New to fatherhood
My little girl, Thandiwe is almost one year old. Her birthday is on the 14th of July. One key thing she has taught me in these few months is that quality time to children must be supported by quantity time and vice versa. It seems not to matter much to Thandie if I spend a relaxing evening with her in my arms if it only lasts 5 minutes. Similarly, an hour with her in my arms while I am working on my laptop doesn’t cut it either. She wants face time- and face time that lasts. Even placing her favourite toy before her only fascinates her for a few minutes before she realises she wants her daddy more than the teddy bear. If I extrapolate this behaviour to Thandiwe at 16 years and myself at 42, it means all the pocket money and gifts that I will give may fascinate her for some short lived period but in the end she will want a relationship with me. She wants presence before presents. I think children give us sufficient notice before they become teenagers. To Thandiwe, if I am not present, I am not present.
Sometime this year in the month of February, I was so busy preaching. Home became like a motel. I used to simply check in for food and sleep. The next morning I would be up and running heading to another county to preach. I would return home too tired and too busy for my wife, Turi and my daughter, Thandiwe. Turi stopped me in my tracks and confronted me.
“Love, you are so busy preaching, you’re hardly at home. We need you.”
I felt angry and defensive. She knew how February looks like in our calendar! It is always full of youth activities. She should understand why I am busy. Besides, I was trying really hard.
“But I am doing my best!” I complained.
“I know you are. We just need you home, Ernest,” she replied calmly.
It was then that it hit me. Turi wants a great husband before a great preacher. Thandie wants a great father before a great minister of the gospel. I was humbled that night. Whenever I get new self-awareness revelations, I pray Psalm 139:23-24. It reads: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”(NIV). I asked the LORD to search my heart. I realised that I was slowly changing by getting my identity from my ministry. God used my wife to stop me. My sense of significance, security and acceptance had been shifted from the cross and was moving to my work. I was not only drifting away as a father, but also as a follower of Jesus. It is funny how it is often the good things that compete with God and not necessarily the ones that are overtly evil. My father in heaven was always present. I wanted the same for Thandie!
Looking at my childhood, I realise that I easily gravitated to children who shared experiences similar to mine. I think this happens whether the experiences are positive or negative. So, I can imagine Thandiwe at age eight in primary school having a conversation with one of her friends; let’s call the friend Becky.
Becky says, “I miss my dad; he’s never at home.”
“How come?” Thandie asks
“Well, he’s never home because he’s always out drinking.”
“I feel you,” Thandie responds. “I miss my dad too. He’s never home.”
“How come?” Becky asks.
“Well, he’s never home because he’s always out preaching.”
You see, Beloved, whether I am out getting drunk or out preaching the gospel, if I am not present, I am not present. If I’m not at home, I’m not at home; my children will develop father wounds that are hard to heal if I do not do something about it. Children need their fathers to be present. Observe these findings.
According to the United States of America Census Bureau:
- A child raised in a father-absent home is 4 times likely to experience poverty.
- A girl raised in a father-absent home is 7 times more likely to get pregnant as a teen.
- A child raised in a father-absent home is more likely to have delinquent issues.
- A child raised in a father-absent home is two times more likely to drop out of school.
- A child raised in a father-absent home is more likely to be involved in violent crime.
- b) According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, a child raised in a father-absent home is 79% more likely to abuse drugs and addictive substances.
- c) Pregnant women without father support experience greater health risk than pregnant women with father support.
Some people read those facts with an emotional eye. This is not to say that people without fathers are doomed to fail. It is just to assert that fathers have a role in our lives that is irreplaceable. So right now, as a father to a nearly one-year-old, I reckon that both quantity and quality time require me to sacrifice my daily routine in some way, and I can only guess that the sacrifice levels keep increasing the older she gets and the busier I become.
A father is a son’s first idea of what a man should be and a daughter’s first idea of what a husband should be. I am not merely being present to give Thandie a feel good emotional experience. I am also shaping her idea of marriage. I also reckon that our view of God the father is often distorted by our view of our earthly fathers. If your earthly father was absent, you may believe that God the father is absent and consequently struggle to pray. If your earthly father was harsh and domineering, you may struggle to understand the grace of God that covers sin when we repent. If your earthly father broke his promises, you may have a hard time believing the Bible and its promises from God the father. If your earthly father only loved you conditionally, you may struggle to receive unconditional love from God and his people. So I am not only shaping Thandie’s idea of an earthly marriage, I am also shaping her understanding of the heavenly marriage i.e. The Gospel. I am shaping her idea of God by the father I am being to her. I am raising a citizen of the world. Reverend Peter Tan Chi says, “You can’t change your ancestors but you can influence your descendants.”