Allan Hugh Cole Jr., editor
Cascade Books, Eugene, Ore. 98 pages.
Fatherhood seems to have fallen on hard times, which has ironically raised its profile. We are more aware than ever of the costs of absent or hurtful fathers, and thus all the more aware of the important role fathers play in the lives of their children. But men who are seeking to be faithful fathers do not always have community that equips them for this purpose. Dads rarely start playgroups. Television generally depicts dads as falling somewhere between charmingly incompetent to downright malicious. There are too few companions for those who seek to be intentional and faithful in the vocation of fatherhood, which is why this new collection of essays is to be warmly welcomed and widely read. The short book is composed of eleven short, readable reflections written by thoughtful fathers who speak honestly — but not tritely — about the anxieties, joys and challenges that come with embracing the identity of “dad.” There is enormous wisdom to be found in each essay. I often found myself chuckling as one of the authors articulated some anxiety or echoed some experience I knew well. But, just as often, I read something that I’d never considered before. Each contributor brings a distinct voice and perspective. Allan Hugh Cole opens the book with a thoughtful reflection of his own anxiety about parenthood, Greg Garrett speaks humorously and transparently about lessons learned from playing with his kids and Craig Barnes speaks practically about the challenges of becoming a stepfather.
Albert Hsu’s essay is perhaps the emotional highpoint of the book, as he traces with great insight the connections and divergences between his own strained relationship with his father, whose life ended tragically, and the birth of his own children, including a son with Down syndrome. Hsu’s journey of sifting through his own experience as a son in order to become a father of integrity and faithfulness is perhaps the essential task of fatherhood, and the particular contours of Hsu’s own story and the care and honesty with which he tells it makes his essay stand out in a collection of strong contributions.
I did find myself wishing for more theological examination of the concept of God as Father and how this central scriptural image ought (or ought not) to shape our human understanding of fatherhood. David Jenson’s essay begins to consider this in a couple paragraphs, but he ends by acknowledging a “paucity of theological reflections on fatherhood.” Michael Lindvall concludes the book with a provocative thought about Jesus — though not a father himself — providing the model for fathering. I would wish for more reflection of this kind, lest our human conceptions of fatherhood be projected onto God. It is exactly to avoid this danger that we need to learn from our Heavenly Father what it means (and does not mean) to be a father, as Ephesians 3:14 reminds us that all fatherhood (patria) is derivative of God’s fatherhood, not the other way around. Nonetheless, the book remains very important and worthwhile, so much so that pastors would do well to read it and then hand out copies to new dads at the baptismal font.
Andy Nagel is the associate pastor of Neelsville Presbyterian Church in Germantown, Maryland.