Editor’s note: Our staff had the opportunity to interview Dr. Scott Keith about fatherhood. Scott is a father himself and has also written a great little book on Being Dad.
1. What is the state of fatherhood in America?
Sadly, abysmal. Many children in America grow up in a home where there is no stable biological father or even a consistent father presence in the home. Many children struggle with debilitating setbacks as a result. Statistically, incidences like behavioral disorders, difficulties in school, and even early incarceration can be linked to growing up fatherless. In short, society needs fathers.
2. Is fatherhood any different in the church or for Christians?
In the church, children who are not brought to church or taught the faith from their father are far more likely to leave the faith for good. In short, there is a deep connection between the activity of a father in the faith-upbringing of children and the persistence of those children in the Christian faith. The church needs fathers.
3. What does it mean that fatherhood is at the core of the universe?
C. S. Lewis used that phrase when discussing the relationship his favorite author, George McDonald, had with his own father. As Dr. Rod Rosenbladt often would tell me, if everything is basically OK between a father and his children, everything else will, for the most part, be OK too.
To put this in the context of our life of faith, if everything between our Heavenly Father and us is OK, on account of Christ alone, everything else—no matter how bad things seem—is OK too. The fundamental relationship that rules the universe is the relationship between God the Father and His own dear Son, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ. Thus, fatherhood truly is at the core of the universe.
4. How does the story of the Prodigal Son relate to what you want people to know about “Being Dad”?
Well, the parable of the Prodigal Son is most certainly a story describing God’s love for His wayward children: you and me. But it can also serve as an analogy of how the father in the story might model the way real life fathers should be and act. This, like the gospel itself, is an extremely counter-cultural story. A story of forgiveness when punishment is needed. A story of mercy when anger and ire seem to be what is required. A story of free, unearned grace. In short, an excellent story that might serve as an example of what Being Dad is all about.
5. In your new book, Being Dad, you talk about “masculinity.” What does it mean to be a masculine man?
It doesn’t involve more muscles and a booming voice. It doesn’t equal simply having bigger biceps than mom. It means that the man has power, but that this power is exhibited in willingness to forgive. It means strength, but strength showed through mercy and grace. It means ability, but an ability that flows from a sense of serving your neighbor through vocation. It means being a man like the father in the Prodigal Son.
6. Sometimes kids like to "play" their parents against each other. Shouldn’t fathers and mothers always back one another’s "play" and support one another?
May I say yes and no? Let me ask a question with a question. Is it arrogance to believe that two sinners standing together are always correct when opposed to another gaggle of sinners standing together? Or is it more likely that sinners are sinners, sometimes in the right, and often wrong?
Fathers should attempt to be the mouthpiece of grace in the home to both his wife and his kids. It does not do good to always stand with one person, never evaluating what is the best for all involved. Sometimes Mom needs to be released from the situation, thereby showing her grace, and giving the opportunity for the kids to feel some too. (By the way, this works the other way around too.)
7. You mentioned dad as being a “mouthpiece of grace.” What does that mean?
It means that the if the father is the head of the house—and I think he ought to be—it is because the mouth is in the head and his job is to proclaim forgiveness to his family whenever possible. Salvation always comes to us on the lips of another, and by God’s grace, it comes often on the lips of fathers to their children. Thus, the dad is the mouthpiece of God’s grace in the home.
8. So then, are fathers supposed to be permissive?
No. The law will always be needed, for all Christians. The law restrains and punishes. This is not only of theological import; it also has practical implications. Practically, children need boundaries, or fences. We all need to acknowledge that children need rules. But Being Dad picks up at the stage of “now what?”
That is, I assume that your children have messed up, and they’ve felt the consequence (either naturally or by your hand, or the hand of another authority). I ask: Now What? When do we forgive? What does that forgiveness look like? Is it more appropriate for dads to “double down” on punishment, or to recognize when the law has done its work and proclaim forgiveness on account of Christ?
9. So what is this Being Dad stuff supposed to look like in everyday life?
This whole work is an argument for taking the vocation of father seriously and to consider an apologetic endeavor. Let me illustrate with a quote from the Lutheran theologian, Gerhard Forde:
“People who complain that Luther has no proper doctrine of good works and sanctification or ethics always seem to forget this understanding of the Christian’s calling. Perhaps because it is so utterly realistic and unromantic. But virtually everything Luther wants to say about ethics comes back to his doctrine of vocation. One is to serve God in one’s occupation, in one’s concrete daily life and its duties in the world. When I tell students that this first of all means that they should pay attention to being better students, they are often a little disappointed. They had more romantic things in mind. It does not occur to them that their first ethical duty is to be good students! Whatever call there might be for more extreme action, it must be remembered that Luther’s idea is that first and foremost one serves God by taking care of his creation.” (Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel)
Our first ethical duty is to be good fathers! First and foremost, we serve God by taking care of his creation, and our family. We serve our closest neighbors—our families—through the seemingly mundane motions of everyday life. God’s words of life come to our families on the lips of another, by God’s grace and on our lips!