It does not matter if you are married or divorced, if you live with your children or only see them periodically. If you have children, then you are a father. And if you are a father you have a calling from God.
Ephesians 6:4 is a clear, if brief, exhortation for us all when it comes to being a dad: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
Perhaps some of our difficulty with fatherhood has come from a confusion over what it means to "discipline" your children. We tend to use that term as a synonym for "punishment". We believe that it is a father's duty to punish when wrongs are done. Don't spare the rod.
Yet this seems to fly right in the face of what Paul is saying to the Ephesian fathers. "Don't provoke your children to anger." A father who is all punishment and rules is certainly going to provoke anger in his offspring.
Rather, "discipline" could be better understood as "training". Fathers are not called to punish their children into submission. They are, however, to train them to be godly adults. And training is hard work.
Discipline is not reactive (like punishment), but proactive (like training for a race). And it can begin by simply setting a good example. Do you want disciplined children? Then lead a disciplined life. Practice confessing your own failures to your children, and asking their forgiveness so that they will be ready to do the same when they have sinned against you.
Work hard, but also rest and play. If you are married be intentional about spending time with your wife as well as your children. If they see you rising to work even when you don't want to, if they see you treating their mother with respect, if they see you turning off the TV to talk or play with them, they will learn from that.
Yet that is only part of discipline. Training also involves leading your children into positive behaviors. Help them to develop good habits. Show them what to do, then help them to do it.
The habit of Worship serves as a good example. It is the "discipline and instruction of the Lord" that we are after here.
Children do not always want to go to worship, but if you begin at a young age and especially if you are sitting next to them during the service, they are far more likely to continue going as they get older and move out on their own.
And use that time to teach. Please do not answer questions from kids about the worship service by saying, "That is just the way we do it."
Son or Daughter: "Daddy, why do we go to church on Sunday?"
Dad: "I don't know. That is just the way we do it."
Could you imagine your child asking you why pitchers throw so many strange pitches with different grips and speeds and you reply, "Well, that is just the way they do it?" Of course not. You would tell the inquisitive child that they vary pitches to throw off the hitters, to get strikes, and to win ball games. There is a good reason (and skill) behind those quirky pitches.
Exactly what you tell them in response to their questions about worship will depend upon the degree of your knowledge, but if you don't know the answer, ask your pastor, or look it up. (There is always Google.) It is important that theological questions receive theological answers.
I have written about this before, but one thing I have never forgotten is the day I asked my mother when we could stop going to church. She replied, "When God stops loving us." It was not a complicated response, just right for my 5-year-old mind. Nor was she a trained theologian.
Children need Jesus, just like adults do. And to bring them up in the "discipline and instruction of the Lord" necessitates that they be brought into the weekly worship of the Church. There they receive the gifts of God: Word and Sacrament. It is an essential part of their training for a life lived in the name of Jesus.
Training involves Law and Gospel. It means punishment when rules are broken. It also means forgiveness and reconciliation. It means that God's commands and promises should be a part of your daily conversations with your children. Cracking open your Small Catechism each day wouldn't hurt either.
We could run the gamut with different scenarios, different techniques and methods. The bottom line is this: they are your children. If you are not going to train them, then who will?
Fathers, train your children to be godly adults, loving spouses, disciplined parents, and honest citizens. It is not easy. It is man's work. It is your calling from God.
[This is the third in a series. You can find part ONE here. Part TWO is here.]