I got a little insulted the other day when one of my kids made a joke about my “Dad bod”.

I was talking with my 21 year-old son about going to taking a heavy piece of furniture to storage. Since he’s been working out a lot lately, I kidded him about whether he’d be able to handle the weight that I would. He’s about 150 pounds, and I’m…oh…a bit more.

Let’s just say that my workout routine is lifting 250 pounds. Out of bed each morning, that is.

When I took my shot at him, he just looked at me and laughed.

“At least I’m not sporting that ‘dad bod’ of yours. Man, you’re soft!”

Evidently, it’s a popular joke for young folks to refer to middle-aged guys who don’t work out as having a body of someone who is past being an object of attraction. But despite what my studly son may think, I’m actually pretty proud of being a dad. I believe it to be one of the noblest functions of all. In fact, in some ways you could say it is quite a Godly calling.

Yeah, I know fatherhood has gotten a bad reputation as of late. It seems like society has focused its attention on the dads that choose to walk away from their wives and children, while ignoring the rest of us who stay. In response, they’ve tried to say that fathers are optional—and fully replaceable.

I beg to differ.

While I applaud the many mothers who’ve had to make it alone without a husband, I have to say that every child is better off having a loving father.

My grandmother worked herself constantly to provide for my dad and brother, and did a wonderful job with them. But the absence of a good father forever scarred my dad, who grew up knowing his own father prized a bottle of whiskey more than time with him.

The residue left by this absent, alcoholic father flowed down into my own life. Though I never met him, my dad’s father left a wound on his life that would bleed into mine. My childhood years were pretty stressful, mostly because of my dad’s resentment built up from a life without the foundation a father’s quiet strength provides.

When I think of myself today as a father of five children, I’m actually kind of proud of my Dad bod! I’m still strong enough to be a rock for them when they’re frightened or weak. But I’m soft enough to be a cuddly teddy bear they can hold onto when they want to feel loved.

Honestly, that’s why I think when Jesus was spelling out a pattern for his disciples to pray, the first thing he said was to think of God as “our Father…”

No, I don’t believe he was implying God is a sexual being. Jesus said God is “Spirit” so a spirit wouldn’t have genitals, to put it bluntly. And sure, there are plenty of things about God that reflect a mother’s love.

But when expressing himself to humans, he didn’t say to think of him as Mother Earth. No, he said, “Call me daddy.” And I believe that wasn’t at all a random choice.

When we think of a mother’s love, we tend to think of nurturing. That doesn’t mean a woman can’t be tough. Just ask any mother about what happens when she gets a cold as compared to her husband. Most of us men are in bed all day, while mothers seem to keep working away like it’s no big deal.

What I’ve noticed about a mother’s love is, in general, it wants to protect a child from the world. But a father’s love, while able to nurture, tends to want his children to face up to the world’s challenges and overcome them.

In that way, a father’s love is more like a coach than a nurse.

I’ve seen mothers run out the front door ready to fight the neighborhood bully who threatens her little boy. That’s fun to watch…and also a bit scary. However, it’s often the father who, instead, will stand by and encourage his son to stand up to the bully. A good father would never let the boys go too far, but he might let a few fists fly before he stepped in to stop it.

What’s the difference? The father understands pain is a necessary part of the maturing process. The mother might be content if the boy always remained a child (how often has my wife said that about our kids), but the father is determined to help the boy stand on his own two feet.

He knows the world will be knocking the boy down when the father is not around. So his main goal is to coach the son to face pain and opposition with confidence and courage.

Like any analogy, things get ridiculous when you take it to the extreme. God’s not a man, and a mother’s love is not inferior to a father’s. But God knew that when we faced opposition and trials in life, we needed to see him as not just loving, but as strong too.

We need a God who gets angry at injustice and can fight for us when we need it.

We need a nurturer, but at times also a warrior.

We need a protector watching while we sleep who’ll stand up to the one who comes to steal and destroy.

We need a “Dad God”—a good Father.

It’s Saturday now, and we’re babysitting a little girl for a friend of ours. She’s a foster child, about 3 years old. As she begins to play with our kids in the next room, our friend relays her story in hushed tones.

“Both her parents are drug addicts so she’s been terribly abused and neglected. Sexual abuse came from her father so she’s suspicious of all men.”

She warns us not to touch her, especially me. Because of her abuse, touch frightens her.

As I sit in my chair and write, she passes by me, watching me out of the corner of her eyes. She’s mixed race, with piercing blue eyes and an angelic face.

My kids raise a ruckus and start fighting each other. I break up their fight with firm but loving tones. I sweep up a mess and shovel the remains into the garbage.

The whole time she’s watching me. And I can imagine what questions lay behind her blue eyes…

Can I trust you? Are you different from the others? Or will you hurt me today when no one else is looking?

A few days later, her older brother, around 5 years old, is dropped off to play. My wife is so hospitable and tries to relieve a little of the strain of fostering off of our friends.

He is playful, all boy, but incredibly affectionate. While I’m sitting in my chair, he finally gets up the courage to come over to me. To my surprise, he crawls up into my lap and lays his head on my chest.

Our friend tells me afterwards the boy has witnessed the abuse of his younger sister by his father. He’s been beaten and neglected as well, having often to fend for his own food. Tragically, he has even started to act out and touch his younger sister the way he saw his dad touch her. Eventually, he will be removed from her foster home to protect his sister.

A wave of grief for them overwhelms me. Grief for their lost childhoods and their pain. But most of all, grief for the wound I know will remain long after they’ve hopefully been adopted into new families and forgotten their biological parent’s faces.

They’ll have a wound in their soul shaped like a father. And that wound will cause them to question their basic worth and whether they’re deserving of real love.

And all the while, their great and true Father looks on, watching and waiting. He waits for someone to explain to them who he is, and how his love is completely different from the one twisted father they’ve known.

He waits for someone to demonstrate to them what a good father really is.

Most every day, I see people, both male and female, whose anger and insecurities betray the presence of a father wound. They desperately long for the gentle touch of a strong hand they can trust to never harm them.

They wait to experience the rush of joy as they’re lifted into His arms in one swift powerful motion of celebration.

They wait to sit in His lap with arms wrapped around them, with no fear of ulterior motives.

The world waits and wishes for that kind of father. And all the while the Good Father waits and watches for them, hoping to see them off in the distance as they turn and walk toward him, finally headed for home…