A father loves a daughter — and oh, do fathers love their daughters — as someone who is not like me but rather like the most important person on earth to me: my wife… A father looks at his son as one who will become what he is — a father — and so needs to learn what it means to be a man. To use masculine strength to help, not hurt; authority to serve, not be served; words to encourage, not demean. A father wants his son not only to benefit, as a child, from his father’s strength but also increasingly to become strong, as a man. A good father wants to replace himself with a young man like him, and better.
I don’t remember which son I held first.
In the chaos of the C-section, with doctors and nurses racing around, and the anesthesiologist team standing by — and two cords to cut — I’m not sure which of our twin boys I first took in my own hands. Or at what point, in the special-care nursery in those first two weeks, I sat there holding one of the boys and first realized, “This is my son.” My wife and I slept so little in those first twelve weeks that many memories are a blur.
Nor did I ever have the chance of focusing my father’s heart on one particular and only son. But as a father of these boys, and now of two younger daughters (who are not twins), I can testify from both Scripture and experience that there is something special about a father’s love for a son.
Other ‘Four Loves’
God made two sexes — which makes for four distinct relationships between parents and their children: father-son, father-daughter, mother-daughter, and mother-son. Interestingly, Jesus honored each of these four loves during the course of his ministry:
- a mother’s love for her demonized daughter (Mark 7:24–30),
- a mother’s love for her dead son (Luke 7:11–17),
- a father’s love for his dead daughter (Mark 5:22–43), and
- a father’s love for his demonized son (Matthew 17:14–20; Mark 9:14–29; Luke 9:37–43).
Elsewhere I’ve reflected on a father’s heart for his daughter, but here, without minimizing any of those other loves — there is something special about each one — let’s ponder the peculiar nature and contours of a father’s love for his son.
‘My Beloved Son’
We could first linger over that human father’s special love for his demonized son. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each in their own way, accent the father’s love for his son (Matthew 17:15; Mark 9:22, 24; Luke 9:38, 42). However, in all three Gospels — this is no small detail — the account of Jesus rescuing this father’s demonized son follows immediately on the heels of the transfiguration, which has at its heart the heavenly Father’s declaration about his Son.
Just as he had declared his love for his Son at the outset of his public ministry, at his baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22), now, as the Son draws near to the cross, the Father again speaks over him a clear fatherly word of love and approval:
This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 17:5)
On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus “is reminded once again who he is,” comments Donald Macleod, “and reminded, too, of the Father’s love and approbation” (Christ Crucified, 21). Soon Jesus will face the cross, and be surrounded by mockers and the power of darkness, but here, in the calm before the storm, it is as if his Father says, “Son, in all you are now going to face, never forget who you are, never forget that I love you, and never forget how proud I am of you” (22).
The transfiguration, in context, may give us as profound a peek into a father’s love for his son as we can find. Let’s ponder it through Macleod’s threefold framework, which helps us get at several aspects unique to (or especially pronounced in) the love of a father for a son.
1. ‘Who You Are’
The Father says, “You are my Son.” A father begets a son, generates a son, as one who is like himself in a profound and objective way that a daughter is not.
A human father loves a son as one who, with respect to biological sex, down to every cell of his body, is like me. A son grows up to be a man, not a woman — a father, not a mother. God has entrusted us as fathers to raise up our sons to be like us — not just as humans and Christians, but as men, not women. He calls us to speak words with the gravity of a father’s particular identity-shaping power. And to demonstrate masculine strength at work in the self-sacrifice and humble initiative it takes to lead, provide for, and protect a wife and children.
A father loves a daughter — and oh, do fathers love their daughters — as someone who is not like me but rather like the most important person on earth to me: my wife. With a daughter, a good father models self-sacrificial masculinity and teaches her what it’s like to receive and be cared for by a worthy, Christlike man. But with his son, a father wants more. He wants his son to one day be the man. “You are my son.” I want you, as my son, to learn to be the one who will be the Christlike head of his family (Ephesians 5:23) and shoulder primary (not sole) responsibility for his family. As dads, we want our son to cultivate enough strength and gentleness to show honor to his wife as both weaker vessel and coheir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7).
A father looks at his son as one who will become what he is — a father — and so needs to learn what it means to be a man. To use masculine strength to help, not hurt; authority to serve, not be served; words to encourage, not demean. A father wants his son not only to benefit, as a child, from his father’s strength but also increasingly to become strong, as a man. A good father wants to replace himself with a young man like him, and better.