Eight years ago today my oldest son was born. With each of our kids, my wife and I did not want to know the sex of our children until we saw them for the first time at their birth. So I did not know for sure that I would have a son until I first met him eight years ago today. When we had our first child, Esther, I definitely felt the weight of responsibility and the very strong love for this life that God entrusted to us. When Packer was born, I felt it all over again, but this time it was different. For I knew that since he was a boy, I would be the primary role model for him. He would learn what it means to be a Christian man, to be a husband, to be a father primarily from watching me.
So now, I'm eight years in, and the responsibility feels like it is even heavier upon me than ever before. Now I can look at my son, and I can see myself in him. I can see how he responds to things - successes, failures, encouragements and disappointments - in much the same way that I have, both when I was his age and also as I still do today. I see how my interests are his interests. How many of the things in this world that fascinated me when I was his age, now fascinate him. It's actually a little surprising to think about, but at the same time completely what I should have expected. It is also a bit frightening. For I know that my son will probably also take after me pretty closely with the struggles that I had with sin and rebellion in my teenage years. The apples never seem to fall too far from the tree.
I have been and continue to try to teach my children the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have been doing this almost daily since they were old enough to listen to me read the Bible to them. I am so grateful to be a part of a church that is also committed to helping families teach the gospel to their children. We are learning the New City Catechism together. We are reading books which creatively reflect the gospel story. We are reading the gospels and getting to know Jesus Christ better. But I know that teaching can only go so far. What will be far more impactful on my son is not how often he hears me talk about the gospel but when he actually sees me live out the gospel before him day after day. He will only be convinced of the gospel's effectiveness if he sees the difference it makes in how I live, in how I treat other people, in how I respond when others sin against me and most importantly in how I repent and seek forgiveness when I sin.
I was struck by a quote I read a few weeks ago in a blog post by Jonathan Hayashi. He wrote, "Every Father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice." That was one of a very few quotes I wrote down on a sticky note and put it next to my Bible on my desk so I would look at it every day. It is true, and it is something I, as a father, need to be reminded of every single day. No matter how much I tell my son how to live, it won't matter at all if I am not living it out in front of him each day.
Two weeks ago my family celebrated my late grandfather's 100th birthday by way of sharing our gratitude to God for him, and our memories of him together, in a group text. It was moving to read what each of my family members shared but I was most struck by what a cousin, who is six years younger than me, shared. What stood out to him was how he used to sit by my grandpa in church every Sunday when he was growing up and listen to my grandpa sing during the service. That really struck me because first of all, I grew up going to a different church than my grandfather so it was something I had not experienced. And yet, my cousin's experience was very familiar to me because one of my most beloved memories of growing up going to church with my family is listening to and singing the worship hymns with my father, who of course is my grandfather's son. In many churches, the men don't sing. That was not the case in my family. My dad was just following the example that his father had set for him, and had such an impact on me. Today I know that when I sing out loudly on Sunday mornings that I am just another Hogrefe man whose hope is not in how impressed others are with me, but is in the Christ that we sing about. I am praying that my sons will also be churchmen who do not just say they believe, but that their faith will be so genuine as to lead them to sing out the hymns and songs of worship without fear of what anyone else thinks of them.
"Every Father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice."
Fathers, let us speak to our sons what the Apostle Paul spoke to the young Christians in Philippi, "join in imitating me and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us." (Phil. 3:17 ESV)