At the Tucker prison ministry, I hear a lot of tragic stories about broken homes. Many of these inmates came from single-parent households, abusive environments, and/or dysfunctional families. Generally speaking, however, many guys in the program tend to admire their mothers and mother figures. They usually believe that a mom, grandma, or older sister really wanted the best for them and so they feel bad for the decisions they’ve made to land themselves in prison.
On the other hand, when it comes to fathers it usually is a much more different and tragic story. This isn’t the case for everyone (for instance, several inmates I’ve met had abusive mothers as young children), but it does seem to be a general characteristic of the group. Broken fathers obviously had a lasting impression on many of the men in the program.
I’ve heard of stories about fathers who appeared to be community leaders, but behind closed doors were violent towards their children and struggled with substance abuse. Other inmates have a difficult time with holidays like Father’s Day, simply because they never knew their own dad. Many have seen their moms beat up or even killed by their own father. One tragic story that will always stick with me was hearing about an inmate whose dad made him and his brother fist fight for entertainment… until the father passed out from drinking too much alcohol, or one of the sons was knocked unconscious.
I share this to highlight a major point: Fathers can be very broken in our world, and the effects can last a lifetime.
Dads are often told that the only thing they are good for is a job to pay the bills. Instead of investing in a child’s life, it is usually the case that our society assumes childrearing is only a mother’s job. You’ve seen iterations this assumption in our world, from workaholism among dads, to children feeling distant or lacking a strong, healthy male presence in development.
This also points to a broader issue about masculinity and manhood. Men are taught not to be too emotional. So instead of discussing matters of faith with children, men oftentimes shy away from deeper conversations. In the most extreme and tragic cases, this leads to fathers believing that physical violence is a better way to handle problems, instead of resolving conflict by talking through issues.
With the story of Joseph, it is clear that God provides many profound examples of fatherhood with biblical characters. Instead of abandoning Mary and Jesus, Joseph followed God’s direction to care for both of them during a tough couple of years.
We don’t read about many other stories of Jesus’ youth or Joseph’s backstory–this is probably because Jesus was the main character of the gospels, so the authors did not dive into these secondary characters all too often. But Joseph does provide a great example of fatherhood through a few things. I preached yesterday about some of these teachings, and here are a few points teased out a bit as it relates to the example of Joseph being a dad. Here are three things Joseph can specifically teach men of faith:
- Joseph developed his own relationship with God. He paid attention to God’s messengers. Fathers nowadays ought to do the same. How are you listening to God and deepening your relationship with Christ?
- Joseph looked out and provided for those in need. He cared for Mary during her pregnancy and did not leave her. Even after the birth of Jesus and the escape to Egypt as refugees (from Herod’s genocide of infants), Joseph assisted in protecting the young mother and her precious child. How are you protecting and providing for the people in your life?
- Joseph spent time raising children. Fathers are oftentimes distant to kids, simply because they feel like “nurturing” is somehow a feminine quality. Kids needs parents to provide healthy examples of how to live. Joseph did this as he raised the young Jesus. How are you involved in your child’s life? How do you care for the kids of Concord, too?
Like many of the folks I’ve gotten to know working at Tucker, you too may have had a troubled past with fathers and father figures. If that is the case, know that God gives to us the perfect example of parenthood in how God treats us–God is our heavenly parent and will never let you down, give up on you, or abandon you. God can provide healing if you’ve faced that kind of broken relationship in life. And God gives us many examples in scripture about what true fatherhood looks like. Joseph embodies this kind of Godly character in how he cared for Mary and Jesus.
And perhaps most importantly it is worth reiterating this timeless message for men. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are called to follow the example of people like Joseph in how you father other people. And above all else, work to live out the grace, compassion, and understanding of God, our heavenly father.