Recently I watched “Saving Mr. Banks” starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. It was an incredibly detailed film about author P.L. Travers’ (Thompson) interaction with Walt Disney (Hanks) to adapt her book “Mary Poppins” into the Disney classic we all know and love. She was very strict about any changes such as music, animation, and especially to the character of Mr. Banks. Throughout the film the audience is shared flashbacks from Ms. Travers’ childhood. Events like moving farther out into the Australian wilderness, her father’s financial misfortunes, and eventually his alcoholism, and death due to tuberculosis.
It might be argued that I am pretty dense, but (spoiler alert) it took me half the movie to figure out that Mr. Banks was a character modeled after Travers’ father and that Mary Poppins didn’t come to nanny the kids, but to bring back a broken family, and very especially, a broken father-figure. Probably the most emotional moment of the movie is when Walt Disney figures this out and promised Ms. Travers, “George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
While I recommend seeing “Saving Mr. Banks”, I want to conclude this post by reflecting on our culture of fatherlessness. The National Center For Fathering reports that fatherlessness effects children’s financial situations, likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse, physical and emotional well-being, educational achievement, delinquency, and involvement in sexual activity and teen pregnancy. I would add in my own estimation that fatherlessness takes a toll on our spiritual condition as well. Whether people grew up with a physically or emotionally absent father, it does influence how we view God. There are so many verses in the Bible devoted to sharing about God’s qualities as a Father. The disconnect that many people have is in the comparison of God’s fatherhood in their lives and their own human fathers.
As the church, and in a spirit of redeeming God’s character of fatherhood and the role of men as (biological and) spiritual fathers, I believe that we must take this issue seriously. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:15 still ring true, “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Older men in the churches we attend need to take on that role if they are spiritually mature enough to be available to disciple and mentor young men, and to care about the well-being of younger women. Praying and paying attention for others is a big mark of compassion and love- two traits that all children need to see and receive from their father or father-figures in life.
As a children’s pastor I see myself as a potentially significant role model for the kids that I minister to. I want the best for them and to see them thrive in all areas of their lives. Some of them don’t have very consistent male role models in their life. We can only exhibit God’s qualities he desires to see in fathers if we continue to look to him for strength and direction to live out his will, pointing the fatherless to the ultimate Father, God.