Anticipate and Finish

I want to add a couple thoughts to my previous post about men taking responsibility.

The sort of seeing “all as his” that I mean can be seen in what a man anticipates. A friend of ours is really good at this, and here’s just one story. When his wife was pregnant he made a sandwich for her and put it in her purse. She didn’t think about packing herself a snack. She didn’t ask him to make a sandwich. But he knew that she would be gone for a while and that she was likely to get hungry. He’d observed her scrounging around for left-over food on a previous excursion, so he anticipated her need and provided. That kid in her belly didn’t become his responsibility only after the kid was born or only after his wife asked for help.

The “all is his” mindset can also been seen in how he finishes. The trope is as old as men have been coming Home from Work. The husband/father walks in the door and he’s tired. It was a hard day, stressful. He wants a break. Sure. But how is managing his household not his deal? It’s not time to check out. It’s time to check in, with his wife, with his kids. How is his flock? What do they need, and who is supposed to provide for them? It is not someone else. He could get mad that dinner isn’t ready at the expected time, but that’s because his expectation about what it means for him to be finished is incomplete.

His and Hers

One of the most difficult things to communicate to a guy/husband/father is that all of it is his. He has responsibility for everything, even if he isn’t the one who does all the work.

Marriage is a partnership with the husband as the head. That means that while the wife has work, and the two of them discuss who will take care of what, the wife’s work is still the husband’s to consider. It never becomes hers in a way that he is no longer concerned with.

The typical guy thinks about His work and Her work, and I don’t mean work designated for a male or a female. It’s easy for him to get upset when she asks him questions about her work, or when she doesn’t finish her work in the time he thought she should, because he thinks it’s carving into his work. This is precisely the (pressure) point. It is all his work. She is not messing with his work, she is doing some of his work, even if he wished it was more or different. If she has questions or concerns that she brings to his attention, this is not something other than his responsibility, even if he thinks he’s delegated a task to her.

A simple way to think about what is his: what if his wife died? He would need to know how to pay the bills, each kid’s allergies and schoolwork, what clothes don’t go in the hot load, and how many days in a row of chicken nuggets for lunch is actually unhealthy. What if she was in a debilitating accident? He would need to take care of all the previous things and take care of her.

He could get mad about it, but that doesn’t make it not his responsibility. He could abdicate, run away to the garage, his man-cave, time with the buddies, more of “his” work at the office, or actually just leave the family, and it seems some guys do.

Is it possible for a wife to take advantage of a husband’s big shoulders? I suppose. Is it likely that she would take advantage of this, while he’s listening to her and seeking to serve her for both of their benefit? I don’t think so. But such a situation is rare because, as I said at the start, it’s hard to get a guy to see it all as his.

The Father’s Generosity

When Paul affirmed the truth of the knowledge about God to the Corinthians he summarized: “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

Of course this affirms God’s sovereignty. God is the source and the end of all things, and Jesus mediates God’s wisdom and strength in the creating and sustaining of all things. But is the point of the truth God’s power and authority?

It is not less than that, but it is also an affirmation of God’s generosity. Of all the things that belong with God as Father, it is His love that gives. All things originate in Him, but the point even to the Corinthians is not that we look through thick glass walls that separate us from all that He has. There is no wall. We look at all that He has given.

Included in that generosity is His own Son. God loved the world and gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but receive eternal life. And if the Father gave us Christ, how will He with Him not give us all things?

On Father’s Day we are learning what fathers are like, even as we eat and drink around the table of His generosity. We learn His nature and we are strengthened to imitate Him.

It’s Good to Be Dad

Dad’s don’t get a lot of respect in pop culture. They get a national holiday like mothers, but most of the advertised gifts suggest that it’s better to placate dad’s playful side than to honor his sacrificial side. That could be because a lot of men with children don’t actually work for their family, but at least they sometimes play (barbecue, boat, throw the ball, etc.) in a way that lets the kids come along.

Our culture has daddy issues, father hunger, vengeance toward the patriarchy. I’m less interested (today, at least) in chastising those errors and more interested in publicly stating my thanks to God for getting to be a dad.

I had only superficial ideas about fatherhood when I was growing up. Getting married and having kids and needing to do something with those kids seemed like the natural progression of life. What I came to realize later, well into parental practice, is that fatherhood is the glory of a man’s fruitfulness. I didn’t know that dad’s had such a divine purpose or how enjoyable the fruit would be.

We have four kids, going on 16, 13, 10, and 8 later this year. We have three girls and one boy. They are all different, they are all great. I love watching them sing, swim, shoot hoops, write papers, draw, dance, perform, plan, and read. Their mother knows them well and helps me to know them better as well. Being their father is exhausting and exhilarating. But even when one of the kids is second-level fussy or in full-on disobedience, I’m glad to be their dad.

The Ministry of Fatherhood is a gracious and great calling. It’s worth celebrating as a father, not just waiting to be appreciated as one.

Et Liberi, Et Libri

Do my kids keep me from being productive?

They could, perhaps, and I used to lean more toward that irritation. I prefer quiet for reading and writing, for study and sermon preparation, you know, for the “important” work. But, along with being married and talking with my wife, my kids give me a greater reason to think about things and figure out how to say them. In other words, I may not crank out more words, but God uses my kids to crank me.

Nietzsche used the Latin pun aut liberi, aut liber, “either children or books.” He made the word play about what survives, to legacy through library or through progeny. I don’t know for sure whether he meant to pit them against each other, as if we could only choose one. But whatever he meant, why not both?

Some people—think your stereotypical ditch-digger—need to find some time to read (or listen to) good books. Some other people—think your stereotypical seminary student—have a moral obligation to have kids and spend more time with them. I write for my kids (whether they read it or not, now or ever), and I am learning from them. This relates to my thoughts about all that I’m learning from helping to start a school. I have a life from which to speak, rather than wrongly acting as if speaking is my life.

Most productivity books, writing books included, talk about setting up cognitive space, as in actual spatial spots (in a study, a barn, a coffee shop), that prepare the mind to think deeply and creatively. Get away from distractions. Tell others you aren’t available during that time. And sure, if you have the luxury to choose your cup of tea, drink up. But isn’t art often identified by the constraints? Aren’t some of the best artists the ones who can succeed within the constraints? Then why can’t the “constraints” that come along with responsibilities such as fatherhood enable better flavor?

Jonathan Edwards wrote some profound things, like down near the bottom of mankind’s depth. He was a deep dude. Biographers record that some days he spent thirteen hours a day alone in his study. On occasion he would leave the dinner table, which was still full of his family and guests, in order to go get back in his “zone.” While I strive to honor God with all my affections and industry, I no longer assume that such effort and energy is separate from my dad life, it’s more rich because of it. So let’s adopt the Latin phrase into et liberi, et liber, “both children and books.”

For some additional thoughts, read A Bad Equation by Austin Kleon.

Paternity Tests

Confession of sin is an issue of fatherhood. I don’t mean that father’s are the most important confessors, though dads can’t help but make a mess of things at home if they don’t. Instead, I mean that confession of sin is an issue that reveals spiritual fatherhood. How we react to sin makes it evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil.

The apostle John wrote,

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:8–9)

There are a few things that stand out here. First, there are two types of people: children of God and children of the devil (also known as seed of the woman and seed of the serpent, Genesis 3:15). Second, paternity precipitates manners. Every child has the nature of his father and acts accordingly. The fruit doesn’t fall too far from the father. Third, it is possible to identify which family a man belongs in by resemblance, at least over time. Ongoing conduct is a sure test. You will know them by their fruit.

As Christians, the children of God, we should remember whose family we belong to, pursue the holiness of our calling, and keep on confessing and making it right with our heavenly Father. If we find ourselves putting on the uniform of the devil, let us put it off and put on Christ who appeared to defeat the works of sin.

Fathers Who Give Hope

Fathers Who Give Hope

I listen to this sermon from John Piper regularly. The message comes from Colossians 3:12-21, especially verse 21:

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (ESV)

His outline is:

  1. The Address – “Fathers”
  2. The Command – “Do not provoke your children”
  3. The Purpose – “lest they become discouraged”

Paul requires Christians to rear children who are not discouraged. Initially, that requires rearing children away from hope in money, health, a spouse, or self (all of which will disappoint), and instead toward hope in God.

Fathers bear the unique burden of giving hope to their kids, though not independent of their wives. We ought to lead our sons and daughters in such a way that they would see the heavenly Father through our dim reflection.

Perhaps the most daunting, and encouraging, counsel is that what we are as fathers is what our children will become. Giving hope is not a program, it is primarily about living and growing as hope-filled Christians.

That is the first thing that fathers can do to provoke their children to long-term discouragement and hopelessness—they can fail to BE hopeful, happy, and confident in God.

Hard Fathers, Soft Sons

The father who has a son like this—a son who shames him—must do more than just experience the shame. He must own it. That means that he needs to see how he contributed to the creation of something that appears to be very much unlike him. But this is just a surface appearance. All these years, the father was being hard, not because this was the way he had to be in order to serve his family. He was hard because he wanted to be, because he simply wanted to suit himself. Instead of seeing the trivial differences between himself and his son (e.g. what time they get up in the morning), he needs to learn to see the deep similarities. He has been hard because he wanted to suit himself. And his son has learned the lesson well—not the one about hardness, but the one about the importance of suiting yourself.

—Doug Wilson, Hard Fathers, Soft Sons