Planning for the Dads

I’m leading worship on Father’s Day for the first time in years…for the last five, it was almost always during the youth group mission trip, and my ministerial duties for the day normally involved 40 teenagers, 12 parents, and a long, long, long bus ride. I’d try to remember to leave cards behind for my husband and my Dad and my Grandpas. Sometimes a teenager would grab the bus microphone and wish their chaperone-dad a happy father’s day.

But I’ve not had to lead worship, or plan worship, on Father’s Day.

I put a lot of thought into Mother’s Day. How to acknowledge what I think of as a more secular celebration in a way that is appropriate for worship, and doesn’t take over the whole worship service. How to do so and be sensitive to all the pain that can come along with mother-child relationships and longings. How not to be bitter that I have to get up really early and work hard on Mother’s Day anyway. How to remind people of the ways that mothers and mothering mirrors God, and leave room for those who are perfectly comfortable with the idea of “God as Mother” and those who are  a little more traditional in their language (because I normally find myself in churches that are rather “Big Tent” on gendered language for God…and, honestly, I like living in that big tent myself: I can see arguments both ways on this one).

So it feels unfair to just dash off a quick Father’s Day litany without thinking long and hard and being careful like I am with Mother’s Day.

Here are the questions knocking around in my brain:

So many of the issues are the same, right? Relationships that aren’t perfect; desires for fatherhood that remain unfulfilled, or are fulfilled in ways that were unexpected; people who have stepped in to father us; unrealistic or unhealthy societal expectations about fatherhood…

And then, of course, there are the good things. You wouldn’t want to focus on the tough stuff so much that you deny those who have fathers who were wonderful models of God’s love for their children. What is it like to remind people that best qualities of a father, and for many of us, thankfully, our own father’s, were blessing from God, and glimpses of God’s love?

It sounds so different to write a prayer to a “mothering God” on Mother’s Day, turns the normal phrases over so that we see God differently. How do we do the same when saying “Father God” is something we hear all the time? How do we help congregations see God’s role as Father in a new way?

How do we find ways in worship to help people who had such negative connotations with “father” that it may have lead to their resistance to that traditional terminology of God as Father?

And, if our church did celebrate Mother’s Day, it only seems right to make sure to celebrate Father’s Day in a similar fashion. Even if it’s easier to let this one go, if seems just as important to acknowledge fathers as mothers, right?

I’d love to hear some other thoughts on this, I’d love some resources shared. Anybody? What do you think? Where would you go with this? What does your church do? What works and what doesn’t?

4 Responses to “Planning for the Dads”

  1. Bonny Says:

    Hi Erika,
    I’ve been thinking about your blog, and don’t have answers for you but observations. We have so many children who come through our doors who either don’t have dads in their lives, have part-time dads, or have uninvolved dads. There are a few really good role models — dads who are fully investing themselves and being dads, and it shows in their boys and girls.

    My observation is that I don’t think a lot of men know how to be a good dad. Many were raised with no or few good role models, so they’ve imitated the bad behavior they saw. I think they all start out wanting to be a really great dad, to be better than their dads were, but when it gets tough, they don’t know what to do next. I don’t think fathering comes as “naturally” as mothering, and it’s not as common for men to ask one another how to deal with parenting challenges as it is for moms to have such discussions.

    So inasmuch as we as women can try to live in to the dads’ experiences — diverse as they are — that may be the tactic. Acknowledging that it’s tough to figure out how best to be a dad with all of the challenges — maybe getting the kids every other week-end and being the “vacation” dad, or working so much of the time that they don’t have much energy left, or feeling the obligation to be a disciplinarian more than the nurturer. So the prayers can be to ask God to forgive us for our failures, and help us to look to our heavenly father for the example of how to love unconditionally.

    I don’t know if that makes sense. I just talk with and observe so many dads not really knowing how to relate to their kids. My daughter is a single mom with a minimal-time dad for her son. As much as I feel angry with him much of the time for not calling or spending enough time with my grandson, I really felt bad (and privately wept for him) when my daughter told me that he cried when his son didn’t want to go with him for the week-end. His own dad was a playboy jerk, so he just doesn’t know how to do it! Their “quality time” is playing video games together. So my daughter sometimes sets up scenarios for them, like packing a picnic lunch for them, suggesting they go to the batting cage, etc.

    Just my two cents worth. Too often I stand back in judgment on deadbeat dads, but I truly believe there are some strong generational curses coming in to play. The dads who are doing well deserve a lot of encouragement. They are raising their kids to be better dads (and moms) because of their positive modeling.


  2. Erica Says:

    Bonny, that’s EXACTLY the stuff I was hoping to hear. I think this is somewhat true even in settings where there are involving Dads. We have such screwed up societal ideas about being a dad. It’s pretty heartbreaking, I agree. I will never forget, when I taught in an urban school, the exact moment when I realized that most of my 16 year old male students were also saddled with the role of being the only responsible man in the lives of little brothers and cousins and nephews. And I will never forget some of the equally heart-rending moments when I saw wealthy suburban kids and dads struggling to figure out how this ought to work, too.

  3. Jim Says:

    I recall something I read once: “Anyone can be a father, but only a special person can be a dad.” Similar to what I told one of our kids once, when they decided to call me “Jim” – I said, “You know, there are hundreds of people who get to call me ‘Jim’, but only two who get to call me ‘Dad’.”

    So – a DAD is (or should be):

    Strong enough to protect you

    Wise enough to know when you shouldn’t be protected

    Caring enough to shut up and listen

    Loving enough to cherish you when you aren’t, quite frankly, very lovable

    Sensitive enough to cry with you when you’re hurting

    Brave enough to let you go

    Secure enough to cry tears of joy when you come home

    Humble enough to laugh at himself

    Honest enough to apologize to his children when he’s wrong

    And . . . no matter how old you are, how established you are, how many years you’ve been married or on your own, how many children you have, how much prestige you have, where you live, how rich you are, the place where Dad and Mom live is always where you consider HOME.

  4. susan Says:

    I don’t know much about this, but I’m recalling Alex’s sermon on Fidelia’s (it as an Advent sermon) that dealt with Joseph taking on the role of fathering even though the child wasn’t “his” and I wonder about a sermon or a prayer that focuses on those that choose to care for children (via sunday school, youth group, scouts, sports, etc.) regardless of kinship.