For Fathers: The Paper Chase

“God was so real to my father that He became real to me.” —Missionary John Paton

A paper chase, or “hare and hounds,” was the early predecessor of cross-country running and originated in England at the Rugby School in 1837. To start the game, one student designated as the “hare” would take off running, leaving a trail of paper shreds along his route. After waiting 15 minutes, the remaining students, or “hounds,” would begin their pursuit after the hare with his paper trail serving as “scent.” While this game amused the schoolboys, its purpose was to prepare them for their futures as English gentlemen who hunted fox as a favorite pastime. The chase helped train these boys to become the men that they ought to be someday.

The thought of my life serving as a sort of paper chase was driven home early one spring morning in Pensacola, Florida.

As I headed across my lawn to retrieve the morning paper, I caught a glimpse of some movement behind me. Without noticing that I was observing him, my four-year-old son was leaping from one of my footprints in the dew to another. As my subtle grin turned into a broad smile, I asked Miller what he was doing. Without looking up, and without missing a beat, he replied, “nothing much, just jumping in your feet.”

It’s hard to explain how harrowing that image was, how intimidated I felt because I really didn’t have a predecessor’s path to follow in, no voice of a tender warrior who had instructed me, “this is how you do it, son, this is the way.” 

Trying to blaze a new spiritual path in unchartered territory has never been easy for most of us dads, far from it, in fact. There’s always a lot for us to learn, especially when looking back; errors made, situations handled incorrectly, more blunders than we’d prefer to admit. Most of us have struggled tremendously to make tracks of our own, much less trying to establish clear paths we’d like to see others walk down. 

Christian fathers are clearly admonished to “walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel,” at all times and in all places. We must strive to do so to the best of our ability. The word of God demands no less. But even as we fall short, I’ve come to realize children listen more with their eyes than anything else. And when they see just how real Jesus is to us, that nudges the Gospel further along than anything else I’m aware of. “The Kingdom of God does not consist in talk only, but by living in God’s power.” (1st Corinthians 4:20)

So, for all the father’s out there who are striving to make Christ real to everyone around you, the best two pieces of advice I can give are this:

1st – Don’t give fatherhood a go all on your own. Remember, you were not designed to run a lifelong race totally alone. You belong to a much bigger community than just you, and you need us as much as we need you. Write down the names of two men who will proactively speak truth into every facet of your life: how to be a good daddy, how to best conduct yourself in business, how to make your wife feel cherished, how best to win over her affection repeatedly. Men who will meet with you regularly and ask you to give them a progress report. Vow to contact each of the two men whose names you wrote down before the week is out. Request help by explaining how absurd it would be for any man to try and figure out all the above on his own. Trust me: the transparency will be well received.

2nd – As illustrated in the note below from a young father, spend lots of time with the Living Jesus, so He can become more and more alive to others, especially your children. 


This will so make you smile. This morning my five-year-old daughter woke up early and saw me sitting on the couch reading my Bible and asked what I was doing. I shared that I was spending time with Jesus. She responded by asking, “can I sit with y’all?” That certainly made my day and I hope it makes yours as well!

“The Lord commanded our ancestors to teach the Scriptures to their children, so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. So each generation should set its hope anew on God.” (Psalm 78:5-7, NLT)