Fatherhood Reflections: Nature vs. Nurture
It’s an old debate. Which is more influential on the character of a person? Their nature by birth or the conditions of their life experiences? Are we a”blank slate” written upon by our environment or a fixed genetic code determined to be what we are regardless of circumstance?
Much ink has been spilled arguing in favor of one, the other, or some combination of the two. Allow me to make a pragmatic point directed at fathers: it doesn’t matter. You’re responsible for both.
You pass your nature and heredity on to your children – which is your responsibility. You set their environmental conditions thereafter – which is your responsibility. The entire character of your children is your responsibility. While it may be in a different manner, you are equally as responsible for the character (thoughts, words, actions, behavior patterns) of your children as you are for your own. If your child curses at his siblings, the child is clearly responsible for his words; but don’t miss that it is your nature acting in him and you have set all of the environmental conditions which allowed that action to occur. You are equally responsible.
It won’t do to blame your father for passing his rotten nature to you, as though you’re some passive victim of circumstance. His responsibility is his and he doesn’t have any room for your responsibility as well. And it won’t do to abdicate your responsibility for raising your children by pretending they are purely autonomous individuals over which you have no authority. Surely they bear responsibility for themselves – but they are responsible to you.
…and no one is adequate to this task. It is heart-stopping to look out at the mountains of my parental responsibilities and look inward at my parental paralysis to fulfill them. I was created in God’s image and have passed that to my children; but my nature is corrupted by sin and I have passed that on as well, effacing His image into obscurity. Only the grace of a perfect Heavenly Father and the obedience of a perfect Eternal Son applied to me by the Holy Spirit in a new birth with a new nature – a gracious nature producing a gracious nurture – can redeem parents like me. Like you. And children like mine. And yours.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you… And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:6-7, 10-11)