Grim statistics arise when you search anything about “fatherlessness” in the United States. Children without fathers are more likely to live in poverty, face abuse, abuse drugs, drop out of high school, and commit crimes. There’s very little good that comes from a child growing up without a father.
Yet, God can and does redeem even the most wretched situations for good. A recent news story illustrated that redemption perfectly. The headline read: "Man who grew up in foster care adopts three boys.”
The standout quote was this: "Fatherhood has been everything I imagine it to be because I'm the father I wish I had growing up."
My mind’s eye immediately tracked to my husband's face. He grew up fatherless and abused and neglected by his mother, who suffered from substance abuse issues and mental illness. Despite his background and never meeting his father until he was in his mid-20s (a predictable disappointment even then), he is a devoted, loving, and committed father to our two young children. His experience growing up fatherless ultimately secured his loyalty to parenting with excellence.
I never doubted he would succeed in this endeavor when we married, but societal assumptions and statistics were stacked against him. While it’s important to consider data, we mustn’t let it define outcomes. God’s redemptive power can restore and liberate even the most dire situations, including those where a parent has failed.
Here are three things I’ve learned about how the fatherless can vindicate fatherhood in their own parenting journeys.
1. Fathers as nurturers
My husband has changed just as many diapers as me—and happily devotes his evenings to getting our toddler through a lengthy bedtime routine. The first weeks of our 1-year-old daughter's life, he was up more nights than me, and he's currently reading a stack of books with titles like "How a Father's Love Protects and Empowers His Daughter." He’s ruthless about ensuring she has what she needs and often comes home from Target with crinkling bags full of new items neither kid really needs.
His superior devotion shatters cultural assumptions about male failures in childrearing and home-care. Having had no male model to follow, I was curious how my husband instinctively knew how to be a good father. The Bible provides one explanation in Romans 4:17: “ . . . God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.” While statistics may point to a different outcome for him, the power of faith in his life cultivates that which does not exist—the supernatural ethos of fatherhood through God the Father.
My husband has few emotions about his earthly father because he didn’t know a life that included one. And yet, he innately knows what it is to be a father of honor, integrity, and devotion now. He defies the future his past laid out for him by clinging to the nurturing aspects of the God who tended him in the darkest of nights so many years ago. Because he is aware of how God sustained him then and Christ saved him years later, he takes seriously his role in providing that guidance to our children.
2. Fathers as spiritual leaders
In that vein, we are teaching our 3-year-old son now that he has two fathers—his Dad and his Heavenly Father. The song "Good Good Father" holds special meaning for the fatherless, but the concept is still one every child should grasp, as even the best earthly fathers can falter. The words to the song say: "You're a good, good father. It's who you are, it's who you are, it's who you are. And I am loved by you. It's who I am. It's who I am. It's who I am."
The repetition is essential, leaving the listener without a doubt that God loves and equips them well despite difficult circumstances. Our son and daughter, thankfully, don’t have to navigate life without an earthly father. Because he is active and present, my husband recognizes the importance of teaching them that, while his love is good, it merely emulates the even greater love that the Father God has for them.
Looking back at his fatherless past, my husband has valuable lessons to teach our children about the faithfulness of God when humanity fails them. Psalm 78:14 reads: "He led them with the cloud by day and all the night with a light of fire. He split the rocks in the wilderness and gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths. He brought forth streams also from the rock and caused waters to run down like rivers." While I would never wish fatherlessness on anyone, golden bits of God’s character are often reflected most brilliantly through windows of pain. This is what my husband experienced as he grew into his faith and strives to imprint on the privileged lives of his children now.
In my book about his life, I write of a beautiful moment where he confessed a profound notion about our son. Even though he had always longed to be a Dad and loved his first child so fiercely the anxiety about keeping him alive gave him panic attacks, he dutifully presented our son to God from the moment we learned he was growing in my womb. “God has given him to me to raise,” he told me days after we welcomed him into our tiny apartment. I had never felt more assured of the extravagance of fatherhood our son would soon experience.
3. Learning From fatherlessness
My husband takes his responsibility as a father so solemnly because he knows deeply the disappointment and heartbreak of growing up without one. He knows the emptiness that comes by walking through the fiery blaze of life, without a shadow in which to find solace. He was deeply wronged as child, and for that, he suffered greatly. But today, he can look at our children and know—without a doubt—that he is the father he wished he had growing up.
Others, like the man in the article, relate to that feeling. Actor and podcast host Dax Shepard talks openly about growing up without a dad on his show. He says it took becoming a father, and reveling in the delight of his children, to realize this profound truth: It was his father who missed out far more than he. He learned, from fatherlessness, that being a dad and watching your children grow is the greatest blessing his dad never got because he chose absence.
God takes the ugliest of situations and transforms them into the greatest beauty. There is a reason parenthood is the most meaningful part of many of our earthly lives. It’s because it all began with a good, good Father. Therefore, even the fatherless have the supernatural capacity to bring God as Father to life for their children.
That is the full circle of God's redemptive spirit.