“Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight;
for I give you good precepts:
do not forsake my teaching.”
~Proverbs 4:1-2 (NRSV).
A key motif of Proverbs in the Bible, particularly the first nine chapters, is of a father guiding a son to wisdom, which is the quest for moral excellence in life. No, wisdom is not how smart we are; it’s how well we live life, the decisions we make, and importantly how those decisions are made.
The value of fathers as spiritual guides and teachers has never been in question.
This is not so much about underplaying the role of the mother, for the maternal instinct has its own separate imperative. Both mother and father are seen here playing complementary roles.
The Respect a Father Commands
If we had fathers we looked up to, they commanded a certain respect beyond words.
Not so much were we fearful of them, we were transactional around them. In this way they instituted discipline through the setting of goals and our achievement of them. We achieved their respect when we did tangible things. It was through these things — modes of action toward achievement in life — that we built our relationships around.
Our worlds with our fathers were therefore constructed in a grounded reality.
The role of teacher, too, was basically the same; goals were set, we achieved them, and victories of learning were celebrated.
But how did the best of fathers achieve their results with us? It is simple. They utilised the gift of encouragement.
Importance of Encouragement
It’s easy to motivate a child via challenge and discipline — a more natural style for most fathers — but a more nurturing way is found to be even more motivational.
Encouragement is the way of patient guidance.
The greatest lesson I learned for leading youth was: 1) always carry through with what you say you’ll do, and 2) never get angry. If achieving the respect of our fathers was about them ensuring we did what was asked of us, the importance of encouragement, as an imperative for the father, is the requirement of patience to resist anger especially when times are despairing.
Perhaps it is sad, and it’s true as I reflect personally, that the character trait of father as encourager goes against the default. Most fathers don’t find it an easy or natural thing to encourage their children. Nevertheless it is vital. After all, who else has such power with their words as a father has?
Establishing a balance where there is: 1) sufficient respect commanded by the father to challenge for achievement, and 2) sufficient encouragement to pick up the pieces for building confidence, means a father has two key tools at his disposal for being a worthy and loving teacher and guide.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: sethskim.com.