In order to discuss faithfulness with any degree of meaning, we must begin with a definition of the term. The meaning (or meanings!) we ascribe to the word “faithful” will determine the way we talk and think about it, and consequently, the way we model it for our children. We’ll talk about what it means to be faithful, what we mean when we use the term, and the implications of each definition on the way we parent and live.
The first definition of faithfulness I’ll discuss is perhaps the most direct: ”full of faith.” This definition has is no longer commonly used, but I feel that it is illuminating to break the word down into its pieces and examine its literal, original meaning. I won’t restrict my discussion of faith in this article to a particular religious creed. Much like “faithfulness,” the word “faith” can be interpreted in more than one way; it can mean a strongly-held belief, even in the absence of empirical proof, or it can mean trust or confidence in something or someone.
Let’s talk about the second meaning: faith in terms of trust. I’ve stated in a previous article that I believe relationships are one of the most, if not the most, important and necessary component of the human existence. To a large degree, our capacity for forming relationships is what makes us human. Furthermore, deep relationships are deep precisely because the individuals involved trust each other, and the degree of trust corresponds directly to the depth of the relationship. Trust is what allows us to be ourselves without fear of abuse and injury. Trust is what enables us to function as groups, with designated roles and responsibilities…in this way, trust makes families possible. In the role of a father, we must have a great deal of faith in others. The job of raising children is not one that should be undertaken alone, if at all possible. The saying that it takes a village to raise a child is a true one, and many times, good parenting means not trying to do everything by one’s self. We trust in God to provide resources, both physical and otherwise (this is where the first definition of the word “faith” comes in!). If we are blessed with spouses, we trust in them to care for the children and meet various needs in the home. Depending on our family structures, we may rely on relatives or friends to serve in other capacities. The business of parenthood is a continual exercise in faith; when we define “faithful” as “full of faith,” the word has far-reaching implications.
This talk of trust leads into another, more popular usage of the word “faithful”: trustworthy. When used this way, “faithful” really means “deserving of the faith of others.” As dads, we are stewards of a large quantity of trust, of faith, both from our children and from their mothers. We are also vested with authority and responsibility from God, a divine trust which defines the role of father. Just as we trust in others to aid us in raising our kids, the members of our families look to us to meet many needs. The mantle of fatherhood involves wearing not just one hat, but a whole collection of hats. If we aspire to be good and effective fathers, we must perform these duties well, even when life requires more of us than we think we can give.
With these ideas in mind, we move on to a third definition of the word “faithful”: steadfast. Parenting is a lifelong road. From our babies’ first cries to the last breaths we take on this earth, Dad is who we are. I do not have to tell any of the fathers reading this that the life of a dad is bursting with challenges, from the first day to the last. It is far from easy, especially if we aspire to do it well. That is why it requires undying perseverance. Fatherhood is one of life’s greatest and purest callings, and it carries with it a weighty cost. To be a father is to sacrifice one’s life, in 3:00 AM feedings, grueling work-weeks, weekend activities, college tuition, or if necessary, even dying to save one’s own child. Meeting this challenge is not a job for the weak or faltering. It is not the domain of the selfish or the lazy. Parenthood requires incredible resolve and commitment. For this reason, a father must be faithful.
I want to wrap up by revisiting the point…the point of this article, the point of this website, and the point of fatherhood as a whole. The traits we discuss in this blog are an essential part of the way we think about fatherhood. This isn’t just because they describe what we ought to be as dads, though they do, and it’s not just because they describe what we want our kids to be like, though they do that as well. What makes these 52 characteristics worth analyzing in such depth is the fact that they open the doors for success, fulfillment, and wholeness, both in our own lives and in the lives of our children. Of course it’s reasonable to want healthy, happy lives for ourselves, but the bottom line is that as fathers, we desire the absolute best for our kids. We can’t accomplish this by simply handing them everything they want or need, in a material sense or even in an emotional sense. As parents, we are teachers, in the most intense and complete sense of the word. We don’t just educate our children in an academic content area…we teach them the skills, perspectives, and behaviors they will need to handle all of life! Thomas Carruthers said this: “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” As life-teachers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our children “graduate” with everything they need, and that they can get by (even excel!) without us. The best way for us to pass on all this information, all these core traits, is by example. There are certainly ways to push the envelope and set up teaching experiences for each concept, but ultimately, our kids absorb what they observe in us, whether good or bad. That’s why it’s so important that we understand precisely what it is we want to convey, and that we carefully and consistently show it in our own lives.
I say all that to say this: faithfulness is critical. Faithfulness is one of the traits that we stress at GetConnectDad, and for good reason…it is a highly commendable characteristic. But the real reason we push faithfulness is not for its own sake; it is the key to putting every other trait into practice and on display for our children. Faithfulness is a goal, but it is also a means by which we can communicate, on a fundamental level, everything we want our kids to learn. A father who is faithful in his quest to embody fundamental principles of personal virtue and strength is a father who has done his job well. Obviously, representing these concepts perfectly is beyond our means, but fortunately, a flawless track record is not necessary. Perfection is not nearly as important as persistence. The more effort we invest in this pursuit, the more results we will see in our kids. Be faithful.