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What does it mean to be a dad? What is a spiritual father?

AlethiaBy Dominika Roseclay

For this Father’s Day reflection, I figured I would spend a bit of time on spiritual, in addition to blood, fatherhood. What is a spiritual father? First, we’ll need to understand what it means to be a good dad and why they have so much influence (positive or negative) in our lives.

A Dad’s influence

A child’s first and most intuitive belief in their own value is largely based on their father’s opinion. It’s especially difficult for young boys and men to depart from their Dad’s judgment and feelings about the world.

For example, if our father teaches us to hate a movie series, it’s hard not to hate it with him. What Dad connects becomes difficult to disconnect. This teaching doesn’t need to be verbal; it can stem from his tone of voice, habits, or eye-rolling. Father figures throughout a man’s lifetime do the same, connecting “bad” or “good” with the world.

At a very personal level, the truth of all of this is wrapped up in one word: Butterfinger.

A few years ago, I realized that I pretty much always choose a Butterfinger if I have a choice of candy bars.

But I had never wondered why. I just chose it. Undoubtedly, it’s an odd choice. So, I asked myself, why did I choose butterfingers every time? You can probably guess.

It’s what my Dad chose. There are dozens (hundreds?) of candy bars in convenience stores. And that’s what he chose every time. My Dad picked them, so as a child, why would I get anything else? It’s obviously best if Dad got them. To this day, if I were offered many choices of candy bars, it would require an intentional decision to choose anything else because choosing the Butterfinger is just what you do!

A candy bar is a pretty silly example, but there’s far more spiritual depth to this idea.

How we see our Dad is how we picture God

I’m convinced our intuition is to connect our personal picture of our Dad to God. This can be tragic; in the case of an absent, distant, mean, or impatient Dad, we naturally attribute those things to God.

On the other hand, many of our fathers are

  • strong,
  • gentle,
  • wise,
  • sacrificial.

The cool thing is God is also strong, gentle, wise, and sacrificial.

I have one like this.

I think I am one.

And what a joy it is to be a Dad and enjoy the blessing of a good father.

A good friend and poet wrote this:

Fatherhood is an ocean. It’s life-giving, mighty, and gentle. It doesn’t matter who you are, it wraps you up in its current and pushes you in different directions. Fatherhood doesn’t matter how far you go. It covers the globe; it’s always there. And when you get tired, you have to lie opened up belly and face towards the world–the most vulnerable position. And only then, can you close your eyes and let go. You’re in the most vulnerable position and the ocean carries you…that is when you float. And it doesn’t matter how far–it covers the globe–it has no end.

We can accept the unavoidable power and influence of fatherhood. But, you might ask, what about the lies, the badness, or the voids of fatherhood?

We get to replace the figure in the role. (If you need help to understand your Dad or to distance yourself from an abusive or negligent father, consider speaking to one of our trained therapists.)

Spiritual fathers and our ultimate father

First, other spiritual parents in our lives are replacements for our biological father if he needs to be replaced. For all of us, spiritual parents are healthy and wonderful additions to our lives. When our father doesn’t love us, we choose to value their love and approval more than our biological influence. Opening ourselves up to their positive influence is vital.

Second, we can accept the revealed God our Father. Jesus got angry at the way the Pharisees liked to be honored as representatives of God but didn’t honor Him with the way they treated others. So, Jesus turned to the crowd, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matt 23:9). For context, apparently, Pharisees liked to be called father.

How does this apply to us? If you have a father who wants to be a father but refuses to love, cherish, and protect you, then don’t call him father. Why? Because you have a claim to a greater father.

Although he’s not physically present in front of our eyes, we can let the truth of his faith, approval, and “reckless raging fury” of love for us hold our hearts and souls, filling them until the junk is washed over like old oatmeal out of a bowl. We can let his love soak, lift, and wash away the junk from our worldly Dad pains.

Even for us with great Dads, we should always remember they reflect God imperfectly. Even the amazing fathers are like the moon reflecting the light of the sun. The sun is still the real light source.

Is fatherhood too much pressure?

Each parent has the power to model godliness. However, by tying together parenthood and God-likeness, I don’t want you to feel an overwhelming burden. I feel the weight of representing God to my children, but that’s not the end of the story.

Children can look to other spiritual parents in their lives. In fact, it’s an absolute must to have other Christian role models. Research suggests that Christian youth are more likely to remain in the faith if they have solid friendships with adults in the church.

Research by “Sticky Faith” claims that every young person needs around six adults in their lives walking with Christ. That ratio of one to six predicts whether their faith will stick around later in life. This reinforces how essential other spiritual parents and role models must be in a child’s life.

You are not alone. Don’t make it all up to you because you (like me) will fail.

The privilege of parenthood

As a parent, I aim to represent God as reasonably best I can. He is eternal, perfectly just, loving, and powerful, whereas I am limited. In spite of this, I have the privilege. Whoever you are, remember that you have a Father. Someday, I believe He will make things right and call us home, where we can experience his perfect fatherhood.

Thanks to all the great Dads out there, including mine, and happy Father’s Day!