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Father, Founder, First: What We Mean by A Good Dad
Worthy firsts make history: first to complete a voyage, to prove a great theory, to walk on the moon. Founders are firsts who also leave a legacy: founder of a movement, of an institution, of an industry. However, to be considered a father requires something deeper, more sacrificial and more personal. The title of “father” is reserved for the greatest contributors to the highest causes.
Several historical figures immediately come to mind; however, countless dedicated fathers, whose contributions are known only to their families, are the men who have really laid the foundation of courage and love that gives true fatherhood its place of honor. From George Washington and Saint Paul to William Smart, the honoree of the first Father’s Day, “good dads” are men who have met two criteria. First, they have laid down their lives in some measure in order to “give life” to something outside themselves, and second, that “something” has proven to be of enduring value.
It could be said that George Washington earned a “rank” that surpassed even Commander in Chief: the Father of our Country. His personal, professional and financial sacrifices on behalf of our fledgling nation were well known during his lifetime and are still remembered today, but it was his humility and compassion that propelled him from respected military and political leader to beloved patriarch. One of the best examples of the lasting impact of his love for his country and his men is the gentle way in which he quelled the 1783 Newburgh Conspiracy, in which a number of angry military officers threatened to revolt against the Continental Congress. Before reading (a) letter (from the Continental Congress), Washington, in an almost apologetic tone said, “Gentlemen, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind.”1 The eyes of most of his audience filled with tears. The content of the letter became irrelevant as the assembled officers realized that Washington had given as much or more in the service of the new nation as any of them. Within minutes, the officers voted unanimously to express confidence in Congress and their country. In that critical moment in history, as the officers witnessed Washington’s personal sacrifice and dedication to his cause and to his men, they remembered their own passion for their country and affection for their commander. The danger of revolt was averted.
Saint Paul, one the early fathers of Christianity, poured out his life, and ultimately lost it, to spread the gospel of Jesus across the Mediterranean. His single-minded, passionate and eloquent evangelism, illuminated and empowered by the active presence of the Holy Spirit, brought to life the roots of the Christian church. Was he motivated by ambition? No. He was compelled by love for the lost. Consider that he was willing to sacrifice even his own salvation so that others could know Christ:
I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9: 1-3 ESV)
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Having given up power, prestige and personal safety in order to introduce people to Jesus, Paul, though childless, was truly a father to many.
William Jackson Smart, a twice-widowed father of fourteen children (three of them adopted) and a Civil War veteran, was not seeking the national spotlight as he single-handedly raised his family, but he was a hero to his children nonetheless. Smart earned his living “farming” coal, collecting it from the surface of the soil, on his land in Arkansas. After the war, he moved the family to Spokane where his second wife later died. According to his daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, he was a wonderful father. “‘I remember everything about him,’ Sonora said many years later to the Spokane Daily Chronicle. ‘He was both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters.’” Remembering him as “a ‘great home person,’ a man who exemplified fatherly love and protection,” Sonora, would not rest until she had officially established Father’s Day, first celebrated in Spokane in 1910 and declared a national holiday by President Richard Nixon in 1972.2
Although William Smart did not father a nation, he did faithfully raise a family, which according to God is of great and eternal value:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me..."
(Matthew 18: 1-5)
On Father’s Day we agree with Jesus and acknowledge the generosity and faithfulness of our “good dads,” who spend their strength in service to those they love.
Starting something is easy...anyone can do it. Fires, fights, and even families can begin quite accidentally. However, finishing (and finishing well) requires grit and sacrifice. Additionally, not all pursuits are of equal value; one should not confuse motion with progress. Fathers do it all: they initiate, sustain and complete a thing of the highest value. For Washington, it was a new nation; for Paul it was the body of Christ; for Smart it was his own family. For your “good dad,” biological or adopted, it was you, and his story, although perhaps not in the history books, is written on your heart.
Appreciation and respect are dear to a man’s heart. Here are some ways to honor Dad in ways that he will really receive.
*To those who have not had the blessing of a loving father figure in their lives, or who long for the chance to be a father, but have not had the opportunity, Father’s Day could be a source of pain. God our Heavenly Father offers much comfort and perspective in Scripture. Consider these verses: John 14:3, Hosea 14:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, John 14:18, Psalm 68:5-6, Psalm 27:10, Hebrews 12:19, Psalm 146:9, Matthew 25:40. May God’s peace accompany the reading of His Word.
(All Bible quotes are from ESV.)
Aimee Riegert, CSLI Fellow, earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and foreign language studies from Southern Methodist University. In addition to supporting various national security efforts in Northern Virginia, she has worked as an itinerant high school math teacher and drama coach, and has served in women’s ministries, praise teams, on the adult support team for Young Life and as a “mentor mom” for MOPS International ministries, as well as English instructor in several ESL programs in Japan. She is a graduate of the C.S. Lewis Institute Year One Fellows Program.