“Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” Proverbs 17:6 (NKJV)
At first glance, this verse seems to be just an obvious, happy statement. Perhaps one that suggests the rewards of a large family. But as with all of the Proverbs, it’s good to linger a bit. The verse contains some assumptions that are kin to those verses that encourage us to obey our parents and not frustrate our children.
What jumps out at us is that this proverb isn’t always realized. In Living by the Book, Howard G. Hendricks writes, “A proverb contains a principle, not a promise. A proverb tells you: this is how life basically works. What is left unsaid is the qualifier: life does not always, 100% of the time, work this way.”
Proverbs 17:6 should be true for a wise family. Yet we all know parents who are unsatisfied with their children, children who see only trouble in their fathers, and grandparents who aren’t even allowed to visit their grandchildren. Many fathers and grandfathers have crowns with missing jewels.
The assumption here is reciprocity of love that begins with the father, as the father teaches and models growth from childhood into adulthood. As the father guides through the teenage years that lead to young adulthood, he helps both his children and himself to navigate a transition—from a father-driven relationship to a relationship that is sustained mutually. The father gives love, and the teenager and young adult learn to give back.
From my own life, there are two practical examples of my father acknowledging a stage of my growth. In our family, children always had to ask to be excused from the table. On my 16th birthday, I asked, “May I be excused?” My father responded, “You’re old enough that you don’t need to ask permission to leave the table.” That was a small, but significant, statement. My father was placing me on more equal footing with himself.
When I was eighteen, and during my college years, my parents asked that while I was in their home that I give them the courtesy of telling them how long I might be out and where I would be if I’d be late. But there was no curfew, as I had proven my character already. When I was not in their home, I was fine making choices of my own. In fact, as is appropriate for that age, I grew and matured more with some distance from a home that was always welcoming to me.
But I hesitate to give those practical examples…especially if they take away from the deeper responsibility I’m trying to convey. A few good moments in a relationship do not make up for larger gaps of time during which a father wounds his children. Healing takes time. The good news is that even a father who has fumbled his relationships early in life may begin this effort with a renewed mind.
With humility from the father—even during the strains of growth or separation from adult children—there is security in the relationship. The father is thankful for his children, and the children glory in their father. Then the children teach and model for their own children to glory in their “old man.” The old man has his crown, with all the jewels (children and grandchildren) in place.
The grandchildren love their grandfather without thought. The grandfather loves as one who understands what amount of thought brought them to this point. And in the middle, the adult children still admire their father.
This admiration is not a given. It is a life’s work.