The #metoo movement has been sweeping the nation as people bravely call out those who have abused their power for personal gain. Calls to action at the societal level have inspired people to take notice of an issue that has previously been swept under the rug.
I would argue, however, that the most important changes need to come at the level of individuals and families. It is at this level that children first observe power in action, and the most powerful person in the home is usually their dad. He is bigger, stronger, smarter, and he has more resources than they do. Dads are blessed to have the first opportunity to shape their child’s view of how people in power should act, so they should not assume that the #metoo movement is a woman’s issue or that they are powerless to do anything to help.
Lessons from our Fathers
When I was doing counseling, I was surprised how often people traced problems back to their relationship with their father rather than their mother. Two distinct patterns emerged: Fathers who were too harsh and demanding, and fathers who were passive and apathetic. Both types of fathers teach unfortunate lessons to their children.
Before a young professional climbs the career ladder, before they earn the corner office, before they have to answer the question, “Will I take advantage?” or “Will I be taken advantage of?” they have already learned the answer to this question in thousands of little ways over their childhood, from their father. Children are little sponges, always observing how the following questions are answered:
Am I important enough for my dad to pay attention to me? To put down his cell phone and play with me? To be consistently present, starting with dirty diaper changes and night wakings? To communicate important life lessons and correction that is gentle and firm? Does he value my personhood? Does he listen and delight in what I say? Does he draw out what is best in me and praise my inner qualities, or is everything about my outward performance?
Dads are also the first models of how to treat women. Dad communicates a message loud and clear by the way he treats Mom. Does he honor and help her, or does he use and ignore her? Is she the apple of his eye, or can he be found flirting with other women or leering at them on TV? What might I stumble upon if I use Dad’s computer or visit his “man cave”? Are women treated as objects to be used, or people to be valued and respected? What is beautiful and praiseworthy in my dad’s eyes?
Dads can either use their power to protect, provide for and propel their children upward, or they can use their power to control them and use them for selfish gain. This is not a one-time choice, but thousands of tiny decisions add up to have a significant impact over a lifetime. Many of those decisions will go unnoticed by most of the world. They don’t garner attention and praise the same way as delivering a bold speech, and they aren’t as easy as liking a social media post, but they are far more important and influential when it comes time to decide: Will I take advantage? Will I be taken advantage of?
Failure and Hope
Unfortunately, although they wield such influence, men don’t have a great track record of using their power for good. We can trace generations of family dysfunction back through the years, with many examples even found in the pages of the Bible. King Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines which were ultimately his downfall (1 Kings 11:4), but he was only following in the footsteps of his father, King David, who had a man murdered because of lust for his wife (2 Samuel 11). David was also passive in disciplining his children, even when one of his sons raped one of his daughters (2 Samuel 13) and another son threatened David’s own life and kingdom (2 Samuel 15). Before him there was Eli the priest, who looked the other way when his sons were sleeping with women who gathered at the door of the tabernacle (1 Samuel 2: 22-36). Before him was Jephthah, who made a rash vow which cost his daughter her life (Judges 11). Before them was Isaac, who made his wife pretend she was his sister when they traveled in a foreign country, exposing her to potentially being used sexually (Genesis 26:1-11). He was merely following what he had learned from his father, Abraham, who did the same thing to his wife, Sarah (Genesis 20). The problem actually goes even further back, all the way back to the Garden. With the eating of the apple, sin entered the world. The perfect harmony between Adam and Eve was replaced with shame, blame and enmity (Genesis 3). No wonder it is so hard to be a good husband and father!
Thankfully, God offers us hope. God sent Jesus to our rescue, to set us free from patterns of generational family dysfunction and the destruction of sin and shame (Isaiah 61:1-7). Christ laid aside all His heavenly rights, humbled Himself and came to earth to live a life of obedience, suffering and righteousness. He died the death that we deserve, and made a way for us to be saved. He reversed the curse and restored the image of Christ in us, making us whole again and restoring our identity and dignity. When we have a relationship with Him, His Spirit enables us to make those hard decisions, to die to ourselves and put others first.
My husband readily admits that apart from Christ, he would be neither a good husband nor a good father. With Christ fatherhood is still hard, but not impossible. Every day he grows more Christlike, learning to lead our family and use his power to protect and uplift our son and me.
In Christ, there is hope for everyone. Not just dads, but moms and children too. Those who have sinned and taken advantage of other people, and those who have shame over being taken advantage of. Family influence is important, but not deterministic. Even if you had a horrible father, you can still find healing. You can still have dignity, worth and an identity shaped by Christ. You can be adopted by God, redeemed, accepted and beloved (see Ephesians 1). You can be healed from wrong decisions and a shameful past. God is the ultimate Good Father, and He is always there for us. “For I, the LORD, love justice” (Isaiah 61:8). If our Father in Heaven loves justice, then earthly fathers should certainly seek to uphold and protect that justice.
A version of this article originally appeared at Sarah’s blog, Swim in the Deep End.