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A Letter to Young Fathers



Fathers, don’t frustrate your children with no-win scenarios. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master

Ephesians 6:4, MSG

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6, ESV

I’m fifty-seven, and with Susan, my wife of thirty-two years, we have four amazing adult children ages thirty to twenty-two. I think that’s why the Passion Equip team asked me to write a few words to young fathers. You know… he’s old, married to Susan (a major plus), and has four grown kids who seem mostly normal

The timing could not be better for this ask, given that in the last two months, we’ve seen our son, Trenton, get married, and then shortly after, our daughter, Chloe, get engaged. Recent days have been filled with musings of wondering where time has gone and reflecting on endless memories of recitals and tournaments and broken bones and long nights and tears and laughter and proud moments and disappointing moments and family vacations and so many I can’t believe they said that moments. Seriously, where did the time go? 

As a young father, you’ve likely already been told by someone older, maybe your own father or a mentor, that your kids will grow up fast, and you too will one day wonder, as I am, “Where did the time go?” But there is an invitation here, maybe even a warning, to be purposeful and intentional in how you pour into your children. The above verses, Ephesians 6:4 and Proverbs 22:6, offer some foundational guidance on how to do that, and there are endless lists of very helpful books and resources that can also offer biblically-based guidance on how to be a great father. But today, I’m not really focused on giving you a lesson, formula, or a set of steps. 

Instead, from one dad to another, I want to share some of the foundational lynchpin principles I’ve learned (at times the hard way) as I’ve navigated my own journey as a father. It’s worth noting that what I’m offering is less about how you can be a great dad and more about how you, a man of God, can be leveraged by God to unlock your child’s heart for Him so they can live fully and freely in the purposes of God. That’s our call. To help our kids discover who God created them to be, point them in the right direction, and remind them repeatedly that with Jesus, nothing is impossible. 

Ultimately, your sons and daughters will decide how they will live their lives and who or what they will live for. That’s the unsettling part of being a dad, right? Trust me, Susan and I have had seasons where there were major questions about how our kids would choose to live their lives. So, while there are no guarantees, we have done our best to cultivate healthy soil for our kids to plant themselves in while growing up. 

Here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way…

Be a husband first and a father second. Right now, someone reading this may be thinking, “Hey, wait a second, God is supposed to be first.” I’m certainly not setting God aside, but God is not linear, meaning he’s not just first; He’s first and last and everything in between. God is in your marriage, and God is in your parenting. And he has created a family order that starts with the marriage of a man and a woman. Too many families with good intentions have evolved into being child-centered, where their lives are oriented around their kids’ schedules, preferences, desired experiences, etc. 

If you stay on this path too long, you’ll look at your wife one day and realize you’re functioning as co-parents rather than a married couple. You are a better dad when you are an invested husband. And your kids will benefit greatly when they are not the center of your family equation, a position they were never meant to have and are ill-equipped to handle. 

When our oldest son, Tyler, was a toddler, he suddenly decided sleeping through the night was optional. After a couple of weeks of weariness and frustration, we mentioned our predicament to an older couple, and they suggested “couch time.” What? We didn’t need couch time; we needed bedtime! 

They suggested that each day after I got home from work, Susan and I would enjoy some uninterrupted time on the couch, talking with one another while Tyler played on the floor. When Tyler came up to get our attention or whined, we’d simply move him back to his play area and tell him Mommy and Daddy were having our time together. 

At first, we had to do this several times, but over the course of a few days, Tyler stopped interrupting and, more importantly, started sleeping through the night again. Why? Because even Tyler, as a toddler, could sense that our family order needed to be restored. There’s a security and assurance that our kids receive when they are living within the order God intended. 

Prayer is your best weapon (read 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, James 5:16, and Ephesians 6:18). Susan has been a prayer warrior for as long as I’ve known her, which has been an amazing gift and hedge of protection around our family. She has journaled her prayers for me and our children, and I’ve witnessed countless nights of her praying over our children while they are sleeping. But men, and I know I’m being perhaps overly general, we need to get in the game! Susan and I have seen some of the most significant breakthroughs in our kids’ lives when we’ve prayed together for them. And, for what it’s worth, we’ve experienced some of our deepest areas of nearness to one another when I have been the one to initiate and lead in this area. Don’t let prayer become a reactive afterthought; it is the most powerful and strategic thing you can do for your children. 

Modeling matters. Your kids will learn and internalize much more from what you do than you say. There is no stronger influence, for better or worse, than you. Want your sons to be great husbands? Be one to their mother. Want your daughter to choose a godly man? Cherish and love her sacrificially so she doesn’t seek the approval of men in unhealthy ways. Want to see your kids make their faith their own and enjoy the Christian community? Be the same man at home as you are at church on Sunday. Want your kids to be humble? Let them experience an apology and a request for forgiveness when you mess up. 

No matter how stiff the cultural headwinds are, you’re called to lead your family to holiness. You are facing societal challenges to your family that I did not. Yet, there’s never been a time when we, as Christians, were not called to be set apart. And in an age of extremism on either side of the ideological spectrum, there’s nothing more countercultural or radical than living righteously. But how do you lead your family in that direction when it’s more common for Christians to blend in? This topic deserves much more space than I have in this article, but I think it starts by going beyond making limits and laying down nos; and it’s about helping your kids see the heart of God within his holiness. Why are we called to avoid certain things? Why do we make different choices than other families do? Help your kids see that God is never about restriction but about freedom and flourishing. Help them see that today’s decisions impact the destinations they will reach tomorrow.

Small sacrifices > big experiences. Recently I asked our kids what some of their best memories were growing up. I expected to hear about our family vacations, the best Christmas gift they received, or when we sent them on a cool trip. Nope. Instead, I heard things like games we played at home, all-night conversations, years of me coaching their teams, camping in the backyard, building forts… you get the point. We can go to great lengths to wow our kids (and keep up with what other families are doing), but the simple, genuine, I’m available to you moments will anchor the most important memories in their hearts. Look for simple ways to be intentional with your kids collectively and individually. It will mark them for life. 

Being a dad is a treasured gift and one of your highest callings in life, and I hope sharing some of my own experiences as a dad is helpful and encouraging. As I wrap up this article, I want to finish with perhaps the most important advice I can offer you. 

Pursue your children’s hearts. 

Jesus said in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Proverbs 4:23 adds, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Yes, as a dad, you want your kids to be smart and successful and have a strong work ethic and a great community of friends. But above all, you want them to have good and healthy hearts that beat for the redemptive things of God. That’s why our number one priority as parents has been to pursue their hearts. Susan and I would often say about our kids, “Open mouths, open hearts,” meaning that when communication was open, and they were sharing freely with us (especially during their teen years), then we knew that even when circumstances were hard and behavior was off, their hearts were open and accessible to us. So, dads, pursue your sons’ and daughters’ hearts, for everything they do in life will be built on it. 

Grace and peace.

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Scripture References

  • Ephesians 6:4
  • Proverbs 22:6
  • 2 Corinthians 10:3-4
  • James 5:16
  • Ephesians 6:18
  • Luke 6:45
  • Proverbs 4:23
Kevin Marks Kevin Marks is the Managing Director of Passion Publishing. A native Oregonian Kevin enjoys all things outdoors and Oregon Ducks. He and his wife Susan live in Atlanta and have four adult children.