By MARTIN E. WILLOUGHBY, JR.
Father’s Day always creates mixed emotions for me. I am extremely thankful for my children and the gift of fatherhood. However, I am also saddened as I reflect back on the loss of my father who played such an important role in my life. He died before I was married and before I became a follower of Christ. One thing I have learned is that God is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). By God’s grace, men of faith have mentored me and shown me what it looks like to be a Christian father. Christian authors such as John Eldredge, Steve Farrar, Robert Lewis, and Stu Weber have influenced my thinking on biblical fatherhood.
One of my good friends helped me realize that the journey of a father is not a solo one. There is strength that comes by having a band of brothers who lift each other up and encourage one another. I am fortunate to have friends who share a vision of the importance of being a Godly father. We learn from one another and create accountability for how we raise our children. I have learned from men who raised Godly daughters of the importance of being present and a strong influence in the life of my daughter. I have learned that one of the best things I can do for my children is to love their Mom and show selfless service and respect to her. I have learned the importance of defining manhood in raising a son. In a culture of blurred gender roles and responsibilities, I have seen the value of being a proactive father who casts vision and direction.
To me, fatherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be good times and bad. I have experienced many failures along the way, and I know there are many more to come. I pray to have the courage to admit those failings as they occur, and lean into God for wisdom. One of the things that I have observed is the need to reject passivity and take an active role in the spiritual development of my family. I am a big believer in delegation and outsourcing, but the spiritual development of my children is not one of those areas. George Barna’s work in Revolutionary Parenting influenced my thinking regarding the importance of partnering with your spouse to be intentional in raising passionate followers of Christ. In his work, Barna points out that, first and foremost, you have to live out a vibrant faith if you expect your children to follow suit.
I am not a believer in being a helicopter parent and having a child-centered life. However, I do believe that investing time in being a purposeful parent is a good thing. I like the work of people like Patrick Lencioni in his Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, which encourages readers to have a vision and clear values for their families. Our children are bombarded with an incredible deluge of information which competes to define who they are and what their values should be. I believe that providing clarity for our children of the mission of the family and its core beliefs is an incredible opportunity to counteract that cultural assault. Ultimately, our children become our living legacy. They become part of the imprint we leave on the world during our brief stay here. By living an intentional, purpose driven life, we can set an example for our children and shape the legacy we leave along the way. May you have a blessed Father’s Day!
Martin E. Willoughby, Jr., is Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC, located in Ridgeland. He and his wife, Nicki, have two children, Ally and Trey, and live in Madison.