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Fathers and Sons

Sep 21, 2020

Some personal and devotional reflections on fathers and sons:

OK, this will be something of a spiritual mixed salad, with various bits thrown in together: the closing verses of the Old Testament coupled with a New Testament parable, tied together by a distant childhood memory. Yes I know, my mind works in mysterious ways, but that is how it is.

When various things come together in an interesting manner and at the same time, it could all just be coincidence. Or it could be God. I tend to suspect the latter, not just here, but often what I find happening in my life. So let me bring these bits and pieces together, and see if God has a message for us in the process.

I was thinking last night. No surprises there. Never having been the kind of person who can drop off to sleep easily, I normally toss and turn for ages, while the mind is going a million miles an hour. For some reason I do not have many childhood memories, but last night one episode did come to mind.

It would have happened a long time ago. In fact, with a quick internet search, I can pinpoint the year: 1960. That is when a Hollywood film came out, and presumably that is when I saw it at the local cinema. I would have been all of seven years old at the time.

What I recollected last night was this: when I was just a young guy, my older brother and I went to the movies one afternoon – in the heart of winter. The theatre was only 3-4 blocks up the street. We were going to see Swiss Family Robinson which presumably had just come into the cinemas then as part of a national release.

If you are an old guy like me, you might recall having seen the film. It is discussed here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Family_Robinson_(1960_film)

Anyway, back to my story. When the two of us got to the movie theatre, some of my brother’s friends were there. They went in together, and they either made it clear that I was not welcome to stay with them, or I decided not to hang around with them.

Either way, I went up to the front of the theatre and watched the film all by myself. I must have really enjoyed it, and been quite captivated by it, because after it finished, and with a brief intermission, it started up again. So I stayed and watched it a second time!

I am not sure how long I stayed – almost to the end of the movie I think. The bit about the family fighting off the pirates must have especially intrigued me. But for some reason I then turned around and was shocked at what I found: the cinema was nearly empty. Oops! I decided I had better get out of there fast and head home.

As I was walking home alone in the dark – with snow falling I think – I saw my dad and brother coming toward me. I became worried, thinking I was in big trouble. But as we met up, it was clear my dad was upset with my older brother for having abandoned me and lost me.

So it was a bit of a relief to know that he was in trouble, not me. Hmm, that happened 60 years ago, and for some reason it popped into my mind last night. As is often the case, I tried to ponder as to whether any spiritual significance or lessons could be gleaned from this.

I did think of the parable Jesus told of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). While the older brother may not have been all that keen about the son’s return, the father certainly was. My earthly dad was quite relieved to find me coming home that day, and around 11 years later my heavenly Father was overjoyed to see me come home to his heavenly household.

Of course I have looked at this biblical story at various times already, including this Christmas reflection on it: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/12/22/20482/

But another passage ties in here – one that I just read this morning. It involves the final two verses of the Old Testament. Malachi 4:5-6 says this: “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 fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

That is a rather amazing text. There is no question that today one of the most pressing social problems found in the West is that of fatherlessness. It is a massive problem causing so much hurt, harm and devastation. Children growing up without their dads are well and truly behind the eight ball.

This is one of the clearest lessons we learn from the social science research. I highlight just a sampling of this mountain of evidence on the overwhelming importance of fathers in this two-part article:

billmuehlenberg.com/2013/05/17/the-facts-on-fatherlessness-part-one/

billmuehlenberg.com/2013/05/17/the-facts-on-fatherlessness-part-two/

And in an earlier piece I tied in the social science data with the passage from Malachi: billmuehlenberg.com/2001/08/09/the-importance-of-fathers/

One final element can be tossed into this spiritual fruit salad. With Wuhan Dan’s draconian lockdown measures and curfews in place, Melbournians are extremely limited in where they can go and what they can do. So for my daily walks (thank you Comrade Dan for allowing us an hour or two a day to walk – so very generous of you), I just go up and down the streets around my house.

When I do this, another memory hits me: I recall when my dad paid us a visit some years ago. Before he died, he came to see us for two weeks. He too liked walking up and down these same streets. He would have looked at the houses and what condition they were in: he was a house painter so he noticed things like that.

I too painted houses for a while, and I too notice those things. So when I do my daily walk, checking out the neighbouring houses, I often think about my dad. Sadly, when he was here, I think I was away at work for a good part of the time.

Now I think I should have more fully treasured that time we had together. I should have been with him every moment of those 14 or so days that he was here. Now it is all over, never to happen again, until we reunite in the next life. And two of my sons are outside of the ludicrous and senseless 5km limit our Glorious Dictator has imposed on us all. So some of my boys I have not seen for many months now.

All the more reason for us to treasure each other when we have the chance. Death comes along too often – as do power-hungry dictators. You never know when you will lose the opportunity to be with the ones you love. So let us pray fervently that God does indeed “turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers”.

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10 Responses to Fathers and Sons

  • Mixed salad’s are very healthy. Thank you Bill, God bless you and yours.

  • Dear Bill, you certainly pulled some strings in this old – but not quite as old as yours – heart.
    My Dad has recently gone into an aged care facility in my home town in NSW, aged 95- nearly 96.
    A senior member of our congregation just passed away aged 87, after living in the aged care facility where we live in Victoria. He escaped East Germany in the early to mid ’60’s (?). Worrying whether his brother, who was an East Germany boarded guard, might shoot him!!
    This member could arguably have died of loneliness, no members of our church could visit him, and sadly my wife and I completely over looked him with our self-centred concerns and never even tried.
    His sister who still lives in Germany would ring him every Sunday – his only outside contact apart from staff at the facility.
    How many other fathers are like this?
    I do not phone my Dad anywhere near enough.
    The tragedy of this ‘wirus’ is these elderly who add to the fatal disaster of 2020, could well be dying of loneliness.
    So we all should pray for our Heavenly Father to turn the heart’s of the children to their fathers and the heart’s of the fathers to their children.
    And I must seek forgiveness and with Jesus Christ strength do better myself.
    Great piece Bill,
    God bless you
    Mark Bryant

  • This article has much personal relevance. I have three sons – 2 of them estranged from their father by choice because of years of past abuse. The third son chooses to have a relationship with his dad but my son says the relationship is more like acquaintances than father and son.
    As important as a mother is in bringing up children, I believe it is the father who contributes most powerfully to how children ultimately turn out, affirmed by author Paul Vitz in his in depth research in ‘Faith of the Fatherless’. His research shows that children with strong Godly fathers and weak, inept, abusive or absent mothers tend to grow up to become stable adults with very few emotional issues, following the pattern of the father, but if the situation is reversed – Godly mother with a weak, inept, abusive or absent father, the children still tend to follow the example of the father – growing into weaker adults with significant emotional problems. (Vitz points out that there are always exceptions, but his research indicated this seems to be a general rule.)
    I tried to compensate for what the boys had experienced by ensuring they were surrounded by Godly men and consequently they grew up with a strong connection to the church and the men of the church, all the while still seeing their father every day – he continued to live close by after he left. But even surrounding the boys with Godly men as a protective factor was not enough, as I found out when the boys reached adulthood. They eventually abandoned their faith and the church, and finally their father. While I would still encourage others in similar situations to surround their children with examples of Godly men, if the man who should love them above all other examples lets them down, children will be deeply wounded.
    I don’t believe I’m mistaken in saying that the society we are living in today has been largely shaped especially by the rampant phenomenon of the absent father. I ache for all children lacking fathers however they have lost them.

  • Many thanks Anon – bless you.

  • Remember the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle”?
    The sad repeated refrain is “we’ll have a good time then”, but “then” never happens, & the son grew up like the father, repeating this response to him, as his life got busy.
    The other great “song of regret” is Mike and the Mechanics’ “The Living Years”.

  • Feminism has been a powerful judgment for leaving the faith so many women feel they don’t need a man a woman can do anything. Add to that family courts feeling men aren’t capable of nurturing a child so men mostly get regulated to visitation, which women are often free to interfere with without consequence, way too many kids, especially boys, grow up with little or no contact with their dads.

    With feminist teachers keeping men out of elementary school and very dominant in secondary schools good male role model can be hard to find for a single mom. Having volunteered at a elementary school and once wanting to be a elementary school teacher this really stick in my craw as I saw how boys respond to a kind man and how necessary men are in children’s lives and how threatening that is to feminism.

  • I agree with the importance of godly fathers and moral, caring and present fathers. This site – https://www.challies.com/articles/christian-men-and-their-godly-moms/ gives another side of the equation. Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother. I am very thankful for the steady influence of my father and grandfather, yet my Christian foundations were laid by my grandmother.

  • Having watched last night’s SBS Insight program which featured people who grew up not knowing one or both birth parents, it became apparent that fatherhood ought to be something more than the practice of anonymous sperm donorship – more than the unintended outcome of an easily forgotten one-night stand. The jumble of intense feelings when the people on the program found out their biological origins and met their blood relatives was quite something to witness.

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