Father, fathering, fatherly, fatherhood: there has certainly been much ado about man and his caregiver role within the family nucleus. Literature, for example, has painted father figures in wide arcs, from the raging, abusive alcoholic to the strict, distant disciplinarian to the doting, hands-on man-about-the-house. It is quite the fertile ground for aspiring literary greats. And behavioural sciences, biology, culture and counterculture, and women’s liberation, just to name a few things, all have much to say about the relevance, importance and expectations of this role. It can be rather bewildering for the rest of us who happen to be fathers.
It may be a strange irony that I now add to this cacophony as well. Mercifully, it summarises the reflections of a family, penned through a father.
I have found a couple of verses that have been really useful as a father. Aptly, Ephesians 6:4 happens to be one of them: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Taken more simply: do not frustrate your folks. As a corollary, I use this as my guiding principle at work. For me, it means to make it a point to know enough about the work my folks do so that I can have a meaningful conversation with them about what is expected, or understand a description of the problem at hand from their perspectives. It is about having that common understanding so that they can confidently go about their work independently.
Frustration at not being understood leads to exasperation, if not anger, for both employee and employer.
So too is this approach applied at home. Homework, for example – working with error propagation in physics – sure, I am a bit rusty but still up to it. Discussing research topics – happy to oblige. Listening empathically to the literary analysis of A Doll’s House – super iffy but it’s best to engage nonetheless. It is not about doing their homework for them or taking away that sense of exploration with ready answers for efficiency’s sake, but to provide a trellis of safe, conducive opportunities for growth.
I think the harder part is: how do I engage and guide my daughters towards God when I am figuring out parts of the path myself? How do I not frustrate my daughters in their spiritual growth with God? There have been, and will continue to be, tough, probing questions about faith, and it isn’t about faithfully quoting scripture in reply. Rather, I believe it is about sharing deep reflection on what it entails to say, ’I believe’ as one intelligent, thinking person to another. Children will not stay children forever and parents should be prepared to give them age-appropriate spiritual food. Some of these grown-up foods will be about how we attempt to reconcile what we understand of the Bible with how imperfectly we live out that understanding. It is spiritual food that needs time and effort, but it is what our children need for that unending struggle for Christ-likeness.
The other verse that has meant much to me as a father is Proverbs 1:8: “Hear my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.”
Since the beginning of biblical times with Adam and Eve, it has been about a partnership in bringing up children. Fatherhood, like motherhood, is unique and complementary in the partnership, as God intended – how we encourage each other as spouses towards God, how we learn and internalise the Word, how we address differences in the interpretation and meaning of scripture, and how we bring up our children in a Godly manner is through this partnership. Remember, they are watching us as we look after them. In short, fatherhood is not meant to be contemplated in isolation.
So, while it is always good to have a reason to celebrate fatherhood, in the end, what we are truly celebrating is the success of the whole family. If nothing else, let Father’s Day be a great way to have a meal together and enjoy each one another’s company. The bittersweet day will come when our children will leave the home to start families of their own and we give thanks to have played our part in God’s plan, as in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
–Yeo Howe Chien