To the men out there who want to be a dad but don’t (yet) have a kid: this one’s for you.
Fatherhood isn’t limited to a life stage that some men attain when they have tiny humans running around their homes.
You don’t have to BE a dad to start ACTING like a dad.
Fatherhood obviously goes way beyond the third Sunday in June. It’s already hard-wired into your identity, and it’s a quality you can cultivate today – and every day – because not having a kid yet doesn’t have to get in the way of your “fatherhood potential.”
Embracing your identity as a father and finding ways to nurture that part of yourself can also bring you closer to God, no matter what you believe about Him right now.
That might not make sense, so let me back up.
Since I was young, I’d wanted to be a dad and just sort of assumed having kids would be quick and easy when the time came. It might not even happen on purpose. Right?
Wrong. (For us, anyway, and many others. Turns out, 1 in 8 couples will struggle to get pregnant for over a year.) My wife Kari and I battled infertility for years. When we learned our infertility was on my end, we were shocked, disappointed, and then depressed. We coped as best we could, but it felt like being at the bottom of a well, or beneath a crushing weight.
We know the pain of trying to have a kid and failing. We came close to asking God to remove our desire to have kids because wanting kids and not being able to have any was so painful.
We dealt with the, “So when are you guys going to have kids?” question, and the ensuing awkwardness and back-pedaling.
We watched as couples our age and younger became parents to one kid, then two, even three.
We saw couples struggle to get pregnant and then have a “miracle baby.” We wondered where our miracle was.
We heard about teenagers who got pregnant accidentally. We wondered when our happy accident would occur.
We smiled through gritted teeth as we talked with parents who called their youngest an “oops baby” and newlyweds who went on a “babymoon” within a year of their honeymoon.
We tried to gracefully RSVP “no” to baby showers.
Every year on Father’s Day, I found myself feeling especially angry and sad. I was now in my thirties and still wasn’t a dad. My identity as a man was taking a massive blow. If I couldn’t “make a baby,” was I still fatherhood material? Kari deeply desired to be a mom, and I felt that I had “inflicted” this whole thing on her. What kind of a husband does that to his wife? Wouldn’t she have been happier if she’d married someone else, someone without male-factor infertility?
To make a very long story unjustly short, we’ve come through all that to the other side, and now we have a two-year-old son. And yet, Father’s Day is still a strange holiday for me to embrace. Even as I write this, my wife and I are trying for a second kid after grieving a very difficult miscarriage last fall.
Once again, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and are trusting God with the future of our family once more. Once again, I find myself waiting for a kid as Father’s Day approaches.
And I need to continue to remind myself: Fatherhood is part of my identity—something crafted inside you that can be cultivated—whether this pregnancy is successful or not. I need to look to my Heavenly Dad to validate that identity first, not first defaulting to my trust in medicine or science. (Nothing wrong with trusting medicine or science, by the way—it’s just that I need to trust God more.) I need to continue to trust the One who’s really in control, the true Author of Life.
The way I see it, God being “our Father” isn’t a biological reality. (If you believe Jesus was God’s Son, then only He can claim that kind of biological link.) Being a “child of God” isn’t referring to a physical relationship. It’s a spiritual one, based on a person’s choice to put aside their previous beliefs about themselves and to place their trust in Jesus. Once I realized that, my perspective on fatherhood—and Father’s Day—changed.
I didn’t have to BE a dad in order to start ACTING like a dad.
If that’s true—how can you cultivate fatherhood now? How can you “father” people even if there isn’t a mini-you who shares your last name?
Whether you’re waiting for a spouse, struggling to conceive, in the long process of adopting a kid, or whatever, here are a few ideas on how to start:
- Love the one you’re with. If you’re married and have been trying to get pregnant, know your wife is also dealing with frustration, grief, pain, jealousy—all of it. You can show her love by listening well, out-serving her, and being honest with her. A good father hears, sacrifices, and reveals himself to those he loves.
- Train yourself to see the world like a child. God became a human being to show us he understands us, which took literally infinite humility. And Jesus praised kids for their childlike faith. Thing is, you can’t really learn humility by reading or studying. You have to practice it. Find healthy ways to connect with kids, especially if you don’t have tons of experience with them. At the next family get-together, strike up a conversation or play a game with the youngest kid. If you’re really up for a challenge, volunteer at a hospital NICU or with your church’s kid ministry. Try to learn one new thing about each kid you meet.
- Get comfortable with patience. Your Father is infinitely patient with you. The ability to stick with something over the long haul is like a muscle that has to be stretched and strengthened over time. Consider how you cope when something doesn’t go your way the first time: distractions? Addictions? Whenever you experience delay, see it as a chance to practice self-control.
- Embrace the responsibility of providing for others and protecting them. Boys fend only for themselves, but true manly character comes with being a protector. I’ve seen men “father” their co-workers and friends through hard times. I’ve seen men “father” people in distress by intervening during tense situations or standing up for the oppressed. Whomever God places in your care, provide for them. And whoever calls on you for help, respond.
- Pursue strength through hard work. A real man works hard, slots himself under authority, and does his work with integrity. Over time, work produces the kind of fatherly character and experience needed to lead others by example, to be able to give wisdom and to have vision for the future. Whatever work you do, do it diligently and well.
God, thank you for being a Good Father. Help us to understand You better as we continue in our journey of waiting. If there’s something You want us to learn, help us to hear you. If there’s something You want us to do, help us to have the courage to be obedient sons. Amen.