Book Review: Father Hunger

A lack of good fathers is an evident problem in America, even among Christians. Doug Wilson aims to help rectify that in his latest book, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families (Thomas Nelson, 2012). It is a comprehensive and challenging book written mainly for future and current fathers. It is mostly helpful, though difficult for several reasons.

There are some excellent chapters in this book, and Wilson can turn a phrase like few of his contemporaries. He frequently challenges readers in his characteristic forthright style. If one is familiar with Wilson’s previous arguments and writing style, this book should be helpful. He has built up a capital, so to speak, that allows a reader familiar with his works to give him the benefit of the doubt. These readers can connect the dots from some under-developed arguments in this book to more fleshed-out arguments elsewhere. I have but one degree of separation with Wilson through several people, so I am trying to keep this review balanced on the off chance he comes across it (Hi Pastor Wilson!). He can also run circles around me intellectually, so I’m not about to go into a full-fledged, point-by-point criticism.

Readers new to Wilson might have some trouble with Father Hunger, as the chapters seemed disparate and thrown together. That is, Wilson tackles seemingly everytopic that contributes to the father hunger in America, giving a wide but not necessarily deep treatment to these topics. These chapters mostly stand alone, with no strong thesis interweaving them. “Father hunger” is mentioned in passing in several places, and there is some sociological evidence given in the first couple chapters, but the book is more a collection of essays on different aspects of fatherhood and the undermining of it by society. Chapter topics include education, politics, work, discipline, church leadership, economics, gender roles, and more.

His argument is difficult to follow at times thanks to rabbit trails, some obscure illustrations, and generalized  conclusions. For example, the chapters on economic and political liberty as they relate to fatherhood were generally overgeneralized and under-developed, lacking sufficient details to back up the arguments contained therein.

All that said, there are many nuggets of wisdom throughout the book to reward the diligent reader. Some of the chapters are profound and very helpful. Even within the more difficult chapters there are excellent paragraphs. I linked to some of my favorite quotations here, here, and here. By far the most helpful chapters and themes were those on gratitude, grace, and responsibility. These are probably the most prominent themes of the book. Wilson stresses that the father’s role is not just behavior modification or providing in absentia, but it is an integrated, overarching, gratitude-saturated, sacrificial love for one’s family in faith and life. No one can charge Wilson with being legalistic or heavy handed if the frequent passages on grace and gratitude are read seriously. These excellent points help to balance out the drawbacks of the book.

Predictably, Wilson leans heavily on Chesterton, but – surprisingly – he more frequently quotes Richard Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate (an excellent read and highly recommended). He echoes Phillips’ thesis that being a real father follows the creation mandate to provide and protect. I also found that Wilson quotes more from outside sources than usual, which helped break the book up a little more.

Father Hunger is fairly light on practical, concrete examples and heavier on abstract principles in many areas of life. It does spur deeper thinking and provoke further personal application. The front cover boasts “exclusive new research,” which is misleading, as this research is largely relegated to the appendices and referenced only in passing. Father Hungeris not as strong as Wilson’s other (excellent) family books or Phillips’ Masculine Mandate but is helpful for readers familiar with Wilson’s style.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this book from Thomas Nelson for review purposes.

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