“Daddy can fix anything!” This is the new phrase my daughter has learned, which she utters as a source of self-comfort on a near daily basis. Whenever a toy breaks, the car isn’t running right, or anything else goes wrong, she confidently proclaims: “It’s okay. Daddy can fix it.” This is just one of several mantras she recites when facing difficult situations. Another one that is fairly common is: “Daddy will keep me safe.” I typically hear this comment when she has bad dreams or is afraid of the dark. She believes, with a kind of faith that children are amazingly capable of, that her dad can do anything. This is not unusual. Most children grow to believe that their dads are a sort of superhero. As they grow older and wiser, they come to recognize that dad isn’t a sort of superman, but for now we are both enjoying this phase of her relational development. She feels comfort at the reassurance that I can take care of her. I love having my child look at me as a hero of sorts, and hope to live up to that perception as much as possible. Even more so, I hope to raise kids who my grandkids can look at with awe as children. Raising children who can be superheroes to their own children is a product of intentional effort and an awareness of a basic reality regarding God’s design for the family.
There is an important concept that sits behind this phenomena of children viewing their parents as almost superhuman. It is the same idea that is found in the 10 Commandments and God’s design for the family and our world. The commandments are divided into 2 tables. The first “half” of the law relates to man’s interactions with God. These laws are intended to offer guidance for people in their relationship with God. It is how fallen, limited creatures are to see and interact with the holy, eternal Creator. The second table of the law pertains to man’s interaction with other men. So, the first table relates to interacting with God, while the second deals with interacting with men. The first law in each table is important and offers a glimpse into God’s design for the world. The first law is: Do not have any other gods. Basically, the command is to honor God. The first law in the second table is somewhat similar: Honor your mother and father. The two laws strongly parallel in concept because parents have a special role in the lives of their children. Specifically, parents stand in the place of God in the lives of their children for the first several years until children reach the point of being able to understand God. Perhaps the English novelist, William Thackeray, put it best when he wrote: “Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children.” Parents shoulder an enormous responsibility by standing in the position they stand in, because they stand as representatives of God. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. A strong, loving parent can provide their child with an amazing first impression of God’s identity. The downside is that an absent, abusive, or deeply flawed parent can give children an inaccurate perspective on who God is. This is most easily seen with abusive or absent fathers, whose children often grow up with a sense of God being distant or perpetually angry and out to get them. Mind you, this is not a hard and fast rule for all people. Rather, it is an observable trend.
Raising a real world superhero is greatly enhanced by an awareness of this dynamic, because a child’s perception of God shapes their understanding of eternal matters. This is particularly the case when we consider the sorts of things God calls His people to be. In the Old Testament, we see God declaring himself to be the protector of the innocent and the helpless. Through His laws and the prophets, God directs His people to care for the poor, outsiders, and the disenfranchised. In the New Testament, we encounter Jesus, the Son of God, who gives us a glimpse of God’s passion, love, mercy, and grace. Further, we are directed to imitate Jesus in our lives and relationships. Inspiring a child on the road to revering God, obeying Him, and imitating His Son is a basic step in the process of raising a real world superhero. In addition, helping them to grow a healthy perception of God’s personality is vital because it enables them to imitate Him correctly, with an eye on the God of holiness, mercy, and grace; rather than an imagined version of God who is petty, overly concerned with our legalistic observances, or worse-still distant and heartless. The Old Testament features a chilling warning that God visits:
…the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandmentsExodus 20:5-6
This may seem harsh, but is actually just a reflection of this concept. A parent who poorly reflects the character of God to their children will in turn raise kids who learn to poorly reflect His character, and so forth. The consequences of the actions of a parent on their children and grandchildren is an echo of the initial transgression. On the other hand, fathers who raise children who imitate the love, mercy, and just nature of God, will in turn raise grandchildren who do likewise. Ultimately, it boils down to one principle: if we are to raise kids who stand tall as heroes, we must do our best to present to them a heroic personage that is worth following and imitating themselves.