I love my Dad. He has always been my biggest cheerleader, the one I am able to receive criticism from and the one who can talk me off the ledge when I want to quit and give up on God and faith. He has a way of speaking to me that I can hear, and there is something in his strength that gives me courage. It always has.
My father is an important part of my life as all fathers are; yet cross-cultural work is not primarily known for producing strong father figures. Just a quick peek into the lives of many of our cross-cultural worker heroes and we find men who sacrifice the family for the sake of the call. The role of caregiver falls to the mother as she struggles to juggle children, language, culture and God’s call.
The argument for present fathers can often be posed as a feminist one. Fathers need to spend more time with their children in order that mothers have the opportunity to work and build relationships outside the home. This is a shortsighted argument that still diminishes the importance for fathers to be intentional in relationship with their kids. I want to be clear, this isn’t about the health of the mothers; this is about the health of our children.
So, while mothers have historically taken on the role as lead caregiver, research has shown that fathers are indispensible in the lives of their children. In fact, having an attentive father is the primary predictor for the educational, verbal, emotional, social and spiritual health of a child. Involved fathers, alongside committed mothers, are an unstoppable force for good in the lives of children.
As Dr. Warren Farrell says in his book, The Boy Crisis, “The best parent is both parents.” Mother and father both working in unison to develop their children into healthy, resilient adults who can weather the storms of life that are surely to come.
A mother cannot do it alone.
One of the crucial ways that fathers uniquely influence their children is through play. It isn’t through hours of devotionals or strict discipline that children learn emotional intelligence and obedience, it is through the participation of the father in the realm of play that molds the character of kids.
Just last week I asked my husband to read to the kids before bed and as I was folding laundry in the bedroom, I could hear the screams of laughter coming from the living room. Now, this book was not a funny book. It was a serious, homeschool novel about World War 2. It wasn’t meant to be funny. Yet the father of my children had taken something serious and made it a moment of bonding through, not only laughter, but also in the practice of processing surprise, confusion, laughter and even frustration within seconds. Organically teaching them in ways that I am not instinctually built.
We need our fathers to play.
Play and competition teach kids a lot more than you would think. Play and competition teach boundaries, physical awareness, empathy, risk taking and emotional resilience. Play can also be used to enforce rules as well as teach kids to push themselves beyond their limits, even teaching them to handle difficult emotions and pain within the confines of a safe environment.
Teasing is also a means by which fathers empower their children, especially their boys, in emotional intelligence. Dr. Warren Farrell makes the assertion that teasing is a father’s way of inoculating their children to future criticism. It will even have long term effects in the health of their future marriages as married couples who tease each other while in conflict, will remain more connected and happy in their relationships.
It is clear to me, as a mother, that it is necessary for me to take a step back and allow my husband to parent in the ways that I am not built to. It means learning to breathe deeply when my husband gives my son permission to climb to the height of trees, or when he roughhouses to the point of tears and dangles a child upside down. This is a God-given, research-proven, means through which relationships are strengthened and discipline is received.
As fathers, I encourage you, when the stress of cross-cultural living and ministry begins to overwhelm, don’t let your children be the stressor that you sacrifice. They need you to be present. They need you to play and tease and speak words of courage. In doing so, I am confident, that you will be blessed with a deeper and more trusting relationship with your children, one that will see fruit for generations.
I’m excited thinking about the impact we have as followers of Christ, when we empower our men to be fathers. Not just within our own homes but also within the churches and communities that surround us. It isn’t by accident that God speaks of himself as father. It’s also not by chance that communities without good fathers will be more turbulent and disadvantaged. Our modeling of fatherhood is a powerful tool that can transform lives and communities in ways that preaching never could.
So, I say, let the children come to their fathers and play.
How did your father play with you? In what ways did your own father influence your life? What is the role of father within your current community? How would a good father role model influence your current culture?
Resources for your parenting journey:
The Boy Crisis by Dr. Warren Farrell and Dr. John Gray
Raising Emotionally Intelligent Children by Dr. John Gottman
Parenting from the Inside Out by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel