowell

 

It wasn’t the first time I had felt awkward in that setting.  Was I supposed to feel bad?  A part of me did, but a part of me simply felt grateful.  There was an uncomfortable tension within me. 


Every time I was in a men’s group at church and there was a discussion on fathers, the discussion inevitably turned to what kind of dad each man grew up with in the group.  Inevitably some, if not most of the men in the group shared things similar to the following:


“My dad wasn’t around much…”


“I was never close with my dad…”


“My dad was abusive…”


OR


“I never knew my father…”


These were the common phrases I heard and still continue to hear when the topic of fathers comes up in a men’s group.  Why was it so awkward for me to hear so many men share these things?  Because I had (and still have) a wonderful earthly father.  He loved me.  He implemented healthy boundaries.  He did stuff with me.  He encouraged me.  He was there for me.  Even in the midst of his busy, hectic schedule (he has been pastoring for nearly 40 years), he did his best to protect his schedule so that he could spend time with our family.


Because of this I simply could not relate to the pain and wounds that were expressed in these circles.  As a pastor myself this becomes a major challenge.  Being able to relate to one’s parishioners is very important and it begs the question, “How can my relationship with my dad encourage those who didn’t have that?”



Over the last few years there has been a lot of talk about “privilege.” Certain groups based on ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, etc. have been analyzed, picked-apart, and placed in certain tiers based on how much “privilege” each group has.  One statistical area that has been either emphasized or dismissed (depending on which “side” is doing the talking) in the midst of this ongoing debate regarding “privilege”, is the presence of a father in someone’s life. 


A great resource when it comes to the data on this is found at fatherhood.org.  I encourage you to check the website out for yourself.  The statements that are posted on their site come from 2023 census data.  I won’t mention everything, but according to the site, those in a “father-absent home” are more likely to be poor, misbehaved, unhealthy, and wind up dead or in prison.  When you have a father in the home, this significantly improves an individual’s chances of being on a positive life track.


I was privileged.  I was privileged to have a good father in my life.  I had father privilege.  Was I supposed to feel bad about this?  Do I just listen and sit in silence while other men shared the struggles they experienced with their fathers?  For those of you men out there in my position, hear me on this:  it is so important to listen to the hurts and wounds of our fellow brothers (and sisters) when it comes to this situation.  We never want to come off dismissive but we, too, have something to share in these discussions.


Me and my father

So what do I say in the midst of the difficult stories being shared?  I’m thankful for my dad.  I’m thankful that God blessed me with a wonderful earthly father.  I know I didn’t deserve it and I don’t understand why some people have better situations with their dads than others, but that’s how it is.  That also means I have a heavy responsibility on my shoulders.  I have no excuse.  Because of the father I have, I was dealt a good hand in life.  What will I do with it? 




This made me think of the parable of the talents that Jesus shares in Matthew 25:14-30.  One man was given 5 talents, one 2 talents, and one 1 talent.  All were expected to do something with it.  When it comes to the blessing of an earthly father, I’m in the 5 talents arena.  It’s a blessing.  God has been good…but He expects me to pass that blessing on.  To do something with the good hand that has been dealt to me.  To be a good father like my father (and his father) before him.  To continue passing on a legacy of fatherhood is an important responsibility that I hope to pass along to my son.  I want him to experience a relationship with me like I had with my dad.  I want to be reliable, kind, loving, and supportive.  Most of all, I want to direct my son toward Christ.


What about those of you men who didn’t have good earthly fathers?  Maybe you were only given 1 talent in that area.  God still calls you to do something with it.  There are a lot of directions I could go here, but I’ll simply say this: make sure the cycle ends with you and create a different legacy for your children.  Be the father that you didn’t have so that your children can have a better experience.  This requires sacrifice, commitment, and perseverance. Admittedly I don’t know how hard that would be because of my situation, but I've witnessed what the men in my life have had to go through to overcome the challenges of fatherlessness while raising kids of their own.  By God’s grace, I have seen it done.  And that’s because those men look to the Father they DO have instead of dwelling on the father that they didn’t. 



You see, regardless of what hand we’ve been dealt when it comes to our earthly father, we all have a type of Father privilege available to us.   Through faith in Jesus Christ we can be forgiven our sins and made new.  Not only does this mean a new life, purpose, and mission, but adoption into God’s family.  Through Christ, we become children of God.    


In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

~ Ephesians 1:4b-6 ~


We all have a Father who loves us.  Whether your earthly father was good, bad, or indifferent, our heavenly Father loves us more than any earthly father could. As wonderful as my earthly father has been, what made him so good to begin with is that my heavenly Father changed his life.  My dad here on earth has lived a transformed life through the death and resurrection of my heavenly Father’s son, Jesus Christ.  My dad knew his primary responsibility as a dad was not that I would look to him as the greatest father on earth, but to lead me to The One that made such a difference in his life.  That I would put my faith in the same heavenly Father that he had.  It has always been about that Father and not him.


Christians ALL have Father privilege.  It comes down to what we’re going to do with it.  I am privileged to have been blessed with an earthly father.  I, in turn, have been given a son whom I have the opportunity to pass on that privilege to.  But both of these blessings come from my other Father.  My heavenly Father, the one whom I love the most and am loved by the most.  That privilege is available to you this Father’s Day as well.  Whether our job is to continue the 'good father' legacy or change the 'not-so-good father' cycle, we have our heavenly Father to walk alongside us to help accomplish that.


Blessings upon you this Father’s Day.



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