The Hard Work of Being A Good Father
by Russell Gehrlein
Published on January 27, 2022
Categories: The Sharing

The Hard Work of Being a Good Father

Thank you for the music, and your stories of the road. Thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go. Thank you for the kindness, and the times when you got tough. And, Papa, I don’t think I’ve said, “I love you” near enough. 

These lyrics from Dan Fogelberg’s poignant song, “The Leader of the Band” have always grabbed my heart. Other than stories of the road, it pretty much describes my dad and me. When he passed suddenly in October 2001, I could definitely identify with the part about not having said, “I love you” to my dad nearly enough.

Since I had previously addressed God’s presence in the work of mothers in my book, and posted excerpts from it on my blog, I thought it was a good time to share some thoughts about the hard work of fathers. I hope it brings some encouragement to dads’.

A little about my own father:

Let me begin by sharing highlights of a tribute I wrote for my family just after he passed:

I believe that Ed Gehrlein was a successful man. Not because he was famous or well known (although he did have friends and acquaintances from all over the world). Not because he was rich or powerful (even though he was once Vice President of a major airline). He was a success because he left behind a legacy of his beloved wife, children, and grandchildren who are all blessings to the world because of his lasting contributions to their lives. Dad taught his four children about life, money, doing your homework, working hard, and being responsible. He cared about the interests and sought ways to help them when it was needed. He didn’t mind giving advice (but only when asked for). He was proud of their accomplishments and he wasn’t afraid to tell them so, or to say he loved them, backed up by his affection. Ed’s grandchildren were his pride and joy. He was a remarkable Grandpa, tenderhearted and extremely generous. The grands loved to climb into his lap and snuggle against his chest. Dad loved it too. It gave him one more chance to love them. Besides, he was blessed as the recipient of enormous hugs and kisses.

In September 2000, I flew home to be with him for a few days before a major surgery. I had no idea this would be our last visit. I made a list of 20 things I love about Dad. I will share a few. He married my mother; he gave up his dream of a college education to take care of his young family (me); he played baseball with me; he took our family to church; he helped me build things; he took us to visit interesting places; he came on a great Boy Scout canoe trip in Canada; he paid for my out of state college tuition; he came to visit my family in most of the places we were stationed, even Germany.

In the forty years I knew him, Dad set an example of diligence, dedication, and determination. He left this world a better place than when he found it. I am proud to be his son. I miss him dearly.

What does the Scripture say about the role of fathers?

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 ESV)

God gave fathers the responsibility to teach his children about who He is and what He has done. In this account of the giving of the Law of Yahweh, to the second generation Israelites, Moses instructs fathers to teach their children at every opportunity: when sitting, walking, lying down, and getting up. Notice, this command covers the entire day.

. . . things that we have heard and known,
    that our fathers have told us.
 We will not hide them from their children,
 but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
 and the wonders that he has done.

He established a testimony in Jacob
 and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
 to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
 the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children, . . .

The previous scripture in Deuteronomy 6 is echoed again here in Psalm 78:3-6. Multiple generations are affected by the sound teaching of fathers. We learn about God’s mighty works because fathers taught their children well. In turn these new fathers now teach their young children on daily basis. As those children grow into adults and have children, they will hand down the teaching of the father and grandfathers. This design is God’s master plan for future generations of our families, to learn of Him, and to know Him.

These Old Testament commands are carried forward into the New Testament teachings of fatherhood. Fathers are charged to bring up their children in love, with the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Eph 6:4 and Col 3:21)

This duty of fathers to teach their children the ways of the Lord is closely related to the responsibility to discipline their children so that they will know right from wrong and choose the path of wisdom over foolishness. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about this, as Solomon was writing this in part to coach his own sons to walk wisely. Proverbs. 22:6 is quoted quite often: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” This verse was never intended to be an absolute guarantee that my children will live godly lives every step of the way. However, it does encourage me to do my part to teach the ways of God so that when Satan tempts them, they will remember the teachings of generations handed down through me. They will know with assurance that God is with them, and I am assured that what I have taught them brought them closer to God. Knowing they live what I have taught them, that which was taught to me, keeps them on the right path, I can rest knowing I fulfilled my role as a father.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to presenter to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-28)

It is important to emphasize the biblical responsibility of fathers in their role as husbands. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church – sacrificially, humbly, gently, and unselfishly. A husband who follows God’s plan will simplify and enable his wife to fulfill her role as a godly woman (see Proverbs chapter 31) and will raise children who know good from evil.

Final thoughts In Gustav Wingren’s book, Luther on Vocation, Luther taught: “God creates the babes in the mother’s body – man being only an instrument in God’s hand – and then he sustains them with his gifts, brought to the children through the labors of father and mother in their parental office. “Parents are indeed coworkers with God. Their work is a divine-human partnership.

I know that it is difficult for many who have also lost their dads. Some do not have good memories, and others who have never had a father figure in their lives. Remember this, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling”(Ps. 68:5). 

I am grateful that by the grace of God, through the blood of Jesus Christ, that I can come into a personal relationship with God every minute of every day. He is a good, good Father!


Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband, father, grandfather, and blogger. He received a B.S. in mathematics from Colorado State University and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. God has given him a unique career journey as a junior/high school math and science teacher, youth pastor, and service in the military. Russ has worked as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood for the past 13 years. He is an ordinary man whose passion is helping other people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work.

His first book, Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession is A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work. Russ has written for the NCO Journal, Army Chemical Review, Campus Life, and for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. Russ has been published in Christian blogs and websites such as, Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, and The Gospel Coalition. His blog, Reflections on Theological Topics of Interest inspires him to write on a continual basis.

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