Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Fathers and Sons

Written by Mr. Jack Westerink
If you read Focus on the Family magazine, you will have noticed that the November 2001 issue featured the raising of boys. Dr. James Dobson has just written a new book titled Bringing up BOYS. Several issues have also arisen within the school context to cause me to do some thinking about our boys, and the issues in their lives.

The dads of our Free Reformed Churches are mostly the products of Dutch immigrant parents and grandparents. Most of these parents immigrated to Canada in the 1950Õs to make a new life for their families, and to provide better opportunities for them. They left a post-war Holland that was becoming more socialistic, and the fear was that communism might soon follow. Canada was a developing free country with many employment opportunities, open land, and a more conservative government. My father was told by my grandfather, after taking a Òscouting tripÓ with Rev. Tamminga, that Canada was a place where it never rained (compared to Holland), the paint didnÕt peel, and the food was cheap. However, when my father arrived at Halifax harbour a year later after a ten-day boat trip, it was pouring rain. The Halifax train station was a white wooden clapboard building with the paint badly peeling off. After boarding a train bound for Chatham, Ontario, he had to pay an outrageous sum for a tuna sandwich. So much for dreams!

Our Dutch immigrant fathers and grandfathers were hardworking, busy men. They struggled to make a living in the new land. They put in a lot of hours working (Calvinistic work ethic), establishing churches, learning the new language, and trying to pay for Christian education, at great sacrifices. They didnÕt really have a lot of free time to spend with their children, or go on exotic, lengthy, family vacations.

But family life has changed a lot since 1950. By and large, we are more affluent today than our forefathers. Dads are home more often. They usually have Saturdays off, are more involved with the day-to-day raising of the children, and spend more time taking trips and holidays with the family. These are good developments, and because of this, the relationship with our children is also different. But a relationship involves more than being there, going on vacations, and being able to give our children more of the things that make life enjoyable. A relationship also involves expressing our love, physical affection, and giving our children regular doses of praise and encouragement.

In my experience as a Principal, I have discovered a common problem in our young men at high school, college students, and even after marriage in our young fathers and husbands. They have missed out on the physical affection, praise and encouraging words from their fathers that they so desperately needed. This can manifest itself in high school boys with attention-seeking misbehaviour, poor self-image, and other insecurities. Even negative attention is better than no attention at all. Later on in life, men discover relational issues in the workplace, and issues in their marriages that link back directly to a lack of positive reinforcement and physical affection in their youth.

Our boys need physical affection and praise, just as much as they need food, drink, and discipline. We are called by God to admonish, instruct, and correct our children, but not to provoke them to wrath (Eph.6: 4). The Bible uses the word nurture. The dictionary defines nurture as, "to bring up; to care for; rear; training; education." It can even mean nourishment as in the provision of food. Wrestling or scuffling with dad after supper, playful punches in the shoulder, trying to beat dad at anything at all, whether it be running, throwing a ball, or a game, are ways of getting some of that physical contact and nurture that is so important to them. A pat on the back for work well done, a ruffled head to show appreciation, a sentence or two of praise for school accomplishments, may be squawked at by our boys, but they love it, and they need it. When is the last time you did this with your son? When is the last time you actually told your son that you were proud of him? That you loved him?

The tender love a father has
For all his children dear,
Such love the Lord bestows on them
Who worship Him in fear.
(Psalter 278 verse 1)

Like as a father looketh with compassion
Upon his children, lo, in such a fashion
The Lord doth look on them that fear and trust.
(Psalter 444:5)

One possible reason that we seldom praise and encourage our sons may be our theology. We all agree and confess that we are born in sin, and are depraved by nature. There is no good in us except that which is worked by God through His Holy Spirit. This is an important truth that shapes our view of children. Lest we foster pride in our sons, we may have a tendency to over-react by rarely giving words of praise or encouragement. Perhaps some of us are inwardly proud of our sons, but we are afraid to express it outwardly because it may be interpreted in the wrong way, and we might be labeled as Òtheological liberals.Ó The error we are making is to confuse pride and nurture. Nurture produces a healthy self image in our children. If that self-image is over-inflated, it leads to pride. If that self-image is under-inflated, it leads to lack of self worth and depression. Both extremes are unhealthy.

Pride is sin, and can be quite ugly when a person is unaware of it. Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth do I hate (Prov.8: 13b). But there is a good kind of pride, perhaps better called a healthy balanced self-image. It makes us want to do a good job, causes us to set a high standard for ourselves, and produces good results. Bad pride is at the expense of others, and does not give praise, honour, and glory to God.

A second reason that we seldom praise and encourage our sons may be that we do not recognize what is praiseworthy. Perhaps the ÒbiggerÓ things such as getting a good job, earning a good salary, or being able to buy a house are things we recognize as being praiseworthy; while the ÒsmallerÓ things such as accomplishing a good grade on a test, showing an act of kindness, being polite, going on a short term mission project are not recognized by us. After all, we are supposed to do our best and be kind all the time, so why should we get praise for it?

In the business world, employees receive bonuses, extra time off, raises, or letters of commendation for doing a good job. And yet they were hired to do a good job, and agreed to a set wage for doing it. The reality is that these perks do a lot for our sense of self worth, increase job satisfaction, and help to produce a happy employee. We can apply this principle to our sons as well. Let us learn to look for and recognize praiseworthy reasons to positively build up our sons.

Moms generally have the most contact with the children on a daily basis. When the children come home from school, they want to tell mom all about their day. If there were any problems during the day, most of the necessary discussion has already taken place before dad comes home from work. Moms are usually the ones who tuck the children into bed at night. Dad may be already off to a church or school meeting by then. Mom is the one who hears about the troubles, disappointments, and fears (social or spiritual) that the child will often express before saying their prayers and going to sleep.

In order for dads to have relationships with their children, especially their boys, they often will need to consciously make that time available by planning to be alone with them. These times alone with dad do not have to be elaborate or expensive. Simple things like trips to the local Canadian Tire store, going out for a coffee, a Saturday fishing expedition, going to a ball game, working together on a garden project, are different ways that dads can plan for some quality one-on-one with their sons. During these times you can let your son know that you are proud of him, that you love him, and give him words of encouragement. It is important to open the lines of communication between you and your son early, so that later on when the years of adolescence roll in, there will already be an established relationship that you may need to cash in on.

It is true that we want our boys to become men with a backbone, able to stand up for Biblical principles, and able to make good decisions. It would not be good if our men would fall apart emotionally every time there was a difficulty, sadness, or if men could not handle stressful situations graciously. Boys need to grow up to become men who have a definitive God-given role in the family. They are to be leaders in their family, decision-makers, role models, and spiritual examples. But this role does not negate the fact that boys need to be loved, encouraged, built up, and touched physically.

Men need to develop a sensitive side as well. A man who is compassionate, has a listening ear and who can be tender hearted, can be a rich blessing to his family and church. The Bible says Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Rom.12: 15). Solomon says, There is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Eccl.3: 1,4).

If you are reading this, it is not too late to change our patterns, and to rectify our shortcomings. Start today. Do we want history to keep repeating itself? Or do we want to do better?

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