The Kind Of Father I Long To Be


On Father’s Day I stumbled on this post by John Piper describing the father of a missionary named John G. Paton. Piper introduces some brief sections of John Paton’s autobiography and shares some quotes from the book concerning his father.

Piper: “There was a “closet” where his father would go for prayer as a rule after each meal. The eleven children knew it and they reverenced the spot and learned something profound about God. The impact on John Paton was immense.”

Though everything else in religion were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, were blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up once again in that Sanctuary Closet, and, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt with the victorious appeal, “He walked with God, why may not I?” (Autobiography, p. 8)

How much my father’s prayers at this time impressed me I can never explain, nor could any stranger understand. When, on his knees and all of us kneeling around him in Family Worship, he poured out his whole soul with tears for the conversion of the Heathen world to the service of Jesus, and for every personal and domestic need, we all felt as if in the presence of the living Savior, and learned to know and love him as our Divine friend.” (Autobiography, p. 21)

Piper: “One scene best captures the depth of love between John and his father, and the power of the impact on John’s life of uncompromising courage and purity. The time came for the young Paton to leave home and go to Glasgow to attend divinity school and become a city missionary in his early twenties. From his hometown of Torthorwald to the train station at Kilmarnock was a 40-mile walk. Forty years later, Paton wrote,”

My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence – my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!”

Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him – gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I rounded the corner and out of sight in instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dike to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face toward home, and began to return – his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me. (pp. 25-26)

I'm light behind you
Photo Credit: Patrik Jones via Compfight

I have to admit that while I read these words I battled tears and lost. Something in this just wrecks me.

Earlier that day, my mom sent me a completely out of the blue text that said: “Happy advanced Father’s Day…you will be a good one someday.” Even when I read that text something lava-like swelled up in me–this burning desire to be a father like that. To be a dad who loves his children with an undeterred ferocity, who showers them with affection and models a love for Jesus that will undecidedly mark them, one way or another.

I long not only to be a father, but to be that kind of father.

The kind of father that hugs and kisses and says “I love you”. The kind that is emotionally present. The kind that through his marriage shows how a woman should be loved, adored and cherished. The kind that engages, leads, and speaks life into his family.

By now I’ve worked with enough people through Recovery to know the unthinkable wounds and voids that come from more-than-flawed or absentee fathers. I remember hearing Donald Miller speak once about having grown up without a father and, after his first experience sitting around a dinner table with a godly father leading his family, thought: “I missed out on that?” And then he said he wanted to crawl up in the fetal position and weep for hours.

I’ve seen what the failures of a father can cost someone. The world is hard enough as it is, so I desperately don’t want to add to the mess by sending my children off to college with billboard-like issues that I’ve regrettably bestowed upon them.

I think that desire is a really good thing, to be a father like the man described in those words. I pray that God will shape me to be a father like that.

But I’ve noticed that it goes too far in my heart, because I turn it into this unrealistic thing. I somehow think that I can actually be the perfect father–that I won’t screw up the way a lot of dads seem to. I know I’m a jacked up sinner, but when it comes to being a father, I so badly want to believe I will get that 100% right. No screwing it up. That I will succeed in every way that I’ve seen other fathers fail.

But I won’t. Of course.

Succeed in every way? How can I?

And when I come back to reality and sit under that inescapable truth, it scares the breath out of me. I rail against it, but then it defeats me again.

And then God gracefully reminds me that there is only one perfect Father, and that I am not and never will be Him. That is not a burden I am intended to bear.

I realize that as much as I will love my children, I am a stand-in. He is the truest lover and creator of their souls.

As He’s walked with and been a father to me, He’ll do the same for them.

I remember that He’ll cover their temper tantrums and rebellion with grace and that, like the Father of the prodigal son, He’ll run after them.

If (when) I screw up, He’ll give them grace to forgive me.

If (when) I hurt them, He’ll be there to heal.

He will be the perfect Father that their souls long for, and by God’s grace I hope to not be a distraction, but a faithful stand-in that points them to the highest and truest Father.

I hope I can put my delusions of being a perfect father to rest and instead long to be that kind of father.

2 thoughts on “The Kind Of Father I Long To Be”

  1. I came downstairs and read this literally right after going into each of my children’s rooms and praying over each of them as they lay sleeping–all the while feeling broken as a mom.  You’re so right, Brandon–being a perfect parent isn’t any kind of a real thing.  Not even kind of.  And for those desiring to leave a rich legacy of faith, hungry for the next generations to know and love God, and desperate to show the love of Jesus to the little ones running around their legs, I believe there is a great measure of attack that comes against such efforts.  I’ve seen too much to believe otherwise.  How else can the same mom who purposefully and intentionally fights for her children on her knees feel like such a failure as a mom by lunchtime that same day? 

    Brandon, I believe you and Kristi will pour yourselves out for your children to see the one true God through your lives.  But because of it, expect a battle.  It is ON. Yet it is a battle that, though it wears the heck out of me, is SO worth fighting!!!  I pray right now for you and Kristi to pass down the most magnificent truth to the children you have yet to meet.  May God strengthen your hands to serve them, love them, and bring them up to walk in His ways.  Blessings, Brandon–and thank you for this beautiful post.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top