10 things I wish someone had told me before fatherhood

June 12, 2019

I grew up in a superb Christian home and had some idea what to expect when I became a father. At the same time, however, there were some surprises along the way. Here is a list of what I’d want new fathers to know, some gleaned from the family in which I grew up, some from the one I’m raising.

1. The first decade

Although it's different for many families, I was surprised—and I wish someone had told me about ahead of time—how different the first decade of raising children is from the second. In years 1–10, all the focus is inward, toward the family and the parents. It's extremely intense. A friend told me once he sometimes feels like he has to practically yell at his children, "Yes, I see you! I see that thing you are doing! I notice you! Good job!"

But in the second decade, as children pass developmentally from one stage to another, the focus turns outward; your children are branching out on their own, differentiating, launching out into life. Before, they wouldn't leave you alone; now it's hard to get them out of their rooms, where they're listening to cool music and posting on Instagram and generally being cooler than you. The struggle is to find family time.

The almost total contrast surprised me. The intensity is relentless in the first decade, but keep telling yourself: I have 10 years to pour into my kids, and then the intensity will ease up, and there will be a lot more time to relax, be quiet, and do my own thing. So hang in there. It is over quite quickly.

2. Selfish patterns

A lot of the things I worried about in my kids—recalcitrantly selfish patterns—get worked out as the kids grow. It's God's pattern for how human beings develop. As your kids move from being very young children to early adolescence, it will actually start to occur to them that other people exist and matter. Just give it time.

3. Christian discipleship

If you wait to try to inculcate real Christian discipleship and worldview into your kids in the second decade, it'll be centuries too late. You need to start as soon as they can talk, and do it repeatedly, so that when are awash in the anti-God culture of middle and high school, they don't buy into it too much. The goal is for the world’s culture to feel weird enough to them that they don’t make their home there, and you have some room to speak the gospel to them. (And they will be influenced by and conform to the world; there's no way around it. The point is to have a structure in place so the damage is limited.)

I recommend lots of the "Jesus Storybook Bible," lots of praying with and for them, and lots of thinking out loud with them about obeying Jesus, actually caring about other people, etc., so that as teenagers they can start to run in the way of God's commandments.

4. Hard work

Kids will be absolutely the toughest thing you ever do. Work will be a cake-walk in comparison, and weekends will be more tiring than your work week. Coming home at 5:00 p.m. will be the beginning of second shift for you. It's beyond exhausting. But God sets up human experience in this way (for most of us, anyway) in order to develop and deepen in us the ability to give to others. Everything else, every other problem, will seem so easy in comparison. You'll be better able to give to others for the rest of your life after getting a kid to the first decade mark.

5. A father’s relationship with God

As a father, the attention and energy of the family will be directed at you in a particular way: your wife will need you when you get home, and the relationship with your kids will be one-way: you give, your kids take. It will be very easy to become self-pitying (who takes care of me? who puts me first?) and for the relationships to become adversarial, with you putting up walls to have time alone while the rest of the family demands your attention. It's easy for resentments to build and all parties to feel (with some justification) as if they're the ones who've been wronged; and if it progresses, you may find refuge in an affair or some kind of addiction.

You really need to be connected to God and receiving from him, remembering and trusting that he's the one who puts you first and cares for you, giving you daily bread and manna in the desert (that is, whatever you need for that day). Then the relationships can flourish, and you can give to your wife and kids. But you really have to receive from God daily for this to work.

6. The importance of time

Before I had kids, I thought the tough part of parenting would be difficult disciplinary decisions. I was completely wrong. The main thing is just to be present, hang out, and spend lots of time together. The priority is time—taking time with your kids. If Dad is around as much as possible, most good things in a family will follow. And if Dad's career doesn't allow him to be around much, that's OK: redeem the time you do have by being intentionally present and connecting with each member of the family. Even if it’s only for five minutes, the children will flourish.

7. Liking your kids

You need to communicate to your kids not just that you love them, but that you actually like them—that you like the particular way God put them together. The main way to communicate that is by enjoying them, and showing you enjoy them.

8. Say yes

One of the ways you can communicate to your kids that you like them, that they are not an irritation, is to say yes to them as much as possible. They’ll be asking you for things all the time, and unless there is a compelling reason not to, say yes to them. In a way beyond words, it will deepen their relationship with you and with the world, and they’ll get the sense that journeying through life is an adventure. Being tired and annoyed is not a good enough reason to say no (unless you're dangerously tired and really need to be left alone).

9. Letting teens win 

In their second decade, there are obviously some arguments you'll have to win, but if you let your teens win some of the time, generally things go better. For example, you can respond with, "Hmm, that's a good point. I hadn't thought of that." Remember their culture is about as foreign to you as China, and in some ways (not all ways), their generation is better than yours.

10. Loving your wife

Be patient with your wife. You have absolutely no idea what it is to conceive a child, carry him or her, undergo the ordeal of birth, nurse a child, and so on. If she's (re)acting strangely, don't be resentful or critical. Be patient. You don't know what the world is like from her corner.

In other words, a body that can bear a child is a very complicated thing, and especially when that body transitions from child-bearing years to middle age. It can be difficult. The body that responded to you as a newlywed might be palpably resistant for a while. It’s difficult when you can tangibly tell that your wife does not want you to touch her. Be patient, and don't leave your wife or cheat on her. Give it time; most of the time you'll have really wonderful new dimensions of the relationship to enjoy in later decades that you'll miss out on otherwise. If you betray her, you'll spend the rest of your life bitterly regretting it. It will not be worth it, I promise you.

I'm trying to be delicate here, but I wish someone had told me that whatever is missing in the marriage during the first decade of raising children will come back. It can be easy to assume physical intimacy is gone, but it isn’t! All the ways you may be frustrated right now as a husband will get worked out with time, and those dimensions of the relationship will be richer than ever. 

This list is not meant to lay a “heavy burden” on fathers (remember Matt. 11:28-30). I am not giving you a perfect list to raise a perfect family. And even if you do everything listed here and more, you will still stand in need of God’s extraordinary grace to save you and your family. The good news of the gospel, however, is that your heavenly Father gives that grace happily, generously, abundantly, faithfully. One means of that grace is learning from other fathers. As you raise your family, you’ll be a similar help to new fathers who come after you. God bless you, friend.

Now go play with your kids.

This article originally appeared here.

Eric Ortlund

Eric Ortlund lives in London, England, where he teaches Old Testament at Oak Hill Theological College. He and his dear wife, Erin, have two lovely teenagers. Before moving to England, he taught in Canada for 10 years. He's especially interested in Isaiah, Job, and the intersection of both ancient and modern … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24