Tim Bayly, Daddy Tried: Overcoming the Failures of Fatherhood (Warhorn Media: 2016)
Fatherhood is hard. Dads need all the encouragement they can get. They also need all the wisdom they can get. In light of this, Tim Bayly’s Daddy Tried is a much-needed book. There are a number of worthy volumes on fatherhood available but, in my opinion, this one tops the lot. It is wise, frank, masculine, pastoral, and theologically rich.
Bayly starts off with something everyone can probably agree on: fathers are flawed. Sometimes they never show up again after the one-night stand. Others might stick around but bury themselves in their work and their hobbies, never emerging to love and lead their families. Others are physically, sexually or emotionally abusive. Even the best fathers fail.
This is Bayly’s starting point. He wants each reader to admit that their fathers have failed before facing their own failures as a father. He then sets out to paint a theological and pastoral picture of fallen fatherhood. Adam’s sin is the root of all failure, including our own personal failures with our children. Bayly then proceeds to illustrate the way that fathers fall short; and he does so with surprising frankness. You won’t walk away from this book feeling good about yourself or the world.
But you will walk away loving God more, because Bayly then offers a beautiful rendering of God’s paternal love for his children. God is love. And Bayly points out that in order to truly become a loving father, “you must first receive the love of your heavenly Father through the shed blood of his Son on the cross”(49). The gospel is the true root of loving fatherhood.
God also disciplines his own children. And Bayly offers a compelling and encouraging case for earthly fathers to imitate their heavenly Father in this way. His discipline “flows from His love for us.”(57) We have an obligation, therefore, to love our children with discipline, in order to correct them and teach them how to live. God is also jealous: he is jealous for our affections. Therefore, we need to have our affections in the right order. We love our children best when we love God most.
From this theological foundation, Bayly builds a case for the centrality of fatherhood in the different spheres of life. This is a unique aspect of Daddy Tried. Instead of simply focusing on the role of fathers in the home, Bayly shows how important it is for fathers to be “Church Fathers” and “City Fathers” as well.
First, as House Fathers, Bayly is insistent that we embrace fruitfulness. Have kids! Have lots of kids! Don’t be afraid of doing this! God commands his people to be fruitful numerous times in the Bible, so the teaching is not secondary. Indeed, Bayly points out that “there isn’t a covenant between God and man that does not have fruitfulness at its core.”(95)
Second, House Fathers are to embrace discipline. Bayly tells of a remarkable moment in his life when his father told him he could no longer live under his roof. This particular moment stunned Bayly out of his stupor and the Lord used it to bring him back to the faith. Likewise, with little children, Bayly insists that we are to lovingly use physical discipline to train them in the way they should go.
Thirdly, House Fathers are to ensure that the Word of God is at the centre of the home. Family worship, catechesis, and less formal means, are all encouraged. We only have our children for a brief time. Why waste precious energy and hours on perfecting some sporting skill at the expense of encouraging knowledge and love of the Scriptures?
Fourthly, and above all, House Fathers are to love their children. For, without love we are a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1).
The most interesting part of the book comes when Bayly discusses Church Fathers and City Fathers. The Church needs fathers also. These are men who will lead the church, preach the word, discipline their people, and give themselves to making disciples. Bayly does not shirk in calling out the modern church’s weakness in this regard. Many pastors and elders are not prepared to do the hard work of discipline in the church. This is a convicting call to love the flock in this way.
City Fathers are those who not only love their biological families, but open their homes to the poor, the struggling, the drug addict, the refugee. They are Good Samaritans, reaching out with the love of Christ to the world (154). City Fathers are also public about their faith, which means speaking out against unrighteousness and injustice. City fathers are to be “preachers of righteousness”(163) even when it is unpopular. Which it almost always is.
Bayly closes with a sobering reflection on bad fathers and a moving chapter on “failing gloriously”. That is, as fallen dads we will fail. But we ought to do so while trying to do fatherhood God’s way. Even in failure there is hope.
In all, this is an outstanding little volume, chocked full of wisdom, pastoral theological reflection, and home truths which men need to hear. Some will find Bayly’s style jarring at times, as he does not shirk from saying hard or politically incorrect things. To my mind, this is admirable and more need to take the same approach. Because Bayly does this, he manages to say things which sorely need to be said to today’s fathers.
Each man lives with the reality of failed fatherhood. Daddy Tried offers a way through the fog of failure, both our own and our father’s. The solution is not to flee fatherhood, but to face it head on with the Lord’s help. He is our heavenly Father. And Bayly reminds all dads that in Him we find all that we need in our state of weakness.