Reason #1: The father calls out the sexual identity of his child.
Our core sense of identity is sexual. God created us as male and female. That’s the first truth we learn in the Bible about us.
The primal code stamped onto every soul is gender. We cannot escape viewing everything through the gender lens, nor should we. But something so primal is also fragile.
Gender is not just found in physical differentiation, but also in emotional makeup and spiritual orientation. These more intangible qualities are made manifest in the body, but because they are intangible they are vulnerable. A child’s sexual identity is not something inherently owned. It has to be called out by another.
This is the awesome task God has given to fathers.
Of course, a child needs the mother for basic love and nurturing from infanthood on. But when it comes to the feeling of being male or female, the child needs the father. Boys instinctively look to their fathers to be the masculine presence they need. The unconscious hope is that the father’s masculinity will rub off onto the son. This longing arises as he seeks to separate from his mother, especially during early adolescence. What the father can offer is the otherliness of masculinity, giving the boy the onramp needed to feel at home inside of himself as male.
Girls also look to the father, not the mother, for their primary orientation as female.
The mother will still hold the crucial card in showing the daughter what femininity looks like. But it is the father who will call it out of her. Every daughter longs for her father to see her as beautiful and worthy of love simply for being female. As the girl enters adolescence, this becomes even more critical. Whatever she did not hear from her father, she will begin to scavenge for in other young men her age.
So how does the father call out the sexual identity of his child? By affirmation and engagement. The affirmation is the word. A father can affirm a child’s sexual identity in the ordinary circumstances of daily life. Here are some examples. For the boy: “Way to go, big man. You are my strong one.” For the girl: “I love you, beautiful. You are such a princess.” Although simple, the power of these words cannot be overestimated.
They pierce right to the heart of a child and call out the latent man or woman.
The engagement is the deed. When a father initiates time together, it communicates to the child their value as a beloved son or daughter. It doesn’t matter so much what they are doing together. It could be any skill the father can teach or any interest the child may have.
The point is to be doing it together.
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