My biological father left when I was 2 years old. While it might be easy to assume I was too young for any lasting damage, my early childhood years were filled with painful memories. As a result, I’ve spent hours contemplating the role of a father in a child’s life.

I’ve read the studies that show how boys in my situation are more likely to be involved in gangs, flunk out of school, and end up on drugs. While that wasn’t my path, the pain of those early years still directs much of my life today.

The role of a father

If you’re a father, you are of greater importance to your child than you know. Your value goes beyond any financial provision you may or may not provide. Even if your relationship with your children is strained, you don’t have a cent to your name, or you only get to see them for a few hours every other weekend, you play a significant role in shaping your child’s future.

Here are six roles of a father you may not have realized.

1. Model (of God’s character).

For better or worse, our first impression of God’s character is derived from the character of our earthly father. Is God a trustworthy fortress of protection and strength or a selfish, narcissistic liar? Is He someone we can approach with our failures, or is He looking to smite us if we step out of line? 

My biological father’s unreliability taught me that a heavenly father, if there even was one, probably couldn’t be trusted. When my mother eventually remarried, the last thing I wanted to do was allow myself to trust again. But her new husband showed me a different kind of fatherhood.

When things got tough, he stayed. When I was sick, he patiently sponged me down and kept my fever at bay. And when I wet the bed, he changed the sheets without condemnation. Ever so slowly, he proved himself to be trustworthy and became my dad. It led me to believe that maybe, just maybe, God could be trusted too.

2. Teacher.

When I found out my wife was pregnant with our first child, it was a dream come true. I watched my wife’s body change and grow in support of the new life within her and wondered when my growth was supposed to take place.

When would I develop the ability to fix a car or recite all the books of the bible from memory? One of the roles of a father is to be a teacher, but what could I possibly teach? I still had so much to learn myself.

After raising two children to adulthood, I’ve learned that teaching life skills and random Bible trivia are good, but they’re not as important as I once thought. YouTube can teach you how to tie a tie. Google can tell you how old Methuselah was. But a father uniquely teaches us how to live.

How should we handle disappointment or respond when our boss mistreats us? Is God real or just something we talk about at church? Is the goal of life financial success or the success of God’s kingdom?

My dad was constantly getting mistreated at work, but instead of fighting back, he would always say, “It’s in God’s hands.” At the time, it frustrated me greatly. But it turned out to be a powerful testimony to his faith in God. His quiet resolve to trust in God’s plan spoke louder than words.

3. Protector.

When we left the hospital with our newborn daughter, it all felt too easy. I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting to see a nurse running down the street after us. Were they really going to let us take this kid home!? As we pulled away, I realized we were on our own.

The ride home was the most cautious drive of my life; my daughter’s safety was in my hands.

Most men instinctively understand the role of a father in protecting his children. I’m not an aggressive man by any measure, but had anyone threatened my daughter, I’m sure an ugly Hulk-like transformation would’ve met them. But there are other kinds of dangers. Many of them are in our own homes.

Are we willing to limit our entertainment options to protect our kids from unhealthy messages and images? What about internet access and social media? Being a protector is about more than keeping kids away from the “bad guy.” It’s also about not inviting him into our homes.

4. Fixer.

As my kids were growing up, they thought I was a superhero. My power? I could fix anything. At least that’s what they thought. Whether it was a broken toy truck, a ripped stuffed animal, or a big splinter, it didn’t matter. Daddy was the fixer.

While it’s true that a father’s inclination to fix things can sometimes get him into trouble—like when his daughter is looking for empathy and not solutions—a father shouldn’t ignore his problem-solving instincts. God designed dads this way for a reason. We just need to learn to use our powers the right way. 

A father needs to not only look at the immediate issues in the lives of his children, but also to think strategically. At the moment, your daughter may only need a shoulder to cry on, but what are the deeper issues involved? Is there a lack of confidence? A damaging peer group? The infiltration of ungodly values? Think through what your child needs in the next five days, five months, and five years. Then work to address those needs.

And don’t worry if you can’t solve every problem. The best thing you can do is strategically point your kids to the One who can.

5. Model (of how men treat women).

After introducing a friend to my dad, she said, “You look just like him.” 

I smiled to myself as I thought about how I don’t share any of his DNA. But we share so many mannerisms and little quirks that a resemblance has formed nonetheless. It’s even funnier when I consider how many of these similarities have been “passed down” to my own son.

Without even trying, a father’s behavior helps shape future generations—one unexpected lesson after another. 

If children catch their father looking at other women, they learn commitment is transient, self-control is a myth, and appearance is everything. If he’s chosen to live with but not marry their mother, they learn men don’t need to make commitments and women are to be kept around only as long as they are useful. These may not be the values we want to communicate, but our lives provide the model.

After my daughter’s wedding, I found a note waiting for me on my bed. Among other things, she wrote, “I knew what to look for in a husband from your example.” It felt great to read, but it immediately made me wonder what lessons my son was learning by watching me. Was I treating my wife the way I want him to treat his one day?

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6. Warrior.

One night, we woke to a loud crash and the wail of the alarm telling us the back door had been breached. In a panic, my wife and I gathered the kids in our room and locked the door. Then, in a violation of all tactical wisdom, I grabbed a decorative sword off the wall, swung open the door, and charged downstairs screaming.

Thankfully, I was greeted by a busted pipe spewing water and not anything more sinister.

As a father, it’s my job to use whatever strength I have to fight for my family. But fighting isn’t always seen as positive. Jesus is most known for his lamb-like gentleness where He turns the other cheek and absorbs insults with grace. While true, Jesus isn’t only a gentle lamb. He is also a strong and passionate Lion. When Jesus saw evil, He went headfirst into battle on our behalf to defeat it.

Our world is filled with evil, some that directly threatens our families or others. Like Jesus, fathers can’t be passive in the face of evil. We must be willing to run into battle. 

Second Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” 

Our prayers are not ineffective swords. They have power. Is your faith focused on creating comfort? Or is it willing to go where it’s dangerous in defense of the weak? When a child witnesses a father in battle on behalf of others, it teaches that some things are bigger than us.

Psalm 127:4 says children are “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior.” Arrows are not meant to be kept safely in their quiver forever. Eventually, we must launch them into battle. Give them a vision of something worth fighting for.

The role of a father: Pointing to the One

When I consider all the roles of a father in a child’s life, I can’t help but feel like a failure. No matter how dedicated or intentional you are, no man can get it right 100% of the time. For every season of success, there are seasons of failure. Thankfully, even our failures can be used to point our kids to the perfect Father—our heavenly Father.

And He will never let them down.

Copyright © 2023 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more on their site,