Many problems in our society will be solved when young men are willing to become good fathers. Of course, they can do this only if they have an example to follow. As fathers, we need to be the strongest role models for children, especially for our sons.
I loved my father. He had a tremendous sense of humor, but he also was strict and set boundaries that I didn't always appreciate at the time. I always knew he loved me. Once when I was eight or nine, I angered him so much that he threatened to punish me. I looked up at him and, before I knew what I was doing, blurted out, "Papa, I'm really sorry. Do what you have to do--but I know you still love me." To my astonishment, he leaned down, put his arms around me, and said with a tenderness that came from the bottom of his heart: "Christoph, I forgive you."
Like many fathers today, my father's work sometimes kept him away from home for long stretches. I remember as a five-year-old, if I refused to obey, all my mother needed to do was to show me his picture. "Your Papa wouldn't like it," she'd tell me, and I'd give in.
I felt very secure just being with my father. As a small boy I decided I wanted to be like him when I grew up. This relationship held me through hard times, even after his death. Now I want to pass this on to my children, grandchildren, and to all of you.
Fathers, if you love your wife and if you love your children, give them your time. Spending time together will give your family inner and emotional security. This is much more important than financial security. The Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral writes, "Many things can wait. Children cannot ... To them we cannot say 'tomorrow.' Their name is today."
The love we show our children by giving them our time and attention can hold them in good stead even years down the road. As Dostoevsky reminds us in The Brothers Karamazov, "You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home ... For if a man has only one good memory left in his heart, even that may keep him from evil."
To be a father is to fulfill a noble vocation. But fatherhood is not for everyone: It is not for cowards or for those who are unsure of themselves. Once we become fathers, we remain fathers until we die. A true father must be a leader--a captain who guides his family's ship through perilous waters to safe shores, a general who rallies his troops to take on the daily battles.
On the other hand, a father should also model love and compassion. Jesus was not afraid to compare himself to a hen gathering her chicks. He also wept. These qualities belong to true manhood, and a true father will seek to embody them.
Finally, I believe even the best intentioned fathers will not be able to fulfill their task without finding a firm faith in God. When they do, our families and the entire country will be strengthened, because strong families form the backbone of our nation.
Johann Christoph Arnold is a pastor and author of 10 books, which are available at www.plough.com.