I can still remember the first time I heard my Dad cuss. I even remember where I was standing. I remember what I had just done to hear it. Growing up, my Dad was my hero. In many ways, he still is. Especially after Mom died, Dad was like Superman. And that’s why that day is etched into my memory. Dad was still Superman. But after that day, after that one word, he didn’t fly quite as high. He was…human. And in one way or another, every son watches his hero fall from the sky. It’s what happens next that defines a father.
In a house with three men, and with a father who was a football and weightlifting coach, there was no lack of testosterone in the Todd house. Although I had lost a mother, I’d been given a father who embodied the world’s definition of strength. And I thank God for that. But no father can wear the red cape forever. Manhood isn’t about dumbbells or yards rushed. The strength of a man isn’t defined by how high he can fly, but by what he does when he stops flying. When he’s exposed as a fraud. And that’s the day boys decide what a man is. When a son looks at his Dad not as a father, but as a fellow sinner, he’ll either join him on the stage of worldly strength or bow with him before the throne of grace. Every father falls from that grace. But not every father shows their son where to bow.
Listening to my father cuss was by no means the first time I’d witnessed my father sin. But it was the very first time in my life I knew with absolute certainty that he was wrong. After all, he’s the one who taught me not to cuss. And that’s why I also remember the very first time my Dad apologized to me. To his son. Boys don’t forget something like that. At that age, it seemed almost unnatural, Dad humbling himself before me. But that’s not what was happening. The day I heard my father cuss and apologize is the day I learned in my heart that there was a law in our home even higher than my father’s. There was a law to which even my Dad was accountable. And he loved me too much to make me think that he was above it. What Dad taught me with his lips, he showed me with his own iniquity. Before that day, I understood my father was a sinner. But after that day, I knew who the real hero was.
When fathers sin before their sons, they teach them who to follow. The hypocritical father is not someone who falls before his children, but the man who refuses to fall with his children. The question isn’t whether a father is a sinner, but what kind of sinner he is. And the day of fatherly hypocrisy is the day they get to introduce their sons to the one who never fell. A father will never fail his son by using his own sin to lift his sons’ eyes even higher to the cross. Instead, the failure is the man who brings his own son to believe that self-righteous, lawless men are worthy of the capes they wear.
Boys don’t need fathers of earthly strength. They need fathers who are strong enough to be weak. The Dad who can call upon his son’s Savior and crucify himself with his own child upon the cross of Christ will proclaim to his own family and to the world where true strength is found. Fathers who love God love their sons. And fathers who fear God fear becoming god to their sons. By God’s grace, the father who can trust his children with an apology can trust a God who gave His own Son to redeem them.