It’s no secret that dads are important, leading to greater outcomes in children across the board. God designed the family unit this way. Yet, 1 in 4 children grow up without a biological, step, or adoptive father at home. Many of us have fathers who—for whatever reason—didn’t or couldn’t come through. Some have had dads who abandoned them, were unfaithful in their marriage, or were abusive. Others never knew their dad. And many more had dads who didn’t know how to be present in their lives or take the time to emotionally engage with their children. How should we deal with the legacy of lost fathers?
1. ) Remember your true Father.
Psalm 27:10 reads, “Though my father and my mother have forsaken me, the Lord will take me in.” The reason we feel the absence or abuse of our dads so deeply is that we were made for a fatherly love that is abounding and safe. Your dad’s lack of love doesn’t negate your heavenly Father’s endless love for you in Christ Jesus. In fact, it reveals how profoundly you need such heavenly love.
Let’s take this a step further—our identities and sense of security in this world are often shaped by our dads’ love, for better or for worse. How much more should the love of your Father in heaven shape your identity and security? Jesus tells us that no one is able to snatch us from the Father’s hand (John 10:29). There’s a whole section of Romans dedicated to how we can’t be separated from the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 8:28–39). Let your heavenly Father fill that earthly void with his own heavenly love.
2.) Look for surrogate fathers.
God doesn’t simply save us as individuals; he immediately welcomes us into a new family. This family consists of people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. The thing that binds such a diverse family is the blood of Jesus Christ. And within this family, there are older men, sanctified by the Spirit, who are gentle, patient, and loving.
Go to such men. Ask them for marriage or parenting advice. Invite them to coffee and listen to their stories and their wisdom. They can flesh out the love of your God in visible ways and provide a tangible model for you to follow. This is true for women too! Reach out to couples in your church to be surrogate parents, helping to reaffirm your value in the Lord and your expectations for younger men.
3.) Learn from your father’s failure.
What did your dad do poorly? Why do you think so? How did it make you feel? These questions are important because it’s hard to change ingrained family patterns if we can’t identify what exactly needs to be changed and why. Let’s take a relatively minor example—your dad led the household by fear rather than love. He was quick to discipline but not quick to encourage or extend grace. How was this a poor reflection of God’s love? How did that impact you? What do you wish he had done differently?
Your natural tendency will be to follow your dad’s example even though it hurt you. You will need to question both the way you discipline your own kids and the heart behind that discipline. Your spouse’s counsel will be particularly helpful in this regard. Listen to them. You can also read your own kids’ hearts through their reactions to your discipline. Do they fear you or rest in your love?
4.) Pursue repentance.
I’m not talking about the repentance of your own father, though that would be lovely. Rather, you should pursue your own repentance with both your dad’s misdeeds and your God’s mercies in view. We all fail in our relationships. Failures are more easily forgiven when we are readily repentant.
In exercising such repentance, we remind others as well as ourselves that our lives are not dominated by generational sin but are hidden with God in Christ (Col. 3:1–4). When we break the mold set for us, we are reminded that Christ is working in us by his word and the Spirit. In the process, we exhibit the breathtaking reality that, in Christ, we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). In other words, repentance drives us back to the cross. And there, we’re reminded of the Father who has never and will never fail us, for he showed his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
 National Fatherhood Initiative 2019. Father Facts: Eighth Edition. Germantown, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative.
 U.S. Census Bureau. (2022). Living arrangements of children under 18 years old: 1960 to present. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.