My Fathering Had To Shift

change fatherhood role

I’m 29 years older than my son. Most the time I behave like it. There have been exceptions…

He was 11 years old. I caught him doing something stupid (as I saw it) and I spanked him for it. Out of anger. His behavior was not commensurate with the discipline. I was immediately grieved for what I had done. The moment was more about me than him. I sat down with him, apologized for what I had done and made a commitment to him that I would never spank him again. I was so brokenhearted. I wept over my sin.

“Are you crazy?!” was my wife’s response. Was I relinquishing authority in my relationship with him? How did I expect to discipline him in the years to come?

I had some real soul-searching to do. Did I sabotage myself in my relationship with him as we were entering the pre-adolescent and adolescent years? I intended to keep my word to my son, but it was requiring something new of me as a father.

Looking back, I recognize God was inviting me into more intentional parenting of our son, as well as our daughters. And He was inviting me into being fathered in some of the broken places of my story. I became a better listener and observer of our kids. Better, not perfect.

A few years later, my wife and I were invited to our son’s high school for a parent/teacher meeting. He is very bright and can accomplish anything he decides he wants to. Apparently in some of his freshman AP classes he didn’t have the “want to.” I found myself at another moment of “crisis of belief” as a father.

It wouldn’t take too much effort to badger him into getting good grades in every class, and he was certainly capable. But in that moment, I recognized doing so would be more about my reputation as his dad rather than his actual growth as a young man. My heavenly Father was inviting me into a new season of parenting. As my grip on our son loosened, I recognized I was moving more toward a coaching role with him as his dad. I was still responsible for his well-being, but the release of my overseer role was becoming vividly evident.

I did not receive a fathering manual when we returned home from the hospital with any of our newborn children. God has been teaching me over these more than three decades of fathering that the journey has been as much about me being fathered by Him as it has been about me learning how to father my son and his sisters.

Recently our son and his wife returned home from the hospital with their second child, a girl! Now I’m entering a new season of learning how to father my adult son. He still needs me in his life as his father. But the role looks very different. Likewise, God continues to father me. I have learned many lessons from Him over the years, some of them the hard way. Yet He has been gracious and kind and patient and incredibly loving to me throughout this journey.

Maybe that’s the most important lesson I could ever learn as a father. Note to self.

I am continuing to cultivate a posture of curiosity as a beloved son of God, as a husband, father and grandpa. It has been a long journey to move from judgement to curiosity. How about you? Do you live life curiously, or do you rush to judgement or problem-solving? How would you desire to live in your relationship with God, yourself and others?


Patrick O'Bryan
Restoration Project Chief of Grove Development