What is Right With Dad?


What’s Right With Dad?

Fellowship Class

June 19, 1994

Wayne Danielson

What’s Right With Dad?

Matthew : 9-12.  Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them who ask him?”

If you pay attention at all to what’s in the papers, you know that a lot is wrong with Dad.

Mrs. Bobbitt  got let off pretty easily  for her crime.  The jury accepted her story that she had been so mistreated by Mr. Bobbitt that she was out of her mind and didn’t know what she was doing.  She had a miraculous recovery after  about a month of counseling, however,  and, so far as I know, she is okay now.  Mr. Bobbitt  is  about the same.

Senator Packwood  of Oregon was pretty much of a mess for the last 15 or 20 years.  He was a sexual harrasser, according to quite a few women.

So was our newest Supreme Court justice.

Bob Barker  of the Price is Right has  had the same accusation made against him.

And even the president is now involved in a sexual harassment suit.

There’s no question about it, a lot is wrong with Dad.

The Catholic Church is losing members because a number of their  priests -- the fathers of their flocks -- have been child-abusers.  Not much hope in that direction.

Woody Allen was attracted to one of the young girls his wife  Mia Farrell adopted.  And a son, at least according to Mia, may have been abused, too, although Woody says it never happened.

The Menendez brothers, who killed both their parents, say they did it because their Dad was such an abuser. The jury deadlocked on that one, and the boys are still  free today.

Princess Di  says Prince Charles never gave up his old girlfriend, who happens to be married to somebody else.  That’s what Princess Di says, and she refused to put up with it.

What’s wrong with Dad?

A lot.

The papers talk about divorced dads who don’t make their child suppprt payments.  Deadbeat Dads they call them.  And they exist in large numbers.

Why is the number  of children born out of wedlock approaching 30 percent in our country?  Take your pick of answers.  Either because the young men involved don’t want to accept their responsibilities or because the women involved would rather raise their children by themselves than have to take on the added burden of dealing with no good husbands.

Dads are in a lot of  trouble.

I recently attended a meeting on the UT campus at which one of the speakers, a man,  said that all American men are potential rapists.  It’s the way they are raised, he said.   It’s part of our American culture.  He didn’t see anything wrong with what some young women did at an eastern college -- they made posters listing the names of all the men at the college, and up at the top, they wrote: “These men are potential rapists.”

The courts disagreed with that approach, and fined the organization that made the posters.

Whether you accept these dire depictions of men as being realistic -- and, personally, I think that they are exaggerated -- you must admit that men in general -- and dads in particular --  have had a bad press  recently.

I’d like to meet the problem head-on this morning, and just mention some good things that dads do.

If you wake up one morning and see a scorpion on the ceiling of the bedroom, who gets the job of knocking it down and taking it outside?


If the dog gets really old and has to be taken to the vet to be put to sleep, who gets that job usually?


If son gets arrested for doing wheelies on  somebody’s front lawn, who goes to the police station at 2 in the morning to get him released?


If you’re feeling really blue, and you would like to cry in somebody’s arms for about 30 minutes or so, whose arms do you choose?


Who gets to open those really hard to open jars of cranberry juice?


Who gets to risk electrocution by  sticking his arm behind the refrigerator  to retrieve a dropped  spoon?

Do I have to tell you?

Who gets the privilege of moving really heavy furniture to various locations around the house until it looks just right?

You said it, I didn’t.

Now, it’s true that when Father’s Day comes around, families do have to cough up enough money for a card or a present.  (This year I got a very nice  five gallon drum of sunflower seeds to feed the birds next winter.)  But, all things considered, the old man is probably worth it in many instances, don’t you agree?

Dads provide some minor but essential services that cannot be provided any other way.

Only a dad can help you get a kite up into the wind just right.

Only a dad can carry you on his shoulders with your legs wrapped tight around his neck.

Only a dad can hold your hand and make you feel safe when you have to walk down a scary dark street.

Only a dad can show you how  to put a worm on a fish hook.

Only a dad can show you how to hold a baseball bat or catch a football or toss a fishing lure into the exact spot under a bank where a big bass is waiting.

Only a dad can show you how to hold your breath and not cry when you have to have a splinter taken out of your finger.

Only a dad can tell you, “This is something that you have to do whether you want to or not” -- and you know you have to do it.

These are good services, and  only a dad can provide them.

Recently, we have seen in the church a rather concerted effort to change the male orientation of our religious customs and traditions.

At a funeral a couple of weeks ago, the minister leading the service  was from one of those new denominations -- a new age sort of religion -- and she referred to God throughout a rather long talk and several prayers as “Our Mother-
Father God.”

Well, I suppose I could get used to thinking about God as “our mother/ father who art in heaven,” but I wonder if it is really necessary?

Are men and fathers so bad that we actually need to reconceptualize our traditional perceptions of God?

Some people think so.

Some people think that we would be less warlike, less cruel, less demanding, less aggressive if we thought of God in feminine terms.

The Sophia movement in the protestant churches -- including Methodism -- is a good example.

In parts of the Old Testament -- particularly in the Proverbs -- Wisdom (Sophia in Greek) is highly praised.  Wisdom -- Sophia -- was thought of as feminine in gender in the ancient world, and perhaps, it was argued, this presents us with an opportunity to see God in a new way, a feminine way.  Discoveries  in this century of additional gospels and other religious texts from the second century, gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas that were long suppressed and indeed simply lost to scholarship and theology,  also contain numerous references to Sophia and other feminine aspects of God. 

The idea of Sophia or wisdom also connects to mystic, New Age conceptions of God that are popular among some young people these days.   New Age thought is heavily influenced by religions of Asia where the divine is often characterized  in a feminine way.

At a recent conference in Minnesota, some  American church women  prayed to Sophia in a service whose liturgy eliminated  all traditional masculine references to God.  Instead of wine, milk -- being more feminine -- was employed in a kind of communion service.

The Minnesota meeting raised  concern in many churches.  Some ministers referred to the religious services at the conference as just plain heresy.  Others didn’t see that much harm in it.

My own reaction was to wonder whether all this change is really necessary.

Is this battle over the words of the faith really that important?

Will the changes, if they are made, really change the way people think and behave?

Will we actually become less violent as a society if we change the words of our songs and our prayers and our holy scriptures to downplay males and emphasize females?

Our hymns have been undergoing considerable rewriting in recent years to eliminate words and phrases that have become offensive to some women.

In my opinion, a lot of good poetry has been spoiled in the process, and I wonder whether it really makes a difference in us.

When I sing “O God our help in Ages Past” with the new words, does it really make me less likely to go home and  do something violent to the dog?

The old words were, “Time like an ever rolling stream, Bears all its sons away; They fly forgetten as a dream Dies at the opening day.”

The new words are, “Time like an ever rolling stream, Bears all who breathe away, They fly forgotten as a dream Dies at the opening day.”

Will that minor change really make a difference?  It seems to me that the grammatical error introduced by the change -- the pronoun they no longer has a decent  referent -- may actually do more harm to society.

One of the wonderful things about our scriptures is how faithfully they have been preserved over the ages.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, scholars were amazed to find that the Old Testament texts written down by scribes 2,000 years ago were absolutely the same texts that we have today.  All the years of copying that had intervened had left almost no changes.  Not a comma, not a period had been omitted.

And yet, in our time, there are those who wish to change the words of our holy writings because of their conviction that their male orientation contributes to deep themes of violence and hatred in human society.

It may be so.

But as a word man from childhood -- perhaps I should say a word person -- I just cant believe that words themselves have that power. 

Surely it is an oversimplification to suppose that referring to God as “our father”is a root cause of drive-by shootings on our city streets.

And surely it is an oversimplfication to suppose that changing the words of the scriptures will change the crime rates in our inner cities.

I could be wrong about this.

And perhaps I am.

A good many people think that change is long overdue and is badly needed.

My own wish, I suppose, is that those people advocating radical change would read the holy scriptures again, listening to the music as well as the words.

I think they would find that the males depicted in those ancient stories are not, on the whole, bad examples for all of us -- men and women -- today.

Matthew : 9-12.  Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he ask a fish, will give him a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them who ask him?”

That’s a pretty typical New Testament text, isn’t it?

It’s Jesus speaking -- obviously speaking to a bunch of men.

And, in a way typical of his time, he uses masculine expressions throughout.

He talks about a man and his son.

And he says that a man -- even an evil man --  does not ordinarily mistreat his son.   If the son asks for bread, a father will not give him a stone.

That’s the simple truth, isn’t it?

If a son asks his dad for something, the first thing a dad will do is try to give him what he asks for.  He won’t give him something else, something bad.  He won’t intentionally do the boy harm.

“If he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” Jesus asks.  And the answer of course is no.  

People -- men and women alike -- are not made that way. 

When the children were small, a neighbor’s boy, Jimmy, used to drop in pretty often around lunch time during the summer.  I don’t know why this was, exactly, but  I always thought that his mom kind of let her kids forage on their own during the warm months.

I would often ask Jimmy  to stay for lunch.

But -- coming from a not so polite home -- he usually asked, “What are you having?”

I couldn’t let that opportunity pass to improve his manners, and I would say, “Welll, today’s menu includes roast roach and fried snakes, with a salad of poison ivy  garnished with sauteed beetles.”

“Ah Dr. D,” he would say.  “You’re just kidding.”

Of course I was.

In spite of my intention of teaching him not to ask what the gift was before accepting it, I really wouldn’t offer him such a meal.

I couldn’t.

The kids usually tried to be good in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

B ut it was a tense time, and they were filled with dreams of the new toys and games they would receive, and they  frequently  misbehaved.

I made threats.

“If you don’t quit this fighting among yourselves,” I would warn the boys, “Santa Claus will bring you a switch and a stocking filled with coal.”

Well, they didn’t know what coal was -- or a switch either, really -- and they paid no attention to my threat.

They were pretty sure that Santa Claus would not treat them so harshly.

And they were correct.

No matter how badly they behaved, on Christmas morning they still received their gifts.

Jesus understood this about parents.

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”

I suppose we could rewrite that simple  verse.

We could include the moms as well as the dads, or we could rewrite it so that it referred entirely to  mothers and daughters.

“Or what woman is there of you, whom if her daughter asks bread, will give her a stone?  Or if she ask a fish, will she give her a serpent?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Mother which is in heaven give good things to them that ask her?”

The words sound different don’t they?

But the music -- the underlying message -- is exactly the same.

The gospel -- the good news -- is that we have a God  in heaven who loves us and will treat us kindly and see that our deepest needs are satisfied.

That gospel transcends the maleness or the femaleness of the language.  It goes far beyond mere differences in gender. 

I think the scriptures should be left the way we received them.

In my opinion, they don’t need to be seriously altered in the interests of one side or the other of the present political struggles in society.

The fathers depicted in the scriptures are ordinarily not bad people.  On the whole, they are pretty good people, just as the women of the scriptures are.

The men and the women of the scripctures  may be foolish at times.  They may make mistakes.  But most of the time both the men and the women  try to act in the best interest of  the others in their lives.  Husbands and wives love one another.  Mothers and fathers love their children.  The stories of Jesus’s own family bear this out.

Soon after the birth of the Baby Jesus, King Herod threated to kill al the male children  in the country.   Did Mary and Joseph offer their son up to the soldiers?  No, they took off for Egypt to protect the precious child.

After a visit to Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph failed to check for Jesus in the caravan of people returning home.  Did they leave him in Jerusalem  to fend for himself --  to become a homeless child in the city?  No, they rushed back to find him, to rescue him.  And Mary, understandably I always thought, gave him quite an earful.

At the wedding in Cana,  they ran out of wine,   Mary was somehow responsible.   She asked Jesus for help.  Did he leave her holding the bag, embarrassed and ashamed?  No -- the first miracle of his many miracles was performed for his mother.   Water became wine.

The Bible is a text that, on the surface, is mainly about men.

But if it is read with any degree of compassionate understanding, it clearly is about all of us, and its underlying message -- the music of the gospels -- is about love.

In our time, as in times past, the age-old battle of the sexes ebbs and flows.

Right now, it seems to me that men are in a lot of trouble.  Dads are in a lot of trouble.

It is certainly true that many men are not worth very much.

But they do serve some minor but important functions, I think.  They are good with kites and scorpions and baiting fishhooks and throwing things.

And many of them, in spite of their failings, are kind to their children and wish only the best for them.

Would we, in fact, be a better society if in our music and our literature and our holy scripture, we spoke more about women and less about men?

It may be so.

But my hunch is that we would be a much better society if we paid less attention to the gender of the words used in the gospel  and more attention to the underlying meaning of the gospel message itself.

The important thing,  it seems to me, is not that God is referred to as “our father,” but that he is clearly and unmistakable referred to as the source of  love in our lives.