Moms try and force feed Purity into the mouth of a screaming toddler, dads land helicopters full of life-saving nutrients on the tongue of their child. Moms have ‘bath time’, dads have epic sea battles in which their children are fired with soap suds and bombed with shampoo. Moms are “so intense”, dads are “so chilled” (read: distracted), moms “make me go to bed”, dads “let me watch anything” (read: still distracted). Dads should hold a special place in the minds of society but all too often they are just the comics and jokers, or merely the workers and decision makers. Far too often they don’t occupy the critical space that they should… so how do we fix this?
Possibly having a look at the interaction between Samuel and Eli may shed some light on the matter. As a young boy, the prophet Samuel lived apart from his parents. In a life-changing moment, an old man, Eli, provided Samuel with the wisdom and sense of perspective that the young boy needed. Eli was a father to two other boys, the Bible mentions that he was a poor father, who had not raised upstanding sons but in this moment, he plays the crucial role of dad in the life of this young boy. Samuel has a dream, a dream that would scare the daylights out of any 9-year-old, he hears audible voices. When he climbs out of bed to find out why Eli (the only other person in the house) is calling him, he discovers that Eli hasn’t called him. This happens a few times until Eli’s wisdom and experience kick in and he instructs the young boy to wait and listen because it is God who is speaking to him. Once he has heard from God, Eli says to Samuel to obey any instruction God has given him. This story highlights a couple of things:
We all need a dad in our lives
Dads provide a sense of safety, a sense that all is going to be OK. We feel as though risks are worth being taken, because dad says they are. We feel as though catastrophes are manageable because dad offers solutions. When our most deeply-hidden insecurity is revealed for all to see, dad pulls us towards himself and assures us that we are not as broken as we believe we are. This role is a critical role to be played out in everyone’s life, but not everyone is blessed to have a biological dad who can play this role.
Whether it be because of age, geography or pain, many of us have to look elsewhere for this dad. Samuel had to! He turns to someone who has walked the paths of life already. Now Eli, may not appear to be a prime candidate for a dad – he had failed with his two already. But, to be a dad, one doesn’t need to be perfect, just available. Eli happened to be old, but dads don’t need to be old to occupy that role. One of my most father-son like relationships in the professional world was with a fellow only a few years older than I. He shared two traits with Eli, firstly, he was available and secondly, deeply interested in me and my well-being. While I have a dad with whom I have a solid relationship, this more mature, wiser and more experienced colleague took me, the novice, under his wing and guided and protected me in my first few years of work. We all need dads!
Dads need to be dads in people’s lives
Eli was a prophet of notoriety in Israel in his day and yet receives no mention in the Bible other than for his role in Samuel’s life. In fact, the writer of the story even insists on mentioning his failings as a prophet and a father. But, for all its failings, Eli’s life seems to gain an eternal significance when he (finally) plays the role of dad in the life of his ‘surrogate son’, Samuel. God has put a key in the DNA of every man, a key that has the ability to secure, a key that can unlock. The greatest tragedy is that many of us men live our lives in the same way that Eli lived the majority of his – not having the courage to ever really use our key in the lives of others.
Let us begin to recreate the critical role of dads within our society
- Look for a guy who has walked the road that you are walking and begin to develop a relationship with him. Value the input he has in your life.
- As guys, look around for those who need guidance and security and become intentional in using your God-given key in their lives.
- Dads of young kids – get the basics right. Love your children’s mom, show them what God means to you and be patient.
- Dads of older kids – let them always know how much you love them and keep to your word. Never rest in building the depth of your relationship with them – your dad in heaven hasn’t with you!