By / Dec 27

Someone once told me, “There’s a worldview driving everything.” The comment was made in the context of a conversation about films and television shows. In the years since I first heard that statement, I’ve found myself taking a much closer look at the viewpoints and belief systems revealed in the various kinds of media that I consume. It turns out that when it comes to media, regardless of the forum, you’ll find someone’s worldview everywhere you look. That helps explain why I’ve found myself deeply contemplating the connection between fatherhood, abortion, and a culture of life versus the culture of death. 

A Vision for a Pro-Family World

Recently, the NBC medical drama New Amsterdam decided to explore the reversal of Roe v. Wade by depicting the reactions of various characters to the breaking news. I don’t watch the show, so I wasn’t invested in its take on the subject. But I decided to take a look after seeing a clip from that episode making the rounds on the internet. 

It’s essentially a series of emotional reactions that culminates in a shot of the medical staff gathered in front of a hospital television featuring the news coverage of Roe’s reversal. Clearly, each character is overcome with grief and emotion. Most striking, though, were the reactions of two different fathers to the sudden end of Roe’s nearly 50-year legacy in that sequence.

In the first case, a father who has just seen the news is staring at his young daughter. As she plays with her toys, he just stares and weeps. Though it’s unsaid, he is clearly grieved about his daughter growing up in a world without abortion. Similarly, a second man is seen sitting in front of his laptop in such disbelief that he cannot bear to make eye contact when what appears to be his pre-teen daughter enters the room.

I’m still struck by those images. Obviously, they’re fictional portrayals, but I assume they represent both the reactions and fears of many fathers in America. And that is something worth exploring.

Fatherhood and Human Dignity

First, I want to celebrate that these men have taken up the responsibility of fatherhood. We live in a culture that has told people they can have sex without the consequences of attachment and pregnancy. However, that can only be true for men, because a woman who becomes pregnant is physiologically connected to her child. 

It is because we have freed men of their obligation as fathers that abortion becomes so attractive for many, but pregnancy and childbirth were never meant to be an individual event. Christians ought to push against the idea that a preborn child’s life is the sole responsibility of the mother and call for a culture where fathers take responsibility for the children they create. 

Nevertheless, my initial reaction to that New Amsterdam scene was to ridicule it. 

There is no doubt a crushing sense of irony—to say nothing of cognitive dissonance—in seeing these men grieve that their daughters, whom they both love deeply, now unexpectedly find themselves in a position where each girl would be “forced” to become a mother to a son or daughter of her own. In fact, the emotional response each father has on behalf of his own daughter conflicts with the episode’s intended message. Moreover, their reactions actually serve to underscore the concept of human dignity. 

These men love these girls. They see them as valuable and worthy of protection. But these facts actually serve to highlight the absurdity on display in that scene. Each man obviously recognizes the inherent value and dignity of human life, of which their daughters are but a microcosm. Yet, illogically, they both conclude it is somehow consistent with that view of the dignity of personhood to insist their daughters should retain the right to destroy the life of another human being. The men weep over their daughters’ “loss” as though abortion bears no connection to the value of another person, when, in reality, such fathers should stand against abortion precisely because they recognize the value and dignity not only of their own children but of all children. 

Akin to Injustice? 

As I was discussing this scene among friends, a wise Christian woman made an interesting observation. She remarked that many fathers of young daughters probably did respond with some mixture of anger and fear in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe. Given the alarming statistics showing that 1 in 4 women in the United States “have experienced completed or attempted rape,” she pointed out the likelihood that many fathers are motivated by concerned about their daughters’ ability to terminate a pregnancy that was not only unplanned, but the result of a heinous crime. We would do well to compassionately consider how a culture of sexual assault impacts women and those who love them.

As a pro-life evangelical and the father of two young daughters, I care greatly about these issues. I recognize my girls’ dignity and value. I see them as women created in God’s image, possessing intrinsic and inestimable beauty and worth (Gen. 1:27), and I want them to be safe. Yet, in the same way that I am able to recognize their value and dignity, I am also able to recognize the value and dignity of all people, even in the worst of circumstances.

Many Americans today, indeed many fathers, remain convinced that the reversal of Roe was an injustice. They’re wrong. It was never the case that protecting the dignity and freedom of certain people required or justified denying the dignity, freedom, and life of others. Even so, it turns out that not all of their concerns were illegitimate. 

To be clear, there is no excuse for the intentional destruction of innocent human life. Elective abortions are never an acceptable remedy, even in light of the most troubling facts. Yet the pro-life position is not calloused toward suffering. We recognize that pregnancy represents a significant hardship for many women. Moreover, we sincerely grieve with women who have suffered violence that resulted in pregnancy. Their suffering is tragic, unjust, and inexcusable.

But what does it say about our culture that so many believe prohibiting elective abortions is akin to injustice? And what lies behind the reaction of grief and fear so prominently featured in NBC’s dramatic portrayal? The answer is that many Americans have fallen prey to the ethos of the culture of death. The fearful and angry reaction of so many men and women, both real and imagined, was fueled by a lie that said abortion was the only solution to an unplanned pregnancy. 

Pro-Life Fatherhood 

So as a concluding thought experiment, let us reverse the scenario. How should fathers who recognize the inherent dignity of all people react to the same news? For starters, instead of weeping or silently looking away in disbelief, such fathers would hug their daughters. Instead of battling emotional turmoil, the men would resolve to renew their commitment to the young women they love. And they would pledge that as these girls’ fathers they would always be there to support them, regardless of the circumstances. Finally, instead of lamenting the demise of the culture of death, these men would have the courage to stand for life and call other men to do the same.

Rooted in the culture of death, the scene from New Amsterdam portrayed a worldview where abortion was a sacrament. But a worldview rooted in a culture of life reflects a reality where all life is sacred. Fathers are called to love, care for, and protect their daughters. But it turns out, there is a worldview driving that too. 

By / Jun 15

Parenting advice is not hard to come by these days. Advice from grandparents and friends, articles, vlogs, and books detailing parenting strategies and philosophies all vie for our attention. When I became a new dad, it was the first time I ever crossed into the noble task of diaper changing. Thankfully my mother-in-law gifted me with a dad handbook complete with diagrams and dad-jokes. Parenting advice can be a blessing or an annoyance—some is good, some is bad, and some of it is just plain silly. It can be stressful for parents at all stages to sift through all the nonsense in search of those precious morsels of good counsel.

In the sea of parenting advice for new dads, how many people stop and dwell on the example of God the Father when looking for instruction on parenting? I wish I had done this sooner. The temptation may be to turn every which way to look for parenting advice when the example of our Heavenly Father is clear in the pages of Scripture. David even illustrates the Lord’s compassion as a father’s love toward his children (Ps. 103:13). God reveals himself as the Father on purpose, and his character and deeds are those of an ideal father. When I look to God’s Word, it is clear that the Father raises his children through presence, instruction, and love. And we dads should imitate his example.

Presence

I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God (Ex. 29:45-46, ESV).

Throughout the Israelite’s exodus through Egypt, God did not leave his children alone. The Father was present with his people. When the children of Israel were sojourners in the wilderness, God provided manna, quail, and water. Later, the Father’s presence through his guiding instruction sustained his people even when he was silent. His presence set them apart from the rest of the world (Ex. 33:16). 

In the same way, fathers should be present with their children. They are responsible for caring for their kids. Fathers would do well to imitate God’s commitment to his presence with his people. So many things, even good things, call for our attention, but few are more important than spending genuine time with our kids. Just as the children of Israel did best when they were aware of God’s presence, so too, our children will do best when their dads are visible and active in their lives. Research even shows that children are negatively affected when their father’s are absent. 

Of course, fathers must also provide—though that will look different for each family—which usually means spending time away from their children for work. While human fathers can never achieve the omnipresence of God, they can ensure that their children experience their presence through explaining why they are away and how this helps them care for their family. So, for example, when a child is eating lunch and dad is away at work, they can remember they have a father who loves and cares for them. And as the show “Daniel Tiger” emphasizes in one of its episodes, children with present fathers can have confidence, even while their fathers are away, because they know that “grownups come back.”

Instruction

Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O LORD, And teach out of Your law (Ps. 94:12, NKJV).

God’s instruction of his children is perhaps one of the most neglected practices imitated in Christian homes. The evidence of his instruction is all throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Father made a point to instruct his children in his law. By giving the law, the Lord revealed his character to his people and also made them aware of sin (Rom. 7:7). Then, in the New Testament, he sent his Son, In the fullness of time, to save us from our sin and reconcile us to himself (Gal. 4:4). Now, those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit to instruct them in the Word and lead them into holiness (John 16:13).

Out of this abundant example of God’s priority for instructing his children in his ways, Christian fathers must also place a high value on instructing their children (Prov. 1:8). When it comes to instructing children, opinions abound. But dads can be sure of this: God expects them to diligently raise their children, by his grace, to fear and love him (Deut. 6). Young children are sponges—they perceive new things about the world each day. Even small children will slowly begin to recognize that their parents submit to One who is their authority. However, this must eventually take the form of intentional instruction from the Bible. 

The instruction of children is anything but passive. Fathers cannot outsource this responsibility, though other trusted adults will often play a role in a child’s spiritual formation. It is a privilege a blessing for fathers to get to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. And it’s vital, for it helps paint a picture of who our Heavenly Father is, even in the mundane things of life like eating dinner, getting ready for the day, traveling, or doing chores. 

Love

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

The Father’s love is not contingent on our actions, but proceeds from his very heart. God gave what was most precious to him in order to save his children while we were still in active rebellion against him, while we were his enemies. And he is committed to his children all the way until the end (John 13:1). God’s love is unconditional and sacrificial.

In a world full of independence and self-serving motivations, Christian fathers should see to follow God’s example of sacrificial and unconditional love, however imperfectly. When we forsake other good things to spend time playing with our children, for example, we model a small piece of God’s sacrificial love for us. The love displayed in this sacrifice is not conditional on a lack of temper tantrums or clean rooms. Instead, fatherly love finds its origin in the Father’s love for us. The realization of how it pleased God to sacrifice for the sake of his children in ways that we never could should lead Christian fathers to ask him for a heart to love our kids well.  

Conclusion

Even in a world in sexual crisis, society is coming around to the fact that fathers are instrumental. That’s because God’s design for the family—which includes a married father and mother with children—leads to individual and societal flourishing. Because of the fall, families will not be perfect, but fathers should try their best to lavish their children with their presence, faithful instruction in the Lord, and love that points to the One who loves their kids best. As we strive to bring up our children in the ways of God, let us cast aside worldly advice and follow the example of our Heavenly Father. We will not always get it right, but we can trust God to sustain us and ask him to give us the joy of seeing our children walk in the truth (3 John 4).   

By / Nov 30

Magic pixie dust for great fathering. Ok, that stuff doesn’t exist. There is no shortcut or gaming the process of raising boys to men. It is hard work, by design. But effort alone won’t get the desired results. Fathering needs to be deliberate. How does a dad purposefully raise a boy? This is the question Jon Tyson’s book, The Intentional Father, addresses.

Intentional is practical 

Tyson’s work is highly practical. Key tasks are explained and supported from Scripture and research. The reader is not left to think, “OK, I need to do that, but how?” Each chapter is marked with an “Intentional Steps” section. In these pages, the reader is led in a style similar to a workshop to process the chapter’s contents and formulate concrete steps. 

For example, in the third chapter, the reader is asked to think forward to a day when their son leaves the home to strike out on his own. Rather than delaying that moment as long as possible, Tyson guides us to face this inevitability. How do you want your son to be prepared for that day? The workshop pages invite the reader to slow down, think, and write answers to the prompts, “What do you want your son to know? What do you want him to be? What do you want him to be able to do? What experiences do you want him to have?” 

Writing down these answers can provide a plan rather than a laissez faire approach to what sons get from dads. With these goals in mind, this loose plan can minimize the pain of inconvenience. For example, if you get a flat tire, you are stuck. Being stuck is annoying and irritating. However, if you have identified changing a tire as something you want your son to be able to do, this inconvenience has become an opportunity to work your plan. This difficulty is not just a curse but also a blessing. The intentional father begins to have eyes that are always looking to get his son in the classroom of life.

Avoiding the “man-ager” rut

“Man-ager” is a term Tyson and his son use to refer to those who by chronology and biology are adult men, but their way of life is too childish — too much like a teenager. Tyson provides sage advice to avoid or dislodge from the rut of persistent adolescence. He presents this guidance as five shifts: 1) from ease to difficulty; 2) from self to others; 3) from whole story to part of the story; 4) from control to surrender; and 5) from temporary to eternal. 

These five qualities are critical for both men and women to thrive in a life that is lived to please God. They are central to a biblical worldview. If boys are unaware that these are the views God is intending to develop in them, they will not only be surprised when these occur, but they will resist the change they are designed to foster. For example, if boys are unaware that a core change in their view of the world needs to be from ease to difficulty, they will likely misinterpret all hardship as poor planning, unjust people, or hatred from God. 

Dads don’t need to plan difficulty; it is baked into life. Rather, an intentional father is ready to take a hard experience and invite his son to consider what he really wants. Does he desire the tough stuff to just be over, or does he desire the good things like perseverance, humility, and dependence that hard things can grow in us. The boy that embraces that difficulty will not only happen, but that it is also designed for his good, will be less likely to put off the increasingly hard responsibilities of adulthood. 

Likewise, the shift from temporal to eternal is a mark of those that are maturing. For example, dads should take their sons to funerals. They are events that force us to face our mortality and consider what kind of legacy we desire to be remembered. End-of-life moments expose what is temporary and awaken our hearts to consider what is eternal. Furthermore, this change in mindset can aid in curtailing the temptation to look for complete satisfaction in this world. 

Boys that embrace the eternal are not surprised when things of earth are only partially fulfilling. They become men who resist chasing satisfaction in the creation and are less prone to anger when they don’t receive such contentment from the temporal. These men begin to see all temporal things as road signs and billboards pointing their longing of satisfaction to the One who is eternal.

Tyson argues for dads to create a growing realization in their boys that God has invited him to leave the center stage of his own small story and take a role in his grand epic story of redemption. Too many boys, and man-agers, are trapped in an illusion that a life that is largely about their own glory, pleasure, and power. The intentional father is actively leveraging experiences to open his son’s heart to see beyond the three-foot circle he lives in. 

A proactive approach to parenting

The author identifies critical worldview formation that readers may have been putting off. What is a person? What is true? What is good? What is beauty? What is ethical? What happens at the end? People have been asking and trying to answer these core worldview questions for millennia. God has given clarity on these types of questions in his Word. Waiting for a son to eventually “figure it out” is not taking fathering seriously. The world will give plenty of answers to these quarries that won’t make your son flourish. 

Tyson posits that a father must be intentional with the views his son leaves home with. We need to help boys develop a theology of sex, a theology of money, a theology of work, and a theology of satisfaction — not simply telling them what to think but walking them through the long-suffering process of helping them to think. For example, a son who has wrestled with questions of God’s design for sex and God’s boundaries will have a level of protection from the culture in which he will live. That culture will try to catechize the boy into its godless, self-determined view of sexuality. Intentional fathers guide their sons to consider what God has said and prepare them for challenges that the world will raise. 

Additionally, God is a worker, and in making man in his image, he made man to be a worker. Because God works, work has intrinsic value. A man does not avoid work. His dream is not to win the lottery and never work again. Rather, a man experiences God’s goodness through work. He grows in discipline, dependence, and humility before God. A theology of work helps a young man see through the warped view of work his culture is trying to sell him.

Intentional moments

Tyson highlights the need to be purposeful in the threshold moments of life. Life has a series of firsts. First cell phone, first exposure to pornography, first girlfriend, first break up, first exposure to drugs, first exposure to the LGBTQ world, first exposure to death, first job, first exposure to racism, first time with a driver’s license, etc. Fathers are assured that all of these will happen. Being purposeful in preparing sons for these events is loving and wise. 

In order to be intentional, Tyson encourages the reader to embrace the practice of initiation. Most cultures throughout history recognize that age 13 is a period where change happens in the heart of a boy. Though preliminary work can be done in younger years, early teens is when Tyson recommends that fathers really need to get to work in a particular way. Readers are led through a series of exercises to recall watershed moments and gifts in their own journey toward manhood. A deliberate plan to mark the transformation of your boy to a man is a high task that ensures he will get the blessing from his father that every man needs. 

Tyson’s work is most helpful as an example to inspire rather than a blueprint to replicate. He admits as much, indicating that what he did was tailor-made for his son, in their region of the country, and with their resources. These variables will likely differ for readers. Tyson gives several details about the specifics he and his son, Nate, did such as regular early morning meetings. Meeting at the same time with one’s own son is not as critical as the regular meeting at a time that best fits you. 

Embracing intentionality

Don’t skip the step at the end of each chapter. They function like mini commitments and targets. Deadlines help us complete tasks and uphold responsibility. We can experience them as stressful and weighty, but they are usually necessary. You sometimes get to audit a class, but no one gets to audit fatherhood. Even those who abdicate nearly every fatherly task and opportunity leave indelible marks on sons. In addition, no one is sufficient, all on their own, to the task of raising sons. 

There is more than enough grace from Jesus for your son to develop better than the work you put in. Being an intentional father is a means the true and better Father uses to change you. With this volume, you will get to make a plan that is custom fit for your son. God chose you to be his dad. Roll up your proverbial sleeves and get your hands dirty in the heart of your son. It is work. Expect to be frustrated, tired, and at a loss sometimes. But look ahead to the man he will become, knowing all your effort in the Lord is worth the result.

By / Jun 17

In 1972, President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation establishing the observation of one special Sunday each year in honor of America’s fathers. He described the rich heritage our fathers share with us as “one for which adequate thanks can hardly be offered in a lifetime, let alone a single day” and called on each American to “make this Father’s Day an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers, increasing and enduring through all the years.”

As Christians, we should be the most grateful of all on Father’s Day. Ours is an even richer heritage because we have a Heavenly Father who has adopted us as his children and placed us into our earthly families as part of his good plan. We know that any love we receive from our parents is a glimpse of the Father’s love for us. 

But because of sin, sometimes giving thanks for our parents isn’t that easy. The Bible says we should give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), but how do you give thanks when your relationship with your parents is strained or even nonexistent? How can you be grateful when your parents don’t love you the way God intended? 

The only way we can give thanks in difficult circumstances is through Christ. For while our parents’ love toward us may be lacking, Christ’s love for us is always perfect and never fails. He knows your pain, and he will help you to obey his commands to honor your parents and give thanks to him — even when it’s hard. 

5 prayers 

As Father’s Day approaches, let’s do as President Nixon suggested and make it an occasion for renewed gratitude toward our fathers. But even more importantly, let’s give thanks to God, who has graciously given us all things. To help us consider all that he has given us, here are five prayer prompts based on Psalm 100.

Lord, we give thanks to you for you are:

1. Our maker 

“Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his” (Psa. 100:3). 

God took such care in creating you — ordaining each of your days and intricately knitting you together in your mother’s womb (Psa. 139:13-16). Give thanks for the man and woman he brought together to give you life. Thank him not only for making you but for making you his. 

2. Our shepherd 

“We are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psa. 100:3). 

Jesus is a good Shepherd. Thank him for calling you by name and for willingly laying down his life for you, his sheep. Reflect on how he has led you, protected you, restored you, and comforted you throughout your life — sometimes by way of your mother and father — and give thanks. 

3. Good 

“For the Lord is good” (Psa. 100:5)

We have a good Father who gives us good gifts. Bless him for generously pouring out his grace and mercy on you through his son, Jesus Christ. Thank him for blessing you with adoption, redemption, forgiveness, and a guaranteed inheritance. In addition to these spiritual blessings, express your gratitude for the good gifts he has given you by the hands of your parents as well; thank him for a few specifically. 

4. Steadfast in love 

“His love endures forever” (Psa. 100:5). 

When human love waivers, God’s love endures. Thank him for loving you so much that he has called you his child and for promising never to let anyone snatch you out of his hand (John 10:29).

5. Faithful 

“His faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psa. 100:5). 

The Lord has been faithful to your parents’ generation, he is faithful to your generation, and he will continue to be faithful to future generations. Thanks be to God! Take a moment to recall specific instances of God’s faithfulness toward you and your family. Then as the psalmist writes, “Shout for joy to the Lord . . . Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs” (Psa. 100:1-2).

Forever thankful

President Nixon was right — a single day of thanks doesn’t seem adequate, does it? When you’re God’s child, there’s plenty to be thankful for. So much so that the psalmist writes, “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” (Psa. 79:13)

Still, we do give special thanks to God for our parents on this particular day. May our hearts be filled with gratitude as we consider all the blessings we have received as children of our Father in heaven and our fathers on earth. 


This article contains an excerpt from 5 Things to Pray for Your Parents (The Good Book Company, 2021).

By / Aug 25

Each August, we take a break from our usual policy focused conversations and host interviews with leaders we admire. This week, Jeff Pickering sits down with retired NFL player Benjamin Watson, who is now an author, activist, and documentary filmmaker. Watson is also a man of deep Christian faith and a faithful family man.

Guest Biography

Benjamin Watson and his wife, Kirsten, are the parents of seven children as well as the founders of One More, a foundation aiming to spread the love and hope of Christ by meeting real needs, promoting education, and supporting local charities. As a retired tight end, Watson is now an ESPN and NFL Network and a prolific media cultural commentator. Watson’s illustrious football career included being the 32nd overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, a Superbowl 39 champion his rookie season, a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Watson has also authored two books, Under Our Skin and The New Dad’s Playbook, and is the producer of a forthcoming documentary, titled, Divided Hearts of America.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Nov 3

Eric Mason shares how the fatherhood of God shapes leadership in the home at the 2018 ERLC National Conference. 

By / Nov 3

Andrew Walker moderates a panel discussion on Embracing God’s Design for Manhood in Marriage at the 2018 ERLC National Conference with Erick Erickson, Nathan Lino, and John Powell.

By / Aug 25

Crawford Loritts shares lessons on integrity and character from the life of his father. 

By / May 18

Two seasons ago, I took my dad to a Major League Baseball game. My parents had come to town for a visit, and I had two tickets to a game. My dad and I sat in the stands watching the Texas Rangers and talked. We talked about life and baseball—especially where they intersected. It was during that conversation that I learned my grandfather had been offered a contract to play Major League Baseball but opted not to play in order to get a job and support his family. We reminisced about trips to St. Louis to see Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals play. We reflected on my own time as a kid playing baseball while my parents watched from the bleachers. The game of baseball was a bond we shared as father and son.

Today many are wondering about the future of baseball. The participation rate among children is declining. Some blame the slow pace of the game. Others say there are no recognizable superstars compared to basketball and football. But some studies highlight another problem—family structure.

At the beginning of this baseball season, The Washington Post published an article that connected some dots between the declining participation in baseball and the state of the American family. The article reads:

A significant impediment to widening that pipeline to baseball may be the changes that have altered the structure of American families.

In a 15-year study of 10,000 youth baseball players, [David] Ogden [a University of Nebraska researcher] found that the sport is drawing a more affluent, suburban and white base than it once did. In another study he conducted, 95 percent of college baseball players were raised in families with both biological parents at home—at a time when only 46 percent of Americans 18 and younger have grown up in that traditional setting.

“We’re looking at a generation who didn’t play catch with their dads,” Ogden says, “and that’s at the core of the chasm between baseball and African Americans. Kids are just not being socialized into the game.”[1]

There is a key social dynamic at play in American culture that threatens the future of the American pastime. The demise of the family has impacted the number of kids who play the game.

According to David Ogden’s research, only 5 percent of college baseball players come from broken homes despite the fact that more than half of children growing up in the United States live in such homes.

The nature of the game—learning the arts of hitting, throwing, catching, as well as the strategy of the game—requires more than just an occasional practice. It necessitates a strong commitment to the time needed to train a player. That is time usually invested by parents, particularly parents in intact families.

In her book Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse states, “There is no substitute for the family in helping self-centered infants develop into cooperative adults.”[2] It takes great commitment on the part of parents to guide their children from the status of self-centered infant to productive member of society. Morse discusses the roles played by each parent and the economic realities of parenting to demonstrate that the child reared in the married home of his biological parents is best prepared for success in life. In the same way, baseball serves as a metaphor for life as it takes time and commitment to train a player even in the basics of the game. And the results of Ogden’s research demonstrate that those boys reared in intact homes have the best opportunity for reaching higher levels of success in the game.

Lest we think that such a dynamic is exclusive to baseball, earlier this year ESPN released the results of a survey conducted with 128 current and former NFL quarterbacks. Some of those surveyed include Super Bowl winners Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Russell Wilson. Among the retired quarterbacks surveyed were Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Bob Griese, and Steve Young.

Some of the questions included in the survey considered typical football-related topics, such as when they first threw a football, if they played in a spread offense in high school, and if they attended an instructional camp to develop skills or be seen by scouts. But the most interesting results were the ones about their families. Nearly 90 percent of the quarterbacks surveyed came from two-parent households.[3]

The common feature between these two articles is the presence of intact families for those succeeding in these male-dominated sports. For these boys, the presence of mom and dad makes a difference for their continued participation and potential success.

When looking at what makes the intact family different from the broken home, it is almost always the presence of a father. Most single-parent households are led by women. These single mothers work hard, often holding multiple jobs to provide for their children. Yet they cannot be both mother and father. This is then reflected in the sports they choose to play. Basketball requires a hoop and a ball. A child can work on the game by himself. Baseball, on the other hand, requires more than one person. In fact, it is advantageous to have a larger number of people if you want to do anything more than play catch.

From an anecdotal perspective, I have taken note of the involvement of fathers in my son’s baseball team. Almost every player has a father or grandfather present at the games, and many even come to practice. There are more than enough dads present to coach the bases, toss the ball to players during warm-ups, and give instructions before a batter steps to the plate. This is different from my experience watching my daughters play soccer and volleyball. The sidelines were dominated by mothers and far fewer fathers were in attendance.

While the research does not provide all the answers, it points to a dynamic between fathers and sons that many believe is key to the future of the game. The article from The Washington Post states, “The commissioner, researchers and coaches all see the transmission of baseball fever relying heavily on the father-son dynamic, whereas other sports are often taught in school or by peers.”[4]

Baseball can serve as an illustration to the truth we find in Scripture—families are the structure God created for the most effective rearing of children. In addition, fathers are especially important to boys.

As fathers, we have a responsibility to teach our sons. We teach them through our words and actions how to love God and be men. Scripture is replete with admonitions to fathers about teaching their sons to follow after God. A constant refrain in the first seven chapters of Proverbs is for a son to hear his father’s instructions. Solomon wrote these words for the benefit of his son.

Fathers cannot teach their sons if they abdicate the responsibilities of fatherhood. A boy growing up without a dad is missing something very important. He is missing the best example of what it means to be a man.

In describing the work of shaping a boy into a man, J. Budziszewski writes, “Unlike the achievement of biological maturity, the achievement of manhood is hard work, labor that requires a firm hand with the desires and devices of the heart. Alas that carving and shaping of these impulses is so unfashionable.”[5] The achievement of manhood is best achieved under the watchful eye of another man—namely, a father.

Baseball gives yet another illustration of the hard work necessary in achieving manhood. The eye must be trained to discern deceptive pitches and forego swinging the bat. The mind must be trained to make split-second decisions and act upon them with conviction. It is intense labor best achieved under the tutelage of a coach.

It should come as no surprise that one of the most well-known passages regarding the instruction of children is directed toward fathers and sons. In Deuteronomy 6, we read:

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. . . . These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:1–2, 6–9)

We can learn much about life from baseball. It serves as a commentary on the state of America. Unfortunately, the current state of the game paints a sad picture about the state of American families. The strength of the family is declining along with the popularity of the game. Perhaps we should strive for a revival of the American pastime, but not simply for the sake of baseball. We should pray that it comes as a result of the revival of the intact family.

[1] Marc Fisher, “Baseball is struggling to hook kids—and risks losing fans to other sports,” The Washington Post, 5 April 2015.

[2] Jennifer Roback Morse, Love & Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village (San Marcos: Ruth Institute Books, 2008), 97.

[3] Kevin Seifert, “Quarterback survey: What we learned,” ESPN.com, 5 February 2015.

[4] Fisher, “Baseball is struggling to hook kids.”

[5] J. Budziszewski, On the Meaning of Sex (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2012), 64.

By / Oct 7

“Without fathers, there is no baseball, only football and basketball.” – Diana Schaub, National Affairs

Baseball is uniquely a sport that fathers pass on to their children.

When Willie Mays speaks of his dad teaching him how to walk when he was 6-months old by enticing him with a rolling baseball, he is telling the story of baseball. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman tells how his CPA father took a late lunch every single day so he could throw him batting practice after school. After 16 years in the big leagues, Chipper Jones headed home and had his mom video his swing so his dad could help him rebuild it. In historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir Wait Till Next Year, she explains the formative role her father’s love of baseball had on her life and career pursuits, “By the time I had mastered the art of scorekeeping, a lasting bond had been forged among my father, baseball, and me . . . These nightly recounting of the Dodgers’ progress provided my first lessons in the narrative art.”

A game that’s taught, not caught

No child will love and pass down the game of baseball simply because someone bought him a glove, ball and bat. He cannot play catch with himself, hit himself ground balls or throw himself batting practice. No child will figure out on their own what in the world a suicide squeeze, sacrifice, infield fly, frozen rope, Texas leaguer or balk means. The mechanics, mystery, nuance and jargon of baseball demand that one has to be personally discipled in its craft and patiently taught its glories. A baseball scorebook resembles mysterious hieroglyphics until the signs and symbols are patiently given meaning by a learned tutor. Very little in baseball is seeker-friendly or self-evident, and few people pick up the game on their own.

Almost no one ever develops a passionate love for baseball as an adult (my wife being a glorious exception). That is not the way the game works. Baseball is a game full of subtleties, which are passed on through generations like a treasured family heirloom. Baseball demands the daily attentiveness of its zealous followers in a consistent and rhythmic sort of way. When columnist Thomas Boswell asserts, “Conversation is the blood of baseball,” he is describing the warp and woof of its distinctiveness (How Life Imitates the World Series). As famed Orioles manager Earl Weaver once quipped, “This ain’t football. We do this every day.” Football and basketball are sports of athleticism and can be peer oriented, but baseball uniquely remains a sport of persistence and usually demands a father’s involvement and investment. In almost every case when a Major League Baseball player is asked, “How did you develop a love for the game?” his first words are, “My dad.”

My passion and love for the game began with my dad placing a baseball in my crib. It grew with countless conversations and times of catch, ground balls and batting practice with my father. The makeshift pitching mound in my backyard and the red clay of the little Dixie Youth Baseball Park, Joe Marshall Field in Montgomery, Ala., will always be more sacred to me than Fenway or any other big league park. As we picked up balls after another round batting practice, the conversations between father and son helped usher me from boyhood to manhood.

Losing our American pastime

But I write this post with a fear that we are losing the great game. I do not mean losing at the turnstile, but we are losing what has always made the game enduring and great. I fear we are losing what has made the game of baseball so much more than “just a game” in our national ethos.

George Will explains, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” Jon Meacham asserts, “To wave off baseball as ‘just a game’ is like referring to the global events of 1939-1945 as ‘just a war.’” These serious cultural thinkers understand that baseball, a constant in American life since the 1850’s, has been the quintessentially American game and a significant culture reflecting and shaping institution. Branch Rickey wrote in The American Diamond, “It is almost impossible to find any team sport that so critically and clearly tests the mettle of each man alone on almost every play and yet fuses them all together into a group working in team competition. That is the paradox of this game that makes it so well suited to the American temperament.”

Baseball requires a kind of individual moral courage that keeps persisting for the good of the team in the face of inevitable repeated personal failures. The national game reflected the national character in a way that uniquely embedded it in the American family experience. Fathers naturally related the daily and rhythmic narrative of baseball to the narrative of life as they reared children.

Absentee fathers and cultural decline

But, I fear baseball is becoming “just a game” in the American experience because fatherhood is in decline. The youth baseball experience is being abstracted from the family and professionalized in contemporary American culture. Absentee fathers have led to the cultural decline of baseball as the national pastime in America. But it must be noted that there are varying kinds of absentee fathers. Some tragically do not live in the home with their children, but others are in the home but hire or farm out much of the parenting. Even in Christian families, providing stuff and paying for opportunities is often counted as engaged parental involvement because we have lost a theology of presence.

The emergence of baseball academies, specialized paid instructors, and travel baseball teams is a symptom of a larger cultural problem. All of these opportunities can be helpful and have a place as a supplement to a player’s baseball development, but they too often become substitutes for what has made the game of baseball great and deeply entrenched in American culture.

Every time I see a father fiddling with his iPhone while paying another man $40 an hour to sit a ball on a tee or soft toss for his son, I realize we are losing the game. Baseball is a game enamored with history and conversation, which have linked generations with a connectedness and shared language. The familial rootedness of baseball contributed to its emergence as the national pastime, and the hectic, virtual world we inhabit today makes its value largely unintelligible. Our industrialized, mass production culture has led to an unthinking value of quick, cheap, and disposable over slow, valuable, and lasting. The downgrade is evident in the range of American performing arts—including sport.

Severing baseball from fathers and local communities is turning the great game into “just a game.” Any American father can be privy to a wealth of resources in books and on the Internet about the fundamentals of baseball that is unparalleled in history. With minimal effort, he can learn drills and patiently work with his son on a daily basis to learn and develop the needed skills. But, it seems many dads would rather pay $40 and be an absentee dad for the instructional hour.

After all, the baseball academies and instructors dangle the possibility of obtaining a college scholarship or a Major League Baseball career if you sign up for their professional lessons. Baseball’s value is corrupted when it is simply seen as a possible means to some utilitarian end. Such notions are fantasy any way. Only two percent of High School baseball players receive any scholarship money to play baseball in college. A family’s time would be more wisely invested by trying to hit it big in the lottery (which I do not recommend).

A father’s presence and the gospel

Absentee dads, whether physically absent or emotionally absent, will not hand down a love and passion for baseball. A father who refuses to take the time to teach a game like baseball that demands patience will probably not take time for other complex and mysterious things either—far more important things.

It is not just baseball that demands a father’s presence. The good news of Jesus Christ is a simple yet infinitely profound message. The Bible takes us through the most important story in the history of the cosmos. The biblical gospel story has all kinds of twists and turns, nuances, and mystery (Eph. 3:3-10; 5:32; Col. 1:26-27). It is the story that defines every one of our personal stories. Passing on “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) to the next generation takes time, patience, and never-ending conversations (Deut. 6:4-9; Psalm 78:1-8) about “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19).

Just like the dad dropping his son off with the baseball professionals, too many Christian fathers act as if they do not have time to read the long complex story of the Bible and have countless conversations with their children about the gospel and biblical truth. It is much easier and efficient to drop them off and allow the professionals at the church with seminary degrees to take care of serious religious stuff. Too many dads think what really matters is paying for their children to have the best opportunities and college one day. They tend to prefer the gospel tract approach to teaching faith and life, just the facts, hopefully get them saved, and make sure they get a good education and well paying job. But, in a faith with a Savior who took on human flesh and dwelt among us, we ought to know better. Faithfully teaching our children about the glory of the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ demands time, patience, and presence.

Without fathers, there is no baseball—and unfortunately, that is one of the smallest tragedies of absentee dads. There is a reason grown men have often cried when Field of Dreams ends with Ray playing catch with his dad. But I fear we are heading toward a time when many men will be unmoved and puzzled by what they see as a strange ending to the movie. If so, we will have lost far more than baseball.