Saturday, June 15, 2013


”When I was a boy of 14,” wrote Mark Twain, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much (he) had learned in seven years.”  (Quoted from an old “ Reader's Digest”)
Tomorrow we honor the fathers of our nation, though Father’s Day has become another   commercial promotion. Millions of greeting cards are still being mailed or hand-delivered, despite the huge increase in the use of on-line greetings and e-cards. It’s the fourth largest card-sending occasion, according to the Greeting Card Association that represents the greeting card industry.
Despite the commercialism, it is appropriate and good for us to honor our fathers and to celebrate the estate of fatherhood. To the best of my knowledge the United States was the first nation in the world to do that. The precise origin of Father's Day in our country is not certain, as the idea of honoring fathers on a special day was actually begun independently in several places, each locality thinking it was starting something new. Certainly one of the first and foremost promoters of the day was Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington, who, not surprisingly, came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909.
She wanted to honor her own father, a courageous, selfless, and loving man, so she
approached her minister with the idea of having a church service dedicated to fathers.  He liked the idea and took it to the local ministerial association.  It was endorsed by the mayor of Spokane and by the governor of the State, who issued a proclamation establishing June 19, 1909, as Father’s Day.
Despite the governor’s proclamation the idea was slow to catch on throughout the rest of the State. Meanwhile the idea was springing up in other States, which began lobbying Congress to declare a national Father's Day to be celebrated annually. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson approved the idea, but it was not until 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge made it a national event “to establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations."
It was still not approved by Congress, however. I suppose members of what was in those days an all-male Congress felt that a move to proclaim an official day honoring fathers might be interpreted as a self-serving pat on the back. (I wonder how the idea would have fared in our current do-nothing House of Representatives.)
It was not until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father's Day, thus putting his official stamp on a celebration that had been observed for almost half a century.
  So today we celebrate Father’s Day, and while not all of us men are fathers, most of us have had fathers or father figures in our early lives, and most of us remember our fathers with gratitude and affection. Though times have changed and the percentage of so-called nuclear families has decreased dramatically, as the number of single-parent families, female-headed families, same-sex couples have soared, most of us who had fathers can be grateful for the way they provided for us.
While it is true that the number of women in the work place has increased tremendously, and the number of stay-at-home Dads is also increasing, it is interesting that more than 84 percent of child-support providers are men, according to the Census Bureau. So give thanks for the hard work that most conscientious fathers exert on behalf of their families day in and day out. The heartaches, the headaches, the backaches are all part of being a breadwinner. Many mothers are breadwinners, too, of course —more of them today than ever. But for the moment I’m focusing on the fathers who have had that role traditionally.
A true father knows the meaning of sacrifice. He knows what it means to be a servant, for though he may be the “head” of the family, a role that many young brides today do not concede, he is still a servant of all. We’ve already paid tribute to the mothers of our nation on their special day in May, and it is still true that “a woman’s work is never done.” But the fact remains that the life expectancy of a girl born in America is still about five years greater than that of a boy. Being a father is no easy task. My Dad was working three or four jobs for much of his life. How can I not be grateful for my father’s providing?
I’m also grateful also for his instruction. Studies by the National Center of Education Statistics have found that when fathers are involved in their children's education, including attending school meetings and volunteering at school, children are more likely to get high grades, enjoy school, and participate in extracurricular activities.
Oh, the lessons of life I learned from my Dad!  The ways of the world, the practical business of living —he was always willing to explain, never too busy to answer my questions. I’m grateful for my Dad’s instruction.
I’m grateful, too, for his discipline. Recent studies reveal that children without responsible fathers not only perform poorly in school, but are more likely to experience poverty, engage in criminal activity, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
  When I was in my teens I used to think my father was very strict. I envied some of my friends who seemed to enjoy a greater freedom than I. As the years passed, I became more and more grateful that my Dad was strict with me, that he was concerned about where I went and what I did, and that he loved me enough to scold me when I needed it.
I never have forgotten what the head of the Juvenile Aid Division of the Philadelphia Police Department told a group of us ministers at a briefing for clergy I attended many years ago.  He said in the thousands of cases that had been handled since the division was formed, there had not been a single case where the parents had to be told they had over-disciplined their child. I’m not talking about child abuse; I’m talking about parental discipline.
It is good when discipline is thoroughly ingrained, but it can sometimes have amusing consequences. You have probably heard about the army officer was using a computer to predict the probability of World War III. After he had fed in the last bit of data, the answer appeared on the screen in less than a second.  “Yes.”  “Yes what?” typed in the confused officer. The reply was instant: “Yes, Sir!”
It is important to remember that a father’s discipline is a good indicator of a father’s love, and that is something else for which those of us who experienced it can be grateful. Certainly a mother’s love is pure and strong and sacrificial and selfless, and it is revealed in beautiful and wonderful ways. But there is something very special, too, about a father’s love, a love that expresses the fondest hopes and dreams for his child, a love that displays a wholesome kind of pride in his own son or daughter, a love that shares the cares and anxieties, the griefs and woes, yes, and the joys, too, of his children. Studies have shown that teenagers who reported greater levels of intimacy with their fathers also showed higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression than other teens.
As a believer I can testify that love is strongest when it is shared in a God-centered home, that love is purest when it is submissive to the higher authority of a heavenly Father, that love is most beautiful when it reflects God’s love. In the interest of inclusive language some will object to my speaking of God as Father. I object to their objection!  In making a gender issue out of the language about God, they have actually imposed a sexual distinction which is the rankest kind of anthropomorphism. God is neither male nor female. Their objection is also not biblical. We have no right to change the way Jesus spoke to or about God. To substitute parent for Father does not solve the problem at all. It only compounds the problem. God is not our parent.
Others object to referring to God as Father because of all the people in the world for whom the word “father” evokes a negative, even an angry response, because of their real or imagined unwholesome experience of their own father.  They're quick to say, “If God is like my father, I want no part of him!”
It is true that there are many unworthy fathers in the world, and there are far too many absentee fathers. Millions of children have no contact with their father whatsoever. But is it wrong to speak of God as Father to those children? Not at all!  Rather we should hold God up to them as a Father who is always with them even though they can’t see him, a heavenly Father who knows them by name, who loves them, cares for them, understands them, listens to them, is always there for them.
To say we shouldn’t speak of God as a heavenly Father to someone who had an abusive earthly father is a faulty argument. We don’t liken God’s fatherhood to that of us earthly fathers.  Rather we seek to shape our earthly fatherhood according to the image of our heavenly Father.  We know what God’s fatherhood is like because we know his Son, who has taught us what God is like. He has shown us by his perfect trust and obedience what a true father/son relationship should be.  
So we believers celebrate Father’s Day because we are grateful for our heavenly Father, as well as for our earthly fathers. Though we earthly fathers can and do fail, God has never failed us, and never will fail us. God is the perfect Father, a Father who provides, instructs, disciplines, and loves.
It is fitting for us to pay tribute to all fathers and surrogate fathers on this special day. But in so doing, let’s not forget our heavenly Father. Let us try to make this a happy Father’s Day for him, too, by being sincerely grateful for all that he is, and by showing our gratitude in the way we live.

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