Fathers, you are future patriarchs.
You may be young. Your kids may be small. Getting the senior discount at Hardee’s may be the furthest thing from your mind. But if the creeks don’t rise, you will grow old.
Your grandfather and father will go the way of all the earth, just like their fathers before them. You will be left. Your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look to you.
What will they see?
You will be their patriarch. Their leader. You will hand them a legacy. You are right now handing them a legacy.
What will you hand them? What do you want to hand them? What are you doing now to purposely build what you will hand them?
Every father, whether he realizes it or not is building a legacy. And thus, I am convinced that every father needs to parent with legacy in mind. Not a self-legacy focused on personal reputation, but a legacy of faith that will stretch generations.
We need to remember four things to parent with legacy in mind.
Family culture flows downstream.
What you do today flows downstream to your decedents. Children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will all grow up and start families of their own. They’ll become the patriarchs and matriarchs. And they’ll lead with what they learned from you. Decades after your death, they’ll be passing on what you gave them.
Legacies are built out of values.
Do you ever wonder what you will give them? Check your calendar, your attitude, the wear on your Bible, and your outgoing expenses. For good or ill, we will hand our children what we value. When I think about values, I try to imagine being 90 years old, sitting in a rocking chair on Christmas night, looking out over a gaggle kids of all ages and their parents and the wrapping paper strewn about like confetti after the Super Bowl. In that moment what will I think it important for all of them to value? I must value those things now.
So what do you value? Committed corporate worship or convenient cultural Christianity? Children being occupied or engaged? Gratitude or complaining? Prayer or worrying? Wonder or monotony? Sibling loyalty or sibling competition? Books, joy, song, generosity, dinner together?
Legacies are built one small decision at at time.
Each day brings an opportunity to test our values. It is not enough to say we value something. We have to decide in accordance with those values. With every decision we either keep our values or transgress them.
So with every kiss on the cheek, every bedtime story, every time he opens his Bible, every drive to church, every time he talks to his wife, every tithe of his paycheck, every time he wets a fishing hook, every game of catch, every defeat, every mealtime, every morning his kid toddles in before wake time and catches him praying, and ten thousand other small moments a father is building a legacy.
He is also building—or destroying—a legacy with every angry word, every “just-one-minute,” every “I’ll-read-the-Bible-later,” every look at another woman, every complaint, every “get-your-mom-to-read-that-to-you,” and a myriad of other moments when he is tempted to abdicate.
When I coached football one of our mantras was, “Little things add up to big things.” In football, a little thing like a linebacker’s first two read steps can—over the course of four quarters—add up to enough tackles to win the game. So in a very real sense, what I do with my kids after dinner tonight (and each night) could go a long way toward the family culture that my grandchildren will inherit.
Fathers are influential, but not determinative.
One of the most fascinating facts of life is that every father has the opportunity to shape centuries. A father will hand a legacy to those who come after him. They in turn will shape those who come after them, and so on. However, it is a great comfort that the responsibility to shape the future is not determinatively in any earthly father’s hands. That responsibility lies safely in the hands of the perfect father, our Heavenly Father.
Additionally, our children are humans, not mathematical equations. No formula— for example,(x)input=(y)output—will work. However, our children are in fact humans, which means they will be influenced by their fathers. What we do is not neutral. We are called to raise them up in the nurture of the Lord.
For those who do not know their earthly father or else had a lousy one, it is a particularly good grace that fathers are not determinative. These men can take a the-buck-stops-here approach and set a new course for the family. After all, they are the future patriarchs.
For those of us who have been blessed with godly fathers, we are not so much building a legacy as much as we are building on to a legacy. But still, we are responsible to be good stewards of what has been passed to us. We are responsible to build.
How are you intentionally building a legacy for those who will be born decades from now? What are they things you want to pass on to your great-grandchildren?