Neil C. Strait said, “The best gift a father can give to his son is the gift of himself – his time. For material things mean little, if there is not someone to share them with.”
In my own life, I learned this too late. This fall our eldest daughter, Emily Wierenga, is publishing an autobiographical book about her battle with an eating disorder, Chasing Silhouettes. I am very proud of her accomplishment as an author, but unfortunately some sections of the book reflect poorly on me. My daughter perceives that the lack of time and attention I gave her was a big factor in her developing anorexia, ‘starving for attention’ as it were.
She recalls this about the years between ages 9 and 13:
“Days filled with frowns, fierce yells and fists pounding against my father’s chest… Dad loved us by doing his job so well he put ministry before family. He’d kiss us on the cheeks early in the morning and lead Bible devotions and sigh when we asked him questions on Sermon-Writing day. I hated Sermon-Writing day. I got baptized at age eight because Dad said I should and I wanted to please him the same way I wanted to please God. I associated God with my father—a distant, unemotional man who said he loved me yet was too busy to show it. One year later, I realized that even though I’d gotten baptized, Dad still didn’t ask me how I was doing, not really, and so God still didn’t care. Not really.”
My preoccupation with my job (notwithstanding it was a ‘religious’ one) provoked my child to anger – exasperated her – caused her to become bitter and discouraged. I was pushing to go ‘faster’ in my career, at the expense of being a father. In our desperation to save our daughter’s life, we turned eventually to a Christian counsellor. Among other things, he asked me to describe my daughter in detail. I soon realized I didn’t know my daughter very well, couldn’t describe the uniqueness of her individuality because I hadn’t really taken the time or focussed my energy to get to know her.
The King James Version renders Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” NURTURE – that’s what I was missing out in raising Emily. Being careful to ‘feed into’ her life. Taking time (as she notes) to ask her how she was doing – really.
Sigmund Freud didn’t follow Biblical wisdom in his practice of psychology, but he did nevertheless make some astute observations about human nature. He said, “I could not point to any need in childhood as strong as that for a father’s protection.” This Father’s Day – and all other days of the year when we’re tempted to go ‘faster’ rather than father – may the Lord help us slow down enough to treasure our children and truly nurture them, love into their lives, rather than embittering and exasperating them.
(my Dad is one of the most humble men i know, and while we still don’t totally ‘get’ each other, we love each other deeply and foster a deep and nurturing relationship. you will find more of our story here, in a talk we did last summer at Hungry for Hope. happy father’s day, friends!!)
(picture of my Dad, Ernest Dow, with my oldest son, Aiden Grey)