I can’t think of any better time to get back to discussing Douglas Wilson’s treatment of masculinity and parenting in Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families. Can you? 🙂 I’ve also noticed that my review copy is about 10pgs off the pagination of the regular copies. Hopefully since we’re going chapter by chapter, you can figure out where I am. We’ll currently be reviewing chapter 3 “A Culture of Absenteeism.”
Wilson begins this chapter by noting that we live in fatherless times. He quotes David Blankenhorn who states that “Fatherlessness is now approaching a rough parity with fatherhood as a defining feature of American childhood” (29). The obvious expression of this is in single-mother homes, but it can also exist practically within households that still have both parents. “If fathers are on the premises, but don’t know what is expected of them, we have another kind of fatherlesness,” writes Wilson (30).
And it is true that lots of dads today don’t have an active role in the leading of their families. Many dads are checked out all the way, coming home after work to semi-permanent spot in front of the television or computer. This has as much of an alienating effect as not being there, and a generation of children growing up in these conditions will feel as if they have turned against their fathers, or rather, as if their fathers have turned against them.
This is where the gospel enters in, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers… (Mal. 4:5-6)” This “day of the LORD” came in the advent of the messiah, Jesus Christ, and so part of the gospel is to reunite fathers with their children. Wilson denies that this happens on a personal one-to-one basis as each man becomes a Christian, but he still maintains it is a general and gradually increasing feature of world-evangelization (32-33).
A big part of fatherhood is authority, and learning to be a father is all about learning how to wield authority. This is where Wilson raises some folks’ hackles, but in Father Hunger he is clear on how authority works. There is “an authority of office,” he says, and it is “an authority that Scripture recognizes and supports, even when the office0holder is clearly not up to the task” (34, 35). But this authority is not ultimate. You have to have “spiritual authority,” the authority that comes from love and service– “the kind of authority that flowers when there has been death and resurrection”– in order for the authority of office to be successful (34). Wilson explains this using the analogy of a checkbook:
The authority of office is like having the right checkbook with you. That is your name in the upper left-hand corner. It is your address, your account number. You are the authorized signatory on the account. The other kind of authority is like having money in the bank. If a man is bouncing checks left and right, it will do no good for him to complain that he still has checks left. I have seen many fathers who tried to write a big check that their children would clear for them, and they demanded that their children do this because they could prove (from the Bible) that it was their checkbook. I have been in counseling sessions trying to explain to a hapless father that his account had insufficient funds, with him trying to explain to me that he had read one of my books that taught that he, the father, was the owner of the checkbook. Both these assertions are quite true but they are assertions about two completely different things. (35-36)
All fathers have checks, but not all fathers have funds in the account. And you only get the funds by having the spiritual authority. Your children have to know that you love them and have sacrificed for them. Fathers can only get this by imitating God in Christ (41). God has true authority over us, but rather than just commanding us, He shows us His love by giving Himself and to His own loss. He suffers and dies for us, and it is only after that that we can truly obey and please Him.
Fathers have to die for their families. Then they can cash those checks of authority.