When my first child was about to be born, I freaked out.
The year was 2000. It was the ninth month of the pregnancy. I was 33. I was in the bathroom and thought, "I don't know how to father her. What am I going to do?"
I grew up without a father and without a mother. My sister, God bless her, raised me. The thing is, I knew a lot about caring for people, following Christ, and knew enough about what it takes to be a father and husband that I felt ok.
But it was one of those moments when you look deep inside yourself - and I freaked out. "I can't do this," I thought. "I am going to mess her up."
If you know me, you might be wondering why I am saying "she."
My first child is my son, Samuel.
The doctors had told my wife, early on in the pregnancy, that the ultrasound showed our little it was a she.
It was not until a 9th-month ultrasound that the tech turned to my wife and said:
"Yeah, about your little girl. Look at this... on the screen... see THAT? You've got a boy."
[Pause for mad dash by nesting mom to convert everything - clothes, baby shower, and baby room - from girl theme to boy theme.]
Anyway, about those feelings about not being a good dad: I'm sure guys who have their fathers in their lives will say they also had jitters before their first child was born. Well, this is not for you. This is for people like me, who had no dad, do not have a dad, or have a dad that they think is not a good dad. You have the usual human anxieties, plus you are wondering how the heck you are going to pull this off.
I am now a father and married to my beautiful wife, Kafi, for 17 years (Note: I first wrote this article in 2011.) Together we have four children - a son, Samuel, and daughters Micah, Gabrielle, and Isabella - who are called to be stewards of the spiritual, social, and material resources that Christ gave them through birth into my family and at this time and place in history.
Here are some Bible verses that have guided me - and still guide me - in my understanding and practice of fatherhood.
(1) Psalm 1 – Love God's word, and all of your wildest dreams will come true. Psalm 1 says it this way: "Let your delight be in the law of the Lord. In His law, meditate day and night. If you do this, you will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, whose leaves do not wither, bears fruit in its season, and whatever he does, he prospers."
(2) I will restore the years that the locusts have eaten. This is in the second chapter of the book of Joel. The situation is that the nation of Israel is going through bad times. They are experiencing judgment and devastation because of their wrongdoings. God promises that if they turn back to following him, he'll not only fix their situation but also "restore the years." When I first learned this verse, it got to me. I felt life breathe into me. I can think of all kinds of brokenness in my community and my ethnic group. I am Mexican – I can go back centuries in explaining all the messed up things that have happened to the poor. So the idea that God restores things draws me to him and that he can "restore years" – man, I love that. What it says to fatherless fathers is this: Whatever you did not receive growing up – love, instruction, protection – can be replaced and restored. You can get it because God can give it if you commit to him.
(3) Seek the peace of the city, for if it prospers, you will prosper. Our children are growing up in neighborhoods, communities, and cities. We want good places for our children to live. Where you live may or may not be a good place. This verse (Jeremiah 29:7) says that you can love your children by working to make your area a good place.
(4) You may not feel like a son or feel like anyone wants you as a son. But you are a son. Throughout the Proverbs, especially the early chapters, there are statements like, "My son, if you accept my words…." When I was a teen following Christ without an earthly father, I felt like I had a father. I had my heavenly father. And I could get information from him in the Proverbs. When I would read, "My son, if you… "I would think, "Ok." I accepted it. Years later, I realized it was not only true but that what was happening was that the Holy Spirit was tutoring me. I know fatherless guys who are hungry to learn and develop themselves – but they don't know how. They say, "No one will tell me what to do. If you tell me what to do – if you tell me once! – I'll do it. But no one will tell me what to do." This is one way to find out what to do. Read the Proverbs and do what they say. Proverbs 2:1-8 – "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright; he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones."
(5) "Just as Moses lifted the snake in the desert, so Jesus must be lifted up..." --- The reference to Moses is this: In Numbers chapter 21, there is a situation where venomous snakes have gone into the camp of the Israelites and bitten many. Some people died, and others were about to die. The Lord told Moses to make a snake image, put it on a pole, and then hold up the pole. Anyone who is bitten can look at that pole and live. That's what happened. In John 3, Jesus says that people can live if they look to him as the people in Numbers looked at the snake image on Moses's people. This means that you, as a father, can best father your children by lifting up Christ in front of them. Lifting up means teaching about Christ and modeling who Christ is for them by living as a "little Christ" – which is the definition of the word "Christian."
(6) Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before obscure men. I was about ten years old when I read this. I looked up from the Bible and thought, "This is the United States. We don't have a king. We have a president." Then, in my next thought, just like you know you will have lunch or dinner today and sleep tonight, I said to myself, "One day I'm going to work at the White House.
About 24 years later, this happened:
That's me at the left hand of President George W. Bush. It was May of 2001. I was part of a group of 9 Hispanic Christian leaders from across the country that met Bush in the West Wing to discuss the [then-emerging] Faith-based Initiative. Teach your child to be skilled at his work and to be ready to do that work anywhere – near or far, in low circumstances and high circumstances.
(7) Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. One of the best things our sons and daughters can see is their father doing good work. This verse is helpful when the work in front of you is work you don't like, or if you are not being paid for the work, or if you work with crazy people. It's not about them. It's about the Lord. Do that work well. Your kids will notice and pick up on it.
BACK WHEN I thought my first child was a girl, before that ninth-month ultrasound revealed my son Samuel, it was a song that launched me into my anxiety about fatherhood. It was an Alanis Morrisette song, Princes Familiar, with this line:
Poppa, love your princess so that she will find loving princes familiar.
This is what I understood from that line: The type of man I am – good or bad - is the type of man my daughter will gravitate toward. That scared the heck out of me. I questioned myself. Then I re-dedicated myself to following Christ. Later, when I learned that my daughter-to-be was actually my son-to-be, I carried the lesson of fatherly influence into my father-son relationship.
Fatherless fathers – you get a chance to re-write the ending. You get a chance to break the curse. You get a chance to be the father you imagine, the father you can't even imagine but can feel in your gut. Follow Christ, and you'll get there in this life.