The Head of the House

By Scott Keith

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American hierarchal sensibilities have been commandeered by what I will call the Teamwork Movement. The Teamwork Movement is exceptionally egalitarian in its approach to everything, including home life. Thus, to even postulate in the title of a blog that there is a “Head of the House,” must seem to some to be at one and the same time both a dictatorial and oddly transcendent proposition. This proposition may appear dictatorial in nature, because to have a head, a boss, or a leader that is set apart, is an offensive anachronism to the modern reader. In turn it appears transcendent because in our heart, I believe we all know that every family needs a head as much as everybody needs a head. The family is the oldest institution. Our idea of family precedes everything including our modern notions of teamwork and egalitarianism.

So, who is the head of your house? Some might say the man is the head. Others might say it is the woman or the wife in the home. (In researching this blog, I actually read another blog wherein a woman acknowledged that she loved the fact that her husband was the head of their home, but admitted she would never say that to her friends.) And still others would, as I have mentioned, insist that there is no head, rather life in the home is a “headless” team effort. In my research on fatherhood, one thing has become increasingly clear to me. When we as a society lose the idea of the man as the head of the house, we also lose the idea of what it means to be a good husband and father. Why is this the case? Because once a man’s freedom and authority in his own home is taken away, his desire to serve that home in love departs at the same time. It is the freedom provided in the home that allows men to serve lovingly as provider, protector, sustainer, lover, friend, and forgiver. Once his “headship” is removed, by either usurpation or dispersal, his lack of freedom will inevitably lead to a lack of desire.

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I once had a friend that would pick me up every Friday morning at 6:00am and take me to the men’s weekly bible study sponsored by our little church in Carson City. We would always talk about “church stuff” while we drove to the restaurant. One morning, we were discussing why the LC-MS does not ordain women, and we were entertaining the idea that they might want to consider it a viable option. At which point my friend broke in and proclaimed that he did not believe that men should give up their “men-only” perspective roles as pastors and elders in the church. When I asked why, his answer cut me to the quick. He said bluntly: “Men are inspired by freedom yet lazy at heart. If you tell a man he is free to stop being a pastor or elder, he will stop and happily let the women take over. Yet, if you tell him he alone is free to serve in these capacities, he will do it with all of his heart.” I believe the same is true in the home.

Chesterton claims that the definitive aspect of being the “head” of something is that the head is the thing that talks. Speaking, or being the one that talks, is risky business. Words have power. Words change things. Words move people in ways that we cannot even understand. Thus if headship is the power of speech, I actually think that we ought to bring back the idea of the man as the head of the house. In the home the father needs authority for one primary reason; he needs the authority to speak the words of forgiveness. Just as pastors need the authority given from Christ to forgive, so too fathers need to feel this authoritative freedom in the home.

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In my mind, this does not lessen the role of the women or wives in the home. On the contrary, it only strengthens it. Again, relying on Chesterton: “The man is the head of the house while the woman is the heart of the house.” In this way, I believe that the structure of a healthy family is such that mother’s authority is differentiated from the father’s not so much by its appearance, but rather by how the mother relates and complements the father’s authority. The structure of the mother’s authority is defined by how she relates to the father’s authority––she affirms her own authority in affirming his. In other words, she is the heart of the forgiveness in the home while he is its mouthpiece. This seemingly dichotomous idea provides an energetic, intensity of value to our own ideas of headship.

At the risk of parroting my friend, I think I would say: Men are inspired by freedom yet lazy at heart. If you tell a man he is free to stop being the head of the house and thereby a good, free, and authoritative husband and father, he will stop and happily let the women take over all of these roles. Yet, if you tell him he alone is free to serve in these capacities, he will do it with all of his heart, freely. Men want the authority that allows them to freely love and freely forgive, and not lord that authority over his family. Rather, we want to be the talking head of forgiveness that is the mouthpiece of your heart. But we are lazy at heart; if you take it from us we will happily sit on the couch and watch TV instead.

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