One of the most formative and significant contributions a father can make in the life of a child is that of a kept promise.
Christians are quick to look elsewhere when finding something to blame for society's moral decay: Promiscuity, homosexuality, humanism, communism and the like have all been scapegoats for the "families are under attack" paranoia in evangelical circles.
When we consider that Jesus tells us to "consider the log" in our own eyes, however, we need look no further than to a father's ability or inability to keep his promises to his family.
Call me old-fashioned, but I'm one of those fellas who still believes that the integrity of a man is only as good as his word, and that a man's word is his bond.
Last time I purchased a car, I shook hands with the dealer when I decided to buy the car even though I wasn't going to complete the transaction until the next day. He was skeptical, and I told him that if my handshake wasn't good enough for him, then neither was my money.
Although the one-time popular movement known as Promise Keepers has waned over the last decade, God still calls us dads to be promise keepers to our children. Car dealers and neighbors aside, theirs is the trust that we need to consider as most sacred and special.
A life of ministry has pushed my own sense of promise keeping when it comes to my children. There have been times when I had to choose between a visit to the hospital and a promise made to my son or daughter.
Other times, I missed church functions in order to take one of them to a much-needed appointment.
One of the most crucial ways to communicate to your child that you are a father of integrity is to be present in his or her life. Usually, we do not have to tell them "I promise"; just the fact that we are a father assumes that we fulfill certain obligations, least of which is to keep our children safe and pay attention to their needs.
In a nation in which one out of every two marriages fails and childbearing outside of the bonds of marriage is becoming trendy, a father has to take special care to make his family a priority even when there is the temptation to give up on his spouse.
In his book "Getting Marriage Right," Baptist ethicist David Gushee reminds couples that marriage is a sacred trust built upon a covenant of mutual sacrifice. The covenant is one that should not be taken lightly; and for many children, a father's covenant with his wife is the first "promise" that models for children the importance of sacrifice, patience, and perseverance.
In one chapter, for instance, Dr. Gushee says that remaining married for the sake of the children is still a valid reason to stay married. Although this idea may be old-fashioned to some (and Dr. Gushee makes exceptions for divorce in cases related to abuse or adultery), this ethic of "bearing one's cross" for the sake of children is something that creates a sense of integrity and purpose in a husband's life.
In order for a father to be a hero to his children, he need not adorn a cape and mask. He need not jump over buildings, take flight, or purchase a snazzy birthday gift.
A hero only needs to keep his promises and show that sacrifice for the sake of family is the most worthy goal to which every father should strive.
The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.trinityconyers.org.