Father’s Day has been a holiday in the U.S. since 1910. It has been celebrated since the 16th century in Catholic European countries in connection the birthday of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, all the males in the lineage of Jesus, back to Adam, are honored on the Sunday of the Forefathers. Of course, the title “Father” has been given to God himself in the Bible. A father in 2022 has a lot to live up to.

The presumption that the father is the primary person in a family, who has the authority to lead the others and be respected by them, no matter what, is not something a modern man can automatically count on. The movement toward gender equity in family decision-making, along with the increase in accountability for abuse of power by authoritarian men, have complicated the expectations modern men face, and we’re often not up to the challenge.

However, there’s also a wonderful opportunity for a 21st century father to create something new — a man whose role may be more limited, but also more expressive and influential within the structure of his family. He doesn’t have to depend on testosterone to “be the man”; he can earn and keep his family’s favor by being the unique person God created him to be. Sometimes he might be strongly assertive, when his family needs that part of him, but at other times he may best show his strength by backing down and letting others in the family take the lead.

In this brave new world of manhood, Jesus is the best example to follow. He was strong and forceful, but he also knew how to turn the other cheek to bullies and tenderly care for children. And he was the Champion at putting others’ interests ahead of his own. What a man!

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This year, Fathers’ Day happens to fall on Juneteenth, the holiday that remembers the delayed announcement to slaves in Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation (June 19, 1865). Freedom: What a day of rejoicing! And yet, imagine a slave father who finally had his freedom (technically), but now faced overwhelming new responsibilities: How will I provide for my wife and children? How will I keep a roof over their heads? Will I be able to protect them from the racist backlash following the Civil War?

Personally, I want to dedicate my memorial thoughts to the former-slave fathers who started a new, exciting, but immensely challenging role in their families and in society, and to their great great grandsons who are bravely facing the challenges of a still-prejudiced America.

— Pastor George Van Alstine