Relationships

What trying to be a great dad taught me about the Good Father

Jonathan Cho // June 20, 2020, 1:32 am

Celebration of limitations - featured

“You would make a great dad, Jon.”

This was said to me several times before Dorea and I had our first kid. And the shameless truth is, I agreed.

I love kids. There always was a deep, God-given desire in me to be a good, kind, loving and generous-hearted father. In fact, I had planned in my mind all the different things I would do with my little ones when they entered into this world. I would be the perfect dad.

So I just became a father

Alas, “life-as-we-know-it” has proven me otherwise. The past three years of being a father have only revealed to me the grave and ugly imperfections in my fathering.

Don’t disturb me now, I’m doing something important – come back later ok?”
“I promise I will _____ with you later.” 
“Lower your volume.”
“Stop making that noise, please!”
“Can you please just stop crying for a while?”
“Give me a break – don’t make my life more difficult than it already is, can?” 

I’ve never actually said the last one, but I’ve thought it many times in my head (sorry kids, I love you more than you know).

Of course, I know for a fact that there is no perfect father, not on this earth anyway. But far too often I find myself appalled by how deep the innate selfishness and human wretchedness in me can run. More than once in my fathering, I’ve taken a step back in shock and muttered under my breath: “I really am a monster, man.”

Many of us understand and believe that “God is a perfect Father”, but if we were honest, isn’t the idea of being fathered by this perfect God sometimes too deep, inaccessible or hard to grasp?

How does this concept of the “perfect Father” add up when we are navigating the messy, mundane, painful and even broken parts of our life in this world?

Understanding the profundity and depth of this divine fatherly love was, at times, a struggle for me – until I became a father myself.

There’s really nothing like watching a father get on his knees daily, at almost every meal time, to clean up the spilt food on the food or the lego blocks strewn all over the house.

Understanding the profundity and depth of this divine fatherly love was a struggle for me – until I became a father myself.

But can you really imagine God doing this for you? Can this knowledge of God perfectly fathering us in these “food-on-the-floor” and “poop-in-my-pants” situations of life be made real to us?

In all candidness, the knowledge of this otherworldly perfection sometimes feels more like a slap to the face and call to “be better”, accentuating the horrid feeling of my frequent failings as a father.

Such as, when I am woken up at 7am by the chirpy sound of my 2-year-old going, “Good morning, Papa!” and all I can mouth in my sleep-frustrated state is: “Give me 5 more minutes of sleep, I beg you.” (I’ve actually begged, yes.)

Meanwhile, our God is a Father who watches over us and He neither “slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:1).

The God who says “I am with you, always”

The mixture of emotions is probably the equivalent of struggling to change a soggy diaper while having your path crossed by another dad who has his hair in place and body in shape, tenderly holding his perfectly potty-trained toddler by hand. Show-off

And if love is not just a feeling but shown through actions, then why have my actions on so many occasions proven that maybe I don’t love my children as much as I believe I do?

Goodness, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve even daydreamt of sneaking away to the office during the circuit breaker to “get a break” from it all.

How could I not, then, feel like I’ve failed my kids, my wife, myself and… my God?

Yet at the same time, in facing up to my honest struggles with my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limitations as a father, I’ve grown in my depth of understanding of what it means to have and to hear a perfect God whisper to my messy soul: “I want to be a Father to you.”

The confrontations of who I cannot be are gracious reminders of who He is, and longs to be for us. 

And so, I am learning this.

I am learning to embrace my limitations as a father – even to celebrate them – using each opportunity of limitation on my part to remember, to cry out, and to acknowledge: Father God, I know in this, You are perfect towards me.

Whenever I find myself saying certain things to my kids or feeling the emotions that accompany it (whether frustration, exhaustion or guilt), I remember that in that very same moment, I can immediately turn to a Father whom I hear saying to me:

 I’m always awake and ready for you. You don’t ever have to beg to have time with me.”
I’m always doing something important, but I also always have time for you, ok?”
“You can come to me with your tears and crying – and I will wipe them away.”
“You don’t exhaust or frustrate me. Don’t feel guilty about being needy or reliant on me.”
“I am here for you whenever you call me.”

The confrontations of who I cannot be are gracious reminders of who He is, and longs to be for us. 

My limitations and imperfections as a Father are constantly informing me of God’s perfectness and “limitless-ness” as our Father.

And the biggest similarity in God’s and my fathering is probably the fact that we both eagerly cry out: “That’s my child! I’m his/her Father!” He longs to Father us – so much that His only Son Jesus Christ came to earth to suffer the way He did, in order that we might come to know God as He did – as Father.

As fathers, mothers, children of God, I believe that we need to learn how to accept and even embrace our limitations. It is in this humble acceptance of the reality of our limitations that we correspondingly grow in the depth of our understanding of who God is.

In this posture of rest, we too begin to understand who He longs to be towards us – a Father.  There is a positive correlation between us acknowledging who we truly are and realising who He truly is.

I am not a perfect Father. But I do think that I am a relatively good one although I falter a lot. And I guess I need to know that or hear that sometimes. So it is the same for all of us (fathers or not) – we aren’t perfect and it is ok. We remain perfectly held by God in our brokenness.

And so this Father’s Day, I choose to celebrate not by highlighting my victories, but by confronting and acknowledging all the limitations that have surfaced in my journey as a dad. Through this I begin to see, with greater clarity, a Father who leads this imperfect Dad through every season of life and fatherhood perfectly.

Happy Father’s Day, Abba.

THINK + TALK

  1. Do you struggle with acknowledging your limitations in life?
  2. What have been some areas of “limitation” that have affected you negatively?
  3. What has the Lord spoken to you about the ways you fall short?
  4. How has God been the “perfect Father” to you?