Fathers and Bonding
Fathers and Bonding
John Miller in his book, Calling God Father, remarks that fatherhood is a cultural achievement. Unlike motherhood, which flows from the biological link between the mother and child, the father-bond has to be nurtured and established through rituals and social mores. When fatherhood is no longer seen by society as essential and the laws and customs of a society do not urge men to take up this responsibility, they will flee from it. Witness the situation in the modern world.
In the OT the covenant is tied up with the family and in particular with the role of the father. One of the key rituals is called the Redemption of the First-born. Pharaoh would only let the Israelites go when all the first-born of Egypt died during the night of the Passover. To commemorate this, the Lord commanded Israel to offer up as a sacrifice every first-born of Israel whether of men or beast (Ex 13). Of course, the Lord does not want any child to die and so the father has to give something in exchange for his son’s life. Through this ritual, the father was redeeming his first-born just as God had redeemed His first-born, Israel.
The spiritual and psychological impact of this ritual was enormous and helped establish the bond between father and son. In the modern ritual, the father brings the child to the rabbi and the rabbi asks the father, ‘Will you leave this child at the altar (i.e., let him die) or will you redeem him? The father always redeems his child, knowing that through this ritual he is accepting the responsibility for the life of the child. This means that he will educate the child in the Word of God (Torah), help him develop a trade (to support his family) and to help him find a wife. This ritual binds the father to the son on both the spiritual and physical level.
In our modern context, we have little use for rituals and have virtually no rituals that help the father and child bond. We are greatly diminished by this and our families and culture are accordingly weakened. It would be false to say that there is an easy antidote to this situation which would remedy all. We are simply not there yet. But at least we now can raise the issue of father-child bonding as an essential issue of our day. We need to see the desperate need to discover or create rituals within our homes, our church, and our society which encourage fathers to assume their responsibilities and to celebrate fatherhood.