Sunday 5 September 2010

Marked by my Dad

The mixed emotions of Fathers' Day

It's Fathers' Day in many countries today, a time when we give thanks for our fathers and remember the role they play in their children's lives. However, as an older father (my daughters are pictured on the right), the day for me is more about me being thankful for the blessings of fatherhood and the love of my Heavenly Father shown in his kindness to me. I love seeing my children (and their husbands) and grandchildren any day of the year (and have plenty of opportunities to do so), and every time I think of them I can't help but be thankful to God for the precious gift of families and fatherhood. What a privilege and responsibility it is to be a father.

But for many, the act of remembering our fathers, or even reflecting on how we have fathered our children, can bring mixed emotions. While many have good relationships with their fathers, and many fathers had a strong relationship with their children (as I have), others don't share this experience. Fathers' Day can be a reminder to fathers of their own failings, and for some children it can also be day that is difficult because their relationship with their fathers has not been a positive one.

Reflecting on fatherhood with new eyes

If you are a father, I'd encourage you to reflect on your father and his role in your life and perhaps your role as a father, with new eyes. I had a difficult childhood and a pretty poor relationship with my father (that's us on the left). As I grew up I didn't see him as a great role model and when I became a Dad I almost consciously sought to be a different father. And yet, even in the midst of my father's frailties and weaknesses, I can see that he left his mark on me in many positive ways. As a Christian (since I was 31 years old) I have been slowly able to see that many seemingly inconsequential things in my relationship with my Dad had an impact on me.

For a start, he instilled in me a strong sense of social justice, an understanding of hard work and a political interest. But there are many other more minor ways in which my relationship with my Dad shaped me; here's just one. For many years I thought my Dad had taught me nothing as a child. He left school in Grade 6 and he had no practical skills. I didn't look to him for intellectual stimulation, that was a role that my Grandfather On my mother's side) filled. For example, as an adult when I came to love books, I thought for many years that my Dad had played no part in this. I can never recall him reading me a book as a child. But in my 40s one day I was struck by the memory that he constantly told me stories, anecdotes from his life.  These were stories of his childhood in Scotland living in tenement housing near Glasgow, knowing true 'bread and dripping' poverty in a family of 10 boys and an 11th child a little girl (the last born) who died at age 2. Later he told stories of his work in the coal mines of the Hunter Valley (NSW) and his role in the trade union movement. I can now see, that his constant storytelling had a huge impact on me. He taught me about the power of stories without even reading me a single story (I've written about this on my Literacy blog HERE).

In the minor details of life, my interaction with him left their mark; some to be honest are scars that I will carry to my grave, mostly unspoken and never shared. Others brought good as well bad. Here's one I can share of this type. I can recall one day shovelling coal (a 10 ton load) with my Dad and another man from next door when I was about 7-8 years old (about the age in the picture above). I can remember vividly how impressed they both were that when they slowed down I kept going. I recall their words "only a kid and he works like a man". This incident, and perhaps others like it, was a critical part of the development of my drive and a work ethic that continues to this day, both a blessing and a curse. For a small boy desperate for his Dad's approval and rarely getting it, this one moment had a huge impact on me. It marked me, not necessarily all for good, for my drive and ambition have got me into trouble at times.

Accepting our responsibility as fathers

The great challenge for all fathers is to first have a right view of God. We need to be fathers who trust, obey and serve our God and who seek to teach our children to understand the wisdom of God and to follow him. Deuteronomy (Deut 6:4-9) offers an image of this type of fatherhood. This is a picture of an involved father. If we were to translate this biblical picture into contemporary terms, we would see a father who seeks to obey and honour God, who sets a good example for his family, who models what it is to be a child of God. Such a father spends time with his children (indeed will 'waste' time with them), listens to them and shares godly wisdom at meal times, while resting, while together at home, while travelling. Such an engaged father hopes that they can hopefully mark their children for the ultimate 'good', a relationship with God the Father through Christ (Rom 8:28-30).

My own reflections on childhood reinforce for me the important role that fathers have. God uses us even in our weakness and failings. Pray that God will help you to give fatherhood your best shot, and that even in your weakness, that God in his mercy and kindness will still use you in some way as he draws your children into a relationship with him that will mark them for eternity.

Some of my other posts and writing on fathers and families

An article on families in Case 12 (here).

How time spent with children matters (here).

The impact of the loss of time spent sharing meals (here), and the role of fathers more generally (here).

The shared responsibility we have with communities for other people's children (here) and in the church (here).

A number of more practical posts about fathers on my other blog 'Literacy, families and learning' (here).

Apologetics in Family Life (here)

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