Modern society makes it difficult for fathers to lead their families. What is the key to success?
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"I guess dear old Dad will have to be the big provider!” announced Carol Brady, the mother in the classic stepfamily television series The Brady Bunch, during a family fishing expedition. The six children’s hopes for a fish fry were slipping away as everyone, including dad, came up short. In the end, the family had to settle for a picnic lunch, but their sense of togetherness was unmistakable.
It is significant how this 1960s pop culture series was conceived.
While reading the Los Angeles Times, the show’s creator formed the concept. The article he read stated, “In the year 1965, more than 29 percent of all marriages included a child or children from a previous marriage.” This was much different than the average family, which then consisted of the original father and mother and multiple children. As a result, “A new kind of TV family” was born. One “that America was not only ready for, but maybe even needed,” the creator would later write.
Mike, the husband and father in the series, did his best to make his new, blended family work. He endeavored to be a good leader of his family and create a wholesome, nurturing environment.
Today’s dads and husbands can relate. Despite the many challenges of modern life, most men remain committed to the task of properly leading their families.
Though deadbeat dads and other negative examples often steal the spotlight, there are many more men who, like the archetypal Mike Brady, strive to fulfill their family responsibilities.
But the rigors of competing needs take their toll. Men are increasingly finding it difficult to supervise, prioritize and categorize all the demands on their time and attention.
The American Psychological Association noted a change in what is expected of fathers: “In tandem with the growing autonomy of women, related trends such as declining fertility, increasing rates of divorce and remarriage, and childbirth outside of marriage have resulted in a transition from traditional to multiple undefined roles for many fathers. Today’s fathers have started to take on roles vastly different from fathers of previous generations.”
This disparity has led to a gap in expectations.
Dr. William F. Harley, author and secular authority on marital relations, detailed this disparity in a men’s magazine: “Each day I am confronted by women who are extremely frustrated with their marriages. They usually express no hope that their husbands will ever understand what it is that frustrates them, let alone change enough to solve the problem…When I talk to their husbands, they usually have a very different explanation as to why their wives feel the way they do. They often feel that the expectations of women in general, and their wives in particular, have grown completely out of reach.”
Dr. Harley surmises, “Very few men, these days, feel that they have learned to become the husbands that their wives have wanted, and the job seems to be getting more and more difficult.”
Surrounded by an ever-changing society, the need for men to find answers about the modern husband’s responsibility has never been greater.
But all is not lost. The desire to change is key. Combine this with a proven pattern of what to do and success is all but guaranteed. Despite what can seem like insurmountable odds, husbands and fathers can succeed.
Men often look toward their own experiences growing up, advice from confidants, or images in the media as role models. These, along with personality types and individual strengths and weaknesses, can shape a man’s paternal style.
Examining the typical personas or actions men can embody—and seeing which may apply to you as a husband—is a great first step to improving your role in the family. Note that some of these examples can be positive in certain settings and in certain doses, but all are problematic in the extreme.
Without a guiding hand, men are usually left to figure things out on their own. They must cobble together their own version of manhood, affecting the type of husband and father they become. Though sincere, they can find themselves trapped in these and other stereotypes, which all fall somewhere within extremes—some between overbearing and feeble, others between selfish and self-effacing.
The best approach is one that is balanced. The most balanced individual to ever walk the Earth was Jesus Christ.
Peter, a first-century apostle and eyewitness to this flawless model, wrote to all who would follow, “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21). Mankind is to follow Jesus Christ’s “example.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible underscores that an example is “a copy for imitation.”
Jesus Christ is the ideal example husbands should strive to imitate.
Even though Jesus never married during His physical life, He was a leader and teacher. He also cared deeply about people’s problems—physical and spiritual. He expressed compassion by healing the sick and feeding the hungry, and was interested in the details of people’s lives. He inspired them to become more than they thought they could become.
These are all characteristics that lead to success as a husband and a father. But there is more.
Christ “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). These verses clearly show that, though He was God, Christ was willing to take on the form of a man and thus become a servant to the very beings He created. If God was willing to humble Himself, what excuse do mortal men have!
Christ’s entire life was an example of selfless service, even unto death.
But Jesus was not just “in touch with His emotions.” He represented manhood in its truest form. Putting verses together, it is clear that Christ was a “man’s man.” We see that He was a carpenter—a skilled yet rugged trade in His day. Growing up, He no doubt spent many hours under the burning Middle East sun helping His stepfather Joseph. He also displayed strength in His ability to fast for 40 days and nights and turn over tables and other items in the Temple (Matt. 4:2; 21:12). This image is much to the contrary of a soft, effeminate Jesus.
Comparing husbands to Christ, however, is not merely a matter of inference. The Bible makes direct statements about how a husband is to emulate Christ in his relationship to his family. These statements should be seen as commands—not mere suggestions.
Notice: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Jesus dedicated His life to the Church, displaying patience and forgiveness. In the end, He died for it.
Men, like Christ, have been given tremendous authority in the home: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the savior of the body” (vs. 23). Just as Christ heads or leads the Church, the man has been appointed as the leader in a marriage.
However, to truly emulate Christ’s high standard, men should not fly away with this authority. It was not given to satisfy himself, but to use for his family’s ultimate benefit.
The passage continues by stating that Christ would “sanctify and cleanse” the Church “with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church…without blemish” (vs. 26-27). Christ inspires and encourages His Church in order for “her” to improve. Likewise, men should “love their wives as their own bodies,” and a man properly “nourishes and cherishes” her “even as the Lord the church” (vs. 28-29).
What a crystal-clear example of the role of a husband!
While the modern role of men seems to be complex and confusing, God’s intention has always been to bring simplicity to their task.
Consider four main areas, based on Christ’s example, that encompass a husband’s responsibility:
Men are naturally adventurous and daring. They tend to think long-range and are willing to take risks to achieve their goals. Men also have larger body frames, are more muscular, and have deeper voices. This establishes them as protectors of the home and family. Wives admire their husband’s ability to carry heavy furniture, change a flat tire, or dig a hole in the backyard to plant a tree.
Women can do these things as well. However, having the man primarily perform these physical activities is ideal.
The strength element of manhood brings up an important point. Peter encouraged husbands to give “honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (I Pet. 3:7). The Greek word for “weaker” means “fragile” or “delicate.” Understand. This does not mean a woman is weak. Rather, she is more fragile or delicate compared to her husband. This can be physically as well as emotionally.
Delicate also implies that the man should handle his wife with care. His tone of voice and behavior should never come across as if he is speaking down to her or to another man. For example, if he is busy with a task, he can either bellow, “I am busy right now, leave me alone!” or say, “Honey, I will be with you in a moment.” The difference is obvious.
Fathers should of course lead their children as well. Proverbs states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (22:6). This training requires knowledge, discipline and direction. Fathers have a tremendous responsibility to direct their children to success.
Understand that true leadership does not mean you have all the answers. The best leaders are those that can take sound advice into consideration and apply it when necessary. Realize that a wife can be a husband’s greatest counselor if the man allows her to be.
A man is to cherish his wife. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament states that this word means to “cherish with tender love, to foster with tender care.” Proverbs states, “Whoso finds a wife finds a good thing” (18:22), and adds, “Who can find a virtuous [able, efficient] woman? For her price is far above rubies” (31:10). If a man has a wife, he has received a precious gift from God. Men should treat their wives special without going overboard by idolizing them.
Promote an atmosphere of appreciation regularly. Display affection toward your wife—hold her hand while you stroll through a park or embrace her and tell her she is very important to you.
Show your wife that you appreciate her. Consider surprising her by preparing a special dinner or, if your budget allows, take her out to her favorite restaurant. Think about helpful ways to lighten her load.
Offer to wash and dry the clothes on your days off, or help vacuum and clean the house. Make a habit of making the bed in the mornings and picking up your own dirty laundry. Helping her shows that you do not take her for granted.
Do not forget the little things that say she matters to you. Occasionally buy her flowers or write her a note that says you care.
Also, the way each spouse perceives expressed love might differ. You might expect her to verbalize her love to you, whereas your wife feels she expresses her love to you when she prepares your favorite meals. Learn to accept and appreciate the way she loves you.
Fathers must love and cherish their children as well. Spend time with them. Pick them up when they are down. Often the best feeling in the world for children is to know that their dads stand behind and support them even when things are not going well.
A man is to provide for and to protect his family. In trying to accomplish this, however, many become overly focused on their work—becoming workaholics. A man’s responsibility is more than just making money. He must also help those under his care to thrive physically and emotionally.
The book of Proverbs states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (29:18). A man must provide a vision for his family or they will not prosper. He sets the pace and the direction his family will go. Then he creates an environment where they can grow to fulfill that dream.
Again, concerning children, fathers are to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Strive to strike a balance between nurturing and correcting your children. Too much of either can negatively affect a child.
Inspiration: An additional responsibility of a husband is to help his wife fulfill her potential. He should get to know her strengths and abilities, and take an interest in her hobbies and the things she is passionate about. Motivate and inspire her to develop her talents and, where possible, help her to realize her dreams. For instance, if she enjoys tennis or another sport, allow some flexibility in the budget for her to buy the equipment she needs. Till the ground and prepare the soil for the vegetable garden she always wanted to start. In other words, do all you can to encourage her to stretch beyond what she may think is possible.
Likewise, right words of encouragement at the right time have the potential to be etched into a child’s mind for the rest of his or her life. Your involvement in the lives of your children will be a pillar of strength as they grow older.
Inspiration works both ways. Fathers and husbands also need encouragement from time to time. Make this easier for your spouse by including her in your decisions. Ask for her opinion when facing a difficult decision at work or even with simpler matters such as deciding which tie to wear for an upcoming meeting. Listen to and incorporate her feedback. Sharing your joys and successes, as well as your fears and failures, not only inspires your wife but also binds you closer together.
The success of a marriage and family is inseparable from the role of the husband. Not only are the husbands that fulfill their role happier, their wives and children rejoice too. A husband who strives to grow in character—discerning right from wrong and doing the right thing against resistance—is an anchor of stability. His good example is worth emulating.
These benefits, however, reach beyond the family—the smallest building block of society. In a fast-pace, ever-changing society, a man who understands his role and purpose will stand out. He adds value to his employer’s business, and his neighbors appreciate and profit from his example.
A husband’s positive example can stretch even further. The special relationship a father shares with his children reflects the relationship God the Father desires with mankind. Children’s obedience to the spiritual Father will be greatly enhanced if they see a strong yet loving and caring physical father.
“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22). Although this verse mainly refers to leaving a monetary or physical inheritance, the principle has an overarching application. A proper husband and father impacts generations to follow.
To learn more about how to be a proper husband and father, read the booklet You Can Build a Happy Marriage and the book Train Your Children God’s Way, both written by editor-in-chief of this magazine, David C. Pack.
Determine to become a more effective husband and father—and see how your family can prosper!