Being Dad is the first “parenting” book I’ve ever read – so while I have no experience to say this from I feel like it is the most unconventional parenting book I’ll ever read. It’s not big on how-to’s, lists, to-do’s or imperatives. Instead it focuses on encouraging fathers that they have a role beyond being a hammer of discipline, the dispatcher of justice. Father’s are a “obscure voice of empathy” that offers grace, peace, and freedom to their children.
This view of the author, Dr. Scott Keith, is fueled by his training as a Lutheran theologian. Lutherans more than any other tradition, in my experience, focus on the distinction between Law and Gospel. The Law does not save – it accuses, it points to our failures, it shows us our need for Gospel but it is not Gospel. And humans are hardwired for Law, and even if you reject God’s Law it will be replaced with something even harsher.
Dr. Keith grew up without a father – he died when Dr. Keith was only two years old – and so we was raised by his mother, grandmother and an “emotionally-distant” grandfather. The void left by the absence of his father’s presence, and the insufficiency of replacements, shaped Keith’s life – he wanted to be what he never had – a dad. The statistics Keith rattles off for why the presence of a father is so important is both impressive and harrowing. The majority of youth-suicides occur in fatherless homes, most runaways are also from homes with no father present. Growing up in a home without a father has a child twenty times more likely to develop behavior disorders – and a mind blowing 80 percent of convicted rapists were raised in homes without a father.
Fathers also have a profound effect on a child’s faith – a father’s regular practice of religion is, statistically, the primary driving force behind whether his children will continue in the faith when they’ve grown. We learn from our fathers what is at the center of the universe – if church is the focal point of his week, it will continue to be ours. If football or sports practice or brunch trumps church – we’ll learn that as well. Kids are not dumb – my son already knows the absolute magical power contained within a Playstation controller or a smartphone even if he has no clue how to operate them – he recognizes them as objects of power that he wants. Once he has ahold of these talismans it doesn’t matter how much you try to tell him that his baby phone or fake controller are what he wants – he knows the real deal. Likewise, children can tell from the action and example their fathers set what’s truly important in this world. If football, baseball, pub trivia or astronomy meetings become the center of the father’s week, what his universe revolves around, then it won’t matter what he pays lip service to, they’ll recognize what truly holds power in their father’s life.
Dr. Keith encourages us to view fatherhood as a vocation, it’s an apologetic task and an ethical duty. Being a good father means we are serving God via stewardship of his creation. He asserts that our family are our closest neighbors, and through what we think is rote we can bring God’s Word of Life into our homes.