Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: fathers

The Visible and Invisible Poor

I believe we in North America have a problem in the way we see the poor. We are acutely aware of the poor people in Africa and Asia and believe it is up to us to do something to relieve their poverty. We are blind to the existence of poverty in our own countries, because our countries are rich and there is no excuse for anyone to be poor.

Isn’t pride the principal motivator in both cases? We think ourselves better people than those who are poor; as if it was our superior wisdom that caused us to be born in prosperous countries and stable homes.

We send enormous amounts of used clothing, mosquito nets and other goodies to Africa and pat ourselves on the back for our kindness. It is not kindness – these are poisoned gifts that take jobs away from those in Africa who would be fully capable of manufacturing them.

Some years ago there was a surplus of rice in the USA. The government decided that they could help US farmers and the poor people of Haiti by donating the rice to Haiti. It did help US farmers, but before the free rice came there were farmers in Haiti growing rice and plants to process the rice. Those people all lost their livelihoods.

Our supposed generosity is a display of contempt for people in those countries; we are telling them that you are inferior people, incapable of providing for your own needs. Does that sound harsh? Aren’t we just trying to help? We may think we are helping, but we need to step back and look at the gap between our supposedly noble intentions and the damage our gifts are causing. There are voices in Africa telling us, “For God’s sake stop helping us!” We should listen to them.

Contempt is a harsh word, but isn’t that what is really behind our thinking about poor people in North America? Have they truly had the same opportunities as those who are most prosperous? The same respect, the same educational and employment opportunities?

There are many factors that can’t simply be brushed aside. There are the lingering effects of slavery in the USA, the white race riots in the Red Summer of 1919 when white mobs in two dozen US cities rampaged through black neighbourhoods, vandalizing and looting businesses and homes owned by black people, the Detroit riot of 1943 when several black people were offered supervisory jobs in the Packard plant and many other incidents. My father and his brothers grew up in the USA. Anything they ever said about black people indicated that in their minds the inferiority of black people was an unquestioned fact.

In Canada, the residential schools for indigenous people, with supposedly benevolent intentions, undermined the family structures of those people. That brings me to the principal cause of poverty in North America – the lack of fathers. Most young people who get into trouble, most members of street gangs, most petty criminals, most prostitutes, most of the poor people, have not had a father who loved and cared for them, who gave them a sense of security at home.

A friend of ours in Montreal 25 years ago, grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese cic=vil war that lasted from 1975 to 1992. Almost all the buildings in Beirut showed some damage fro the bombs and shooting. Her father, a retired military officer, told his sons that if they enlisted in the army he would not allow them into the house. He did not want to bring the turmoil outside into his home. His sons obeyed their father’s wishes. Our friend told us that whatever the strife around them, she always felt safe and secure at home.

If all men could give their families that level of security, that would go a long way to eliminate the disorders and dysfunctions of our time,.including poverty. If you have grown up with a father like that, thank God for him. And don’t despise those who live in poverty because they have not had the same opportunity.

Precious memories

My cousin Dennis was born September 9, 1937, the first of six children born to Art and Katherine Goodnough. His wife called last week to tell us that his children were planning a surprise birthday party for him for his 80th birthday, last Saturday. Could we come?

I thought about it briefly, maybe half a second, and said “Of course, we’ll be there.” I had been thinking of this momentous occasion coming up, had bought a card and was wondering how or when to deliver it. Saturday we made the two and a half hour drive to Moose Jaw and joined 50 others, family and friends, to celebrate Dennis’s 80 years.

All of Dennis’s brothers came, from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. His sister lives in Portugal and didn’t make it. Four of his five children were there, two live in Moose Jaw, one in Alberta, one in BC and the one missing was out of the country on a business trip.

Uncle Art was my father’s brother, Aunt Katherine my mother’s sister. Our two families have always been close. Everything his brothers said about Dennis was completely familiar. None of us has ever seen him get angry, nor have we ever seen him violate a traffic law. Richard told how Dennis would always use his signal lights before making a turn, even if he was out in the middle of a 100 acre field or a thousand acre pasture.

He was always interested in others. Whenever you talked to him, his first questions were about your family. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. Stan, 15 years younger, told of encountering a kangaroo on his big brother’s farm when he was just a little lad. He told Dennis about the kangaroo and Dennis said, “Well, it might have been something else that looked a lot like a kangaroo.” Some time later Stan figured out that it had been a jackrabbit.

His patience was his great strength, but at times it looked like a weakness. Jason, his youngest son, told of how his Dad taught them the importance of cleanliness and also modelled it for them. One time the family was ready to get in the car to go somewhere, they were already 20 minutes late, but Dad decided he had to have a shower first.

Jason also told of how his Dad had been a good teacher. He didn’t get angry when they didn’t do as they had been taught, but relations could get rather cool for a while. Ted, the brother next after Dennis in the family, picked up on that and said that had come from their mother. When he did something wrong his mother wouldn’t speak to him for days. Finally he would get so desperate that he would do anything, wash dishes, scrub floors, to get her to talk to him. Thinking of that later, it seems that Ted would be the one in the family who would have most often incurred this treatment from his mother. He was also the one for whom it was most apt to produce a favourable result.

Joel, Dennis’s oldest grandson and a Pentecostal preacher, was MC for the afternoon. Jeff, Dennis’s oldest son and also a Pentecostal preacher (but of a different denomination), had the prayer for the supper. The Goodnough family is a mixture of Christians of differing persuasions and others who are not Christians. We don’t get together as often as we did when we were younger and lived closer to each other, but there is still something that binds us together. I believe the tie that binds us together, at least for those of us of the older generation, is the influence of our mothers. I am not alone in thinking that, the thought was expressed a number of times on Saturday.

The liberation of men

A young lady who worked in a doughnut shop found that she was pregnant. She was only 19, living on her own, working to support herself. She had already had an abortion at 15, her parents pressured her into it because she was too young for the responsibility of motherhood. That memory was painful and she did not want to have another abortion. But she didn’t have enough education for a better job, how could she support herself and a child? She finally chose to have a second abortion.

A young lady came in to register at the food bank one day when I was volunteering there. She was attractive, neatly dressed, well spoken – probably better educated than the first young lady. She had moved in with her boyfriend, expecting it to be a long term arrangement, but when they found a baby was on the way the young man disappeared. She was raising the child on her own and could hardly make ends meet.

The contraceptive pill and easy access to abortion were heralded as means of setting women free. Have they really? But it does certainly seem that men have been liberated — set free from worrying about the responsibilities of being husbands or fathers.

Doesn’t it seem that since our society has separated sex from responsibility, men’s attitudes towards women have become more and more degraded? Women may get more respect in the working world and in politics, but in personal relationships it seems there is much less. Violence against women continues to increase.

Homeless children, children who don’t dare go home, and children who are part-timers in two different homes, are increasing in number. Most of the troubled youth in our society have never really had a father. Schools and social service agencies are trying to cope with the problem, but they can never accomplish what a real father could do.

The nuclear family, with both a father and mother, is the ideal natural setting for children to grow up into responsible, mature adults. Of course, there have always been homes that were less than ideal, some were quite awful in fact. That is not an argument for the abolition of the family. It is an argument for better parents.

It is also an argument for the Christian faith and the church. It is a wonderful thing when the parents of the friends of your children are your friends and you can trust that they have the same hopes and ideals as you have for their children. Children grow up knowing they are loved and respected. They feel secure, they learn better in school, they trust there will be answers for their problems. They learn to be responsible, and responsive to the needs of others.

Far too many young adults today have no experience of a stable, trusting home life. In all probability, none of their friends do either. Is this really liberty? Does it look like they are happy?

The world today is beginning to look a lot like the world in which the Christian church was first born. Acts 1:19 give the number of believers before Pentecost as about 120. If it was possible for that small group to grow and “turn the world upside down,” is it impossible to think that it could happen again? For that to happen we will have to trade in our liberty for responsibility.

I have a perfect Father

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness (Hebrews 12:9-10).

These verses indicate that fathers don’t do everything just right, yet they are worthy of our respect.  It should be noted that “after their own pleasure” does not mean “for their own pleasure.”  A normal father does not get pleasure out of administering correction to his children.  The phrase is a quaint old English way of saying “as it seemed right and good to them.”

It is not disrespectful to our fathers to say “I wish he hadn’t done that,” or “I wish he had taken more time to teach me about that.”  It seems to me that if we cannot acknowledge that our fathers sometimes made mistakes, we will simply add our mistakes to his mistakes and do a far worse job of being a father than he did.

My father died 35 years ago.  He was 50 when I was born and I believe that he did the best that he knew how to do to be a good father to me.  But there were often times when he was very difficult to live with.

I remember a time, when I was a little older, that I prayed “Why couldn’t I have had a better father?”  The answer came back clearly, “You do.  You have a perfect Father.”  This is what the verses from Hebrews are telling us: whatever the shortcomings of our fleshly fathers, we have a heavenly Father who knows us through and through and wishes to gently guide us in the way we should go.

I am older now, and painfully aware of my own shortcomings as a father.  Nevertheless I have a daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren who are able to forgive my shortcomings.  I feel loved and respected.  That has more to do with our heavenly Father than with my qualities as a father and grandfather.

Dare to be a father

A single mother was complaining about the school her boys attended; there were too many First Nations children (“Indians” she called them).  I observed the conduct of her boys and thought to myself that they suffered from the same affliction as many First Nations children in our area: they did not have a father.

We don’t talk about it much, it’s not politically correct to say it, but most of the children and youth who get into trouble never really had a father to love and guide them.  Boys need a father; one who will give them unconditional love at all times, yet correct them when they need it.  They need to learn the rules of this game we call life; to learn that the only way to win is to play by the rules and give others the respect that we wish for ourselves.  Girls need the love and approval of a father.  A good relationship with an affectionate and respectful father is perhaps the best street proofing a girl can get.  If she is left to seek this affection elsewhere, it probably won’t be combined with respect.

The Indian residential schools are one of the most shameful chapters of Canadian history.  The government took children away from their parents and made a concerted effort to teach them to be ashamed of their own language and culture and everything that their parents stood for.  This was an almost century-long attempt to destroy the First Nations family structure.  Those responsible were seemingly ignorant that this is what they were doing, but the results are obvious today.  First Nations people are trying to recover from the devastation caused by the residential schools, but now there are so many “educated” and “progressive” voices in our society who downplay the importance of the traditional Dad & Mom home structure.  One Canadian writer has labelled it “The War Against the Family.”*

Jesus taught us to call God our Father.  This may present some difficulties for those who have no experience of a warm and loving father.  Yet it speaks to a desire in every heart, often misunderstood, to have a Father they can approach will all their sorrows and hurts, with all their longings and desires for a happy and fulfilling life.  When we dare to believe that God is such a Father and tell Him all our sorrows, confessing that most of them were our own doing, He will forgive us and give us a peace and assurance that are beyond what we hoped or expected.

There are more than a billion people in this world who claim to worship a God who sounds in many ways like the God of the Christians, but who is not a Father.  Is this not the root cause of the anger and antisocial conduct that is being expressed by so many of the people from this religion?

Bilquis Sheikh** was a woman raised in Islam.  She believed it was the only true way, yet she was deeply unsatisfied, lonely, unfulfilled.  She obtained a Bible and began to read it.  She would read from the Qur’an and then from the Bible.  Both made claims to be the truth, the only truth.  It was all so confusing.  One day she prayed that God would show her which book was really His book.  The answer came as a voice speaking clearly in her mind: “In which book do you meet me as your Father?”  She knew instantly what the answer was, and that answer forever transformed her life.

That same God wants to be a Father to all the fatherless people of this world.  Those of us who are Christian fathers, or grandfathers, have a responsibility to mirror the Fatherhood of God in our relationships to those who follow us.

* The War Against the Family, copyright 1992 by William D Gairdner. Published by Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd., Toronto.

** I Dared to Call Him Father, copyright 1978 by Bilquis Sheikh. Published by Fleming H Revell Company, Old Tappan, New Jersey


Missing Fathers

Twenty years ago, Québec psychologist Guy Corneau published a book entitled père manquant, fils manqué.  The title is a French play on words that is untranslatable, but means that there is something lacking in the development of a son when the father is missing.  Mr. Corneau explained that he did not only mean  fathers who were physically absent, but also those who were preoccupied with other things to the point of being largely uninvolved in the life of their sons.  Boys raised in such circumstances usually grow up with large gaps in their emotional and social development.

The book title refers to sons, but the writer makes it clear that girls need their father’s love and attention as much as boys do.

My father was 49 years old when he married, 50 when I was born. He was born in Iowa, homesteaded in Saskatchewan when he was 17.  In the beginning he broke land with oxen, farmed with horses and threshed grain with a steam engine.  A few years later, when automobiles became common, he went to school in Knoxville, Tennessee to learn the mechanic’s trade.

He could build most anything with wood, using hand tools; he could fix most anything mechanical.  But he didn’t know how to teach any of that to me, seldom explained what he was doing, or why he was doing it.

He had a half century of life experience before I came along and didn’t know how to bridge the gap between us.  I grew up in a very different era, had a very different education, and this caused me to look at life in a different way.  Neither of us understood that this was the problem that made it so hard for us to understand each other.

He tried to give spiritual leadership in the home, reading the Bible and praying morning and evening.  But he was a frustrated man, feeling that he had been cut adrift by the church he had grown up in.   The Methodist Church had swallowed the social gospel teaching and united with two other like-minded denominations to form the United Church of Canada.  My father told of attending a United Church in Edmonton where the preacher made it plain that he did not believe the creation account, the miracles, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus or the reality of the resurrection.  My father had walked out into the street and wept.  That left my father with an oft-repeated  set of grievances against much that was wrong in the churches, but without a clearly articulated concept of what the church should be.

Moses instructed the fathers in Israel thusly: “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7).

Where are the fathers who are doing this today?  I know there are some, and I see how that is a blessing to their children.  Would our society have ever become so corrupt if more fathers had been faithful in doing that in generations past?   Is there really any other way to set things right in our society but to have Christian homes where the father communicates his faith to his children in the way Moses instructed?

I am old now.  I survived, I eventually grew up.  I don’t blame my father, I’m not sure I did much better in raising my own family.  But I entreat young fathers to earnestly try to fulfill your responsibility to be fathers to your children and spiritual leaders in your home.


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