“Dad’s on Duty: After a violent week of fighting at a Louisiana high school, parents knew something had to change. So a group of dads decided to show up not just for their kids – but for the whole student body – to help maintain a positive environment.”
This tweet, filled my text threads this week. Once you’ve written a book on Being Dad, people tend to send you all manner of “dad” related items and news stories. So, I wasn’t surprised when I found myself watching the video, being engaged, and wondering why we don’t see more of these stories.
But stories like these always leave me in a conundrum. How are these snippets of grace related to the proclamation of the gospel of Christ Jesus to an ailing world? The fact is, the story, as a stand-alone, is not. It is a story of well-meaning men – dads and fathers – who saw a need for calm, controlled, positive, and quite frankly, masculine in the best way, interdiction into a very negative and even dangerous situation. This is a story of the often important and even more often overlooked need for more “father presence” in the world.
So, let me tackle this in two parts. Part one will address father presence in general, and part two will address that presence as a reflection, poor as it may be, to the love of the Father, as in the first person of the Trinity for his children.
The fathers in the story gave of their time and risked their safety to bring calm, security, and peace to a high school that had literally gone mad with violence and disruption. How did they do it? They simply were present. They deescalated through presence, redirection, and positivity. You see, men on a mission have a presence about them. This presence demands respect without being violent or threatening. When determined and caring men share a common goal of bringing security to an insecure situation, their presence can have a positive impact.
I touch on this in Being Dad where I tell the story of Pete.
So too, in our lives, we sometimes encounter men like someone I once knew—we’ll call him Pete. We all knew there was something different about Pete, something that made him stand out. To be honest, from his physical appearance, there wasn’t much that was different about him, at least nothing that any man today would find reason to boast about. In fact, Pete was unassuming in his stature and looks. He was somewhat shorter than most men, was beginning to lose his hair, and had a peculiar habit of running his tongue along his upper teeth before he would speak. If you were to pass him by in a hurry, you would hardly give him a second thought. And yet, if you were to spend just a few moments with him, you would find that there was truly something different about him. Pete possessed a strange ability to transform a room simply by walking into it. His presence, his calm and purposeful movements, and his words always changed the dynamic of whatever space he occupied.
What seems to have happened in this high school in Louisiana was that a group of Petes gathered together because they were invested in solving a problem for their children who were being hurt and frightened. These Petes not only changed a room simply by being there; they changed the culture of an entire school, and good on them for doing it. Their common interest in protecting and caring for their families was all it took to solve that problem.
Now how does this relate to the gospel of Christ, or the presence of the Father, our Father in heaven? The magic that a good dad, or a group of them, brings into the lives of his children is not the same as what God has shown us in Christ; but it is a significantly powerful analogy to it. In theological terms, this is called an analogia entis, or an analogy of being, something that provides a comparison between two proportions.
The theologian Thomas Aquinas claimed that our human language, as we try to explain God, is neither univocal (using the same word in precisely the same way) nor equivocal (using the same word in different ways). Instead, as we, in our feeble way, try to discuss and understand who God is or what he is like, we use analogical language and denotative definitions. As an example, when I say that “God is good” and “these dads are good,” I do not mean the same thing. As the Scriptures tell it, God is good in a completely unique way. Yet when I say, “these dads are good,” neither do I mean something that is exactly the opposite of what it is meant when I say, “God is good.” These two statements are rather meant analogically. That is, I am using an analogy to get the point across or point to something or someone—in this case, a good father.
Our experience with good fathers – even when they are not our own – can point us to God the Father. God shows us a glimpse of himself when he grants us pictures of good earthly dads. In this case it is the notion that the very being, or entis, of good fathers like these offers an analogy by which we understand in a limited way, almost like a foggy picture of God. A child can point to a father that is good and say: God is in some way like that.
These dads went to this school to ensure everyone that things could be, and were going to be, okay. At the core of our universe is the Father, who has made all things right in Christ. He will come through on his promises to save us for the sake of Christ. Good dads of all stripes (even if it’s not your dad) are a picture or analogy of God to children. These dads made good on their promises to be there for everyone’s children. And the little bits of magic that they provide can reflect God’s love for us all in Christ.