When I was a boy, my father was engaged in my life. He coached me in Little League baseball and taught me how to “dig a ball out of the dirt” at first base. He took me fishing and showed me how to bait a hook, set the hook, and get the fish off the hook. He also tucked me in at night and helped me with my prayers, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” My dad was present. He wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but he was there. And looking back, I felt protected and secure.
In my pre-teens my parents began to experience the ill-fated irreconcilable differences which ultimately ended in divorce. My dad moved out. For a few years I would visit him on weekends, and he would attend whatever events, games, and activities he could. Then I began to drive and find my freedom and security in other places and in other people. Maybe that happens naturally, even when your dad is living in the same house with you, but I don’t have that story, so I don’t know. But our relationship changed. His presence wasn’t felt like it once was. And my need for protection and security still remained.
And before I sound like I’m down on my dad, I’m not. I want to be clear; he wasn’t a bad man. He wasn’t a bad father. He never did anything to hurt me. He just wasn’t there like he once was. And unfortunately, that changes things.
Luckily for those who have surrendered to Christ, we experience a presence that no earthly father could ever provide. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus can relate to us and can empathize with our sufferings (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). In his loneliness and pain, Jesus cries out to the Father while on the cross echoing the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) Jesus understands when we are hurting, alone, unprotected, and insecure.
I don’t want to overplay the Father/Son analogy at the cross, for much more is happening there than we will ever experience, but in our earthly patriarchal design, the absence of a father is real to his son, and it has real effects. We’ve known for years about the psychological and emotional delay that is accompanied with a father’s absence, but the biological effect is proven now to be true as well. In a recent pediatric study, it was determined that an absent father can lead to a shorter lifespan for the abandoned child. Again, science simply proving that God’s design is best when dealing with the human condition.
This study did not choose “perfect” fathers, just fathers that were present. The mere presence of a father has huge emotional, psychological, and biological implications on the child. And this should encourage you, dads. If you’re like me, you are constantly questioning whether or not you’re doing enough, getting it all right, and being everything your children need. But that’s just it; we don’t have to be perfect; we just need to be present. Now, this is no reason to rest on your laurels and just be the “okayest” dad. We have been given the incredible opportunity and blessing to lead our families, and we should do that to the best of our ability, striving to always get better. But also, giving ourselves some grace when we botch it.
As children ourselves, sons of the Most High God, our Father has provided us with a place to rest and seek refuge. He gives us His proximity and His presence, and He calls us to draw near to Him as He draws near to us. The prophet Isaiah writes, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isa. 41:13) Many times, the psalmist prays to the One who provides refuge from the storms of life and protects us from the enemy as we dwell beneath His wings (Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 63:7; and 91:1.) These all speak to the proximity and presence of the Father. And in His presence, we find grace and peace.
Your children are looking for grace and peace. If you are still married and living in the same house with your children…be present. If you are divorced and only see your children periodically…be fully present. Go to every game and activity as you can and just be present. If you have adult children, do your best to be present as often as you can; don’t wait on them to call you, you do the initiation and then be present! As their father, you won’t ever be perfect, but you CAN be present! And if you are in Christ, then the Father’s presence will radiate through you and give your children the much-needed security, protection, grace, and peace that we ALL long for. It is never too late to be present.
– Trey Bailey from The Guild
 C Mitchell et al., “Father Loss and Child Telomere Length,” Pediatrics 140, no. 2 (August 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5527665/.