Words Every Father Needs to Say

Father. It’s a weighty word for me. Like stained glass, the image it brings to mind is a mosaic of different colored fragments. Some are beautiful. Some full of tension.

Strength. Sometimes gentle strength, sometimes raw and frightening. Provision. Authority. Protection. A disciplinary look or word. A few spankings. Many more cuddling hugs. And then a big gap, missing spaces, leaving a picture less than half formed.

My personal father story is fragmented. I’m adopted. I know only one fact about my birth father. He left my birth mom when he found out she was pregnant.

It was my adoptive father, Ken Schelske, who I experienced as “Dad.” He loved me, provided for me, disciplined me. Of course, it wasn’t just him. He did this along with Val, his wife, my mother. Honestly, she did most of the heavy lifting of raising me. But this reflection is about fathers, so no offense meant for my mom or other moms.

Ken was a good dad. At least I think he was. My memories of him are partly the spotty, hero-worship-tinged memories of a small boy, party the residue of stories I’ve repeatedly been told over the years. Story and memory are inextricably tangled.

Ken and Val wanted me badly. My adoption was one of those stories where God and circumstances compensated for the pain of infertility with an unexpected adoption. I know that I was profoundly loved, but life being what it is, I only got my dad for a while. He died in an accident when I was eleven. In so many ways, my life has been shaped by the deep and painful aftermath of that loss.

One thing I found while looking for fathers:

Growing up, I looked for relationships with older men. Camp counselors, bosses, mentors. I realize now that I was driven by the void my dad left.

I am a follower of Jesus and for twenty years now, a pastor. The stories of the Bible have shaped my mind and heart profoundly. One particular story always brings me to a tender place, full of ache. It’s a story that speaks to the loss of my father and to the long search my heart has made for father-figures. It also pointed me in the direction of my most important task as a father to my own children.

In the Gospel according to Mark, there’s an interesting scene. John the Baptist, a scraggly-haired teacher and prophet was down by the river, preaching. His message was classic street preacher: “Judgment is coming! Get right with God!” His invitation was for people to get baptized in the river, an act which symbolized starting over and being washed clean.

Jesus happened upon this scene and asked for John to baptize him. When Jesus came out of the water, something remarkable happened, something that has tugged deeply on my heart my whole life.

The scripture tells it like this: “He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You!’”

Jesus stands in the river with the river water running off him and he hears something life-changing. He hears God, the God he identifies as His father saying, “You are my beloved Son; I take delight in you.”

These are the words of a father’s blessing. They are also words that every child needs to hear from their father.

Thirty-five years after my dad’s death, I still ache to hear him say words like this. For years, I looked for men in my life to say words like these to me. And now, I know my most important task as a father is to plant these words deep in my children’s hearts, both through my words and my actions.

1. You are mine.

These words provide a sense of location. Every child wonders where they came from. Who is my father? What is my father like? Will I be like him? This is the seed of identity.

Telling your child that they are “yours” isn’t about ownership or control. If that’s what you mean, you’re doing it wrong. These words are about a profoundly rooted sense of belonging. They are not alone. They walk their path in life with a mentor.

Our kids will struggle with identity and belonging, as all kids do, but if their essential sense of identity is rooted in belonging spoken into their hearts, they will navigate those turbulent times so much better.

2. You are beloved.

Every child wonders if they are loved, but love is complicated. So often it is conditional. Most of us know the love and pride parents give when we obey or perform or accomplish. That feels nice, but it’s not the kind of love you can build an identity on.

That’s why I like the old word beloved. To know you are not just loved, but beloved… that is a love rooted in your identity. You are loved for you. Loved for existing. Loved for being exactly who you are.

Any child who knows they are beloved comes to life with a safety net. They can risk. They can try. They can fail. They can fall and get back up. They know that they are loved for who they are, not for what they do. This love creates freedom.

3. I delight in you.

To be loved is vital, but to be delighted in? That colors life with joy. When a father takes delight in his kids, it makes clear that the relationship isn’t a chore, or an obligation, or a burden. It’s a joy.

When you know that someone delights in you, that their eyes light up in your presence, that their heart lifts when they think about you, that delight gives you a gift. You are able to see past painful circumstances a little easier. You are more able to take criticism without letting it wipe you out. You are able to deal with the inevitable negative people you encounter more easily. Why? Because you know that the people who matter delight in you.

Give an Unconditional Blessing.

There’s one more part of the story in Mark’s gospel that’s interesting to me. The timing of these words matters. When Jesus heard these words, he hadn’t done one significant thing yet. He hadn’t preached. He hadn’t healed anyone. He hadn’t said any of the things that we quote two thousand years later. There was no following, no crowd, nothing.

Here at the beginning, before anything notable has been accomplished, the Father speaks an affirmation of Jesus’ identity. “You are mine. I love you. I take delight in you.”

We live in a world where we are valued for our accomplishments. We are respected for our credentials. If our sense of belonging and value is tied to our performance, life becomes a never-ending treadmill trying to secure our place. On this treadmill you hand your sense of self off to other broken people. That’s a trap!

I can see the world my children are growing up in. I want to equip and prepare them for it, as best I can. I can teach them practical skills. I can talk with them about money, relationships, sex, and politics. There are many things I convey as a father, more through my actions than my words.

But I’ve decided that the most important task I have as a father is to give them this empowering blessing I learned in the Gospel of Mark. It is my goal to communicate to them in words and actions these words that will give them courage, freedom and power.

You are mine. You are beloved. I delight in You.

Marc Alan Schelske writes about life at the intersection of grace and growth at MarcAlanSchelske.com. He is the teaching elder at Bridge City Community Church in Milwaukie, Oregon where he has served for 17 years. He's the author of Discovering Your Authentic Core Values. Marc is a husband, dad of two, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea & rides a motorcycle. You can follow him on Twitter at @Schelske


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6876
4 Likes

Beautiful and affirming in every way. Thank-you, Marc, for letting us hear your story and seeing love/God through your eyes and thoughts.

5 Likes

Glad I can share, Kim. Thanks for reading and commenting.

2 Likes

Marc, that brought back sentimental thoughts for me. My son was 10 yrs. old when he lost his father from cancer. I also had a 3 yr. old daughter. The Lord gave me another wonderful husband and father for my children, but it is never the same for them. They loved the new father but their ‘idol’ or ideal was their birth daddy. My son Michael, became a good husband and father and would have made his birth father proud. He definitely has made his step dad proud. Michael is now a grandfather and just 2 weeks ago his grandson, who is 9 lost his father in a motorcycle accident. Michael is able to share the devastating experience with his grandson and they have bonded even more because of it.

God has ways to bring us through the hurts of this world. He holds us up and gives us courage. I am so thankful that I and my children know their Heavenly Father. On this Father’s day we need to be thankful, not only for our own Father’s but for our Heavenly Father who holds us when we hurt and laughs with us when we heal.

8 Likes

This is a lovely meditation, Marc. I was blessed with a dad who did not hesitate to say, “You are mine, You are beloved. I delight in you.” He said words to that effect to my sis, two brothers and me frequently. He was a strong man, a carpenter and a contractor, who provided for our family through hard physical labor. But that made his hugs and his tender words all the more special.

Dad’s love and acceptance of us kids reflected his understanding of who God is and what He is like. In my worst days, and hardest falls, the God of grace and mercy to whom Dad introduced me is who I always look towards for help and to lead me home. Your essay is a beautiful reminder and authentic witness about the Father’s heart and His gracious intentions toward His children. Thank you.

6 Likes

I resonate deeply with this piece! Thank you Marc!

4 Likes

Over 25 years ago I presented a verse by verse exposition of Jude at a Central Calif Conference church and since it was the day before Father’s Day, I closed with the following…-

"Listen, son; I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.

There are things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a twoel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.

At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”

Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came Up the road, I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before you boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive - and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, form a father!

Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.

You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.

Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding - this was my reward to your for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.

And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!

It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing buy a boy - a little boy!”

I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much."

  • W. Livingston Larned
2 Likes

Yeah. That’s great … I love a good shame game.

Actually, that was the way I was raised (before the last couple paragraphs) and consequently how I raised my kids. So this essay is nothing but heartache for me. Carry on …

Trust The BEing!

1 Like

I’m so sorry. You have noticed and affirmed me many times on this blog and I appreciate it. I say that not to argue with your post but just to let you know that your kindness has touched me, and your honesty here breaks my heart.

4 Likes

Thanks, Beth.

I don’t really blame him. As the good book says, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” His father had been orphaned(?) so never knew how to ‘Dad’. It is only by the grace of God that I have come to this understanding. And the uttermost forgiveness to all, especially in those matters which adversely affected my self-perception.

This principle of fatherhood that @MarcS has so clearly elucidated IS the Gospel. And it would do well to hear it weekly, perhaps as a regular feature of our worship, not only as a reminder of our true relationship to God and how we ought relate to our children, but also of following the example of our Lord in baptism, which is that first step towards our inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

Trust God.

4 Likes

Absolutely true. You can never control how children bloom and what they do as they transition into adulthood. The only strategy that makes sense is to follow God’s lead. They need to know without a doubt about unconditional acceptance. It needs to be crystal clear. I learned this early in my life from my parents.

2 Likes

Thanks for sharing that. Those stories are so deep and powerful. I had no idea how deep my father experience went for me. I appreciate you sharing this.

1 Like

Thank you for the reminder that our children need to hear the words of affirmation. So often, parents don’t realize how important this need is - they think their children can read their hearts. I know my mother loved me very much. But she never praised me for any of the things this little people-pleaser did to elicit a response. I think she just didn’t want me to get a “swelled head” and think I was better than anyone else, but I have gone through life (now nearly 79) looking for affirmation of my worth. I don’t blame my mother. I love her dearly. But we, as parents, need education and encouragement to do better!

4 Likes

Like the writer of this blog I too am adopted. I believe every parent who adopts a child should read the book “The Primal Wound” and try and understand the abandonment issues every adoptee struggles with throughout their childhood and even into adulthood. I had a good adopted father, who did the best he could under the circumstances. His inlaws were constantly trying to protect me from him because he left the church shortly after WW2. For 20 plus years I was estranged from him , because of a total misunderstanding after he remarried when my adopted mother died of cancer. I was in my 20’s at the time.Telling him I was gay at 27 only made it worse. I felt rejection and coldness. Three years later a shrink who was into conversion therapy convinced me I became gay because i didn’t have a good father image. I believed it then, but i now see that it was not true.

Love your children for who they are, and if one of them tells you they are gay, love them even more because that child needs an extra measure of tlc for what they will often face in life. Hugs are a great way to communicate warmth.

4 Likes

I’m so glad to hear it, Andre.

2 Likes