What you are about to read will probably sound crazy. But, I would like you to think it out. Our minds swear unswerving allegiance to our culture. Our culture is the air we breathe. Yet, we need to allow ourselves to be jarred out of our “Matrix” from time to time so that we can truly see reality. For, me, this happened this morning when I went to hug my little girl.
As we were playing I knelt down, opened my arms wide, smiled, and asked her for a hug.
“no, daddy” she said with a smile.
I asked again, with a “please” and a bigger smile.
“no, daddy, I don’t want to.”
Now, my usual MO at this point would be to reach out and playfully wrestle with her to get my hug. She would smile and giggle, and then I would let her go.
But, a little thought popped up: don’t I want my daughter to believe that no means no. Don’t I want her to feel empowered by her voice to protect her own body and personal space.
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I have been away the past two weeks for a conference. For most fathers, this might not be a big deal. But, as a stay at home dad, there was a great deal of significance to my departure. I spend every day with Imogen. There has never been a time, in her memory, when we have been apart.
Leading up to the trip, I did everything I could to prepare her for my absence. We read books about taking trips and about going for rides on airplanes. I told her that I was going away to school, and that I would be back. I bought her a special stuffed bear for her to hug when she missed me, to remind her that I was coming back.
While I was away, we Skyped frequently. I repeatedly told her how much I missed and loved her. Throughout the trip, she seemed unfazed by my absence.
On the night I returned home, other than staying up very late so that she could see me, Imogen seemed quite unaffected by my absence. The second night I was home, I put her to bed. As I sat by her bedside going through the routine, she told me that she was scared- all part of the routine. I replied as I usually do. I told her that I was here for her. I was watching over her to keep her safe.
She reached out her delicate hand and placed it on the nape of my neck, drawing me closer to herself. As she did so, little whimpers arose. As my face drew near to hers she threw her arms around me and erupted into tears, crying out “I missed you, daddy! I missed you!” I scooped her up into my arms and held her with all the security I could muster. “I missed you too, bijou. I’m home now.”
The next day, at nap time, I was again putting her to bed. I sat by her bedside until the telltale signs of sleep surfaced. I quietly arose and walked outside the room. Moments later, I heard a cry and the patter of her feet behind me. As she turned the corner, she cried out “I love you, daddy! I missed you!”
Later, when we were playing, she took the special bear I bought her and placed it to her ear, as if the bear were whispering in her ear. Then, she told me that the bear was sad because her daddy was going on an airplane. He was going away for a long time.
I have always said that I would never put my dreams in front of my daughters needs. I will not place my family on an altar to be sacrificed for my scholarship. Yet, here I am. I was reassured by the semblance of her security with my being gone, when the reality was her little heart knew not the words to express her feelings. It was only as I expressed, repeatedly, my longing and sorrow in the words “I missed you” that the meaning connected to the wordless feeling she had. I had promised my presence as her security, and then I had left.
As I walk this path I believe I have been called to, I must remember that I do not walk this path alone. The road must be walked so that my family is not left behind or lost along the way. I must not forget that it is more important we walk this path together, than to reach the destination.
Being in seminary is a strange process. There is a reason it comes to be known as “cemetery” rather than seminary for those who have run that gauntlet. I came into seminary with hopes and dreams. Now, I’m not saying that seminary has sucked the life out of those hopes and dreams. Yet, at every turn I see how easy it is for that exact thing to happen. I am closer every day to a distant dream turning into a reality. At the same time, my life seems farther from that dream than when I first began to pursue it. And not just for me, but for my whole family.
At the end of every semester we pick up the shattered and worn pieces of our life and try to make them fit again. By the end of the semester, we are like a marathon runner: exhausted, cramped, dehydrated, and in desperate need of refueling. Term after term the pieces seem to fit a little less perfectly. Things that went together smoothly are now worn and ragged. When life goes into emergency mode, you develop habits that sustain you through the trial. But, these same life-preserving habits can turn into life draining routines. Joy is replaced by resilience. Love gives way to commitment.
Of course, we have to remember that it is joy and love that are life-sustaining gifts from God. God is love; God gives of himself to us. We need to remember the source of resilience and commitment, rather than reduce the love in our hearts to their effects. I am reminded time and again that the peace of Christ is found in the belly of the ship in the midst of a storm, that the joy of Christ is seen most perfectly in the cross.
And I realize in this moment that I am being transformed by God in this. I am like Dorothy in the midst of the twister. I will land. I will lose my way. I will return. But the world will not be as it was when I set out on the adventure. The world will not have changed. I will; which means the world has changed. So, of course it is natural that, as I am being formed anew, the pieces will not seem to fit right. Of course, in the midst of sorting out a puzzle I will see glimpses of the picture at the end. But, of course, it will be a jumbled mess with trial and error.
And then I remember, I am not the one who designed the puzzle. I am not the one who is transforming it. I am the object of God’s love. In his love and joy, I am being made anew. And so, I recommit myself to this process, with hope that the twister will land, that I will find my way, and I will return other than when I left.
About 2 months ago as I pulled the car into our parking space I noticed a little boy peering through the window of the vacant apartment next door. I quickly found out that his name was Silas and he belonged to our new neighbors. The best part is that he had just turned 2 and was only a few months older than Imogen. I went and got Imogen so she could meet Silas, who was waiting in our shared backyard. Imogen came out in nothing but a cloth diaper and Silas was dressed in the same. I turned on the sprinklers and the rest is
Not just any friendship, the sweetest, purest most adorable friendship. Imogen and Silas. As I have watched their friendship grow over these last 2 months I have thought about what we could learn from them. These 2 toddlers have a lot to teach us about how to love one another, how to put others needs above our own and how our friends can bring out the best in us, as well as the worst.
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What does it mean to be a man?
I was talking with my neighbor the other day about his father and this subject came up. I’ve seen my fair share of books and heard more than a few sermons about what it means to be a man. There are people like the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood whose beliefs are at times quite contrary to how I understand the Bible.
Growing up I was pretty ignorant of what it meant to be a man. My father died when I was young. My stepfathers were far from ideal role models. In fact, the one thing I can say about being a man is that I knew whatever man I would become, I wanted it to be nothing like them. Nor, for that matter, did I want to become like many of the men I saw around me.
I can’t say I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it is to be a man. Though I have thought about it considerably more since becoming a stay at home dad. There are those in the church, like Mark Driscoll or the Biblical Manhood people, who would say that I deserve church discipline for forsaking my role as man of the house. I tend to reject the idea that there is some clear eternal idea of manhood. I do know that a lot of what the people around me think it means to be a man is informed by our shared culture. Manhood is often more defined by what men have done than what men ought to do. The way I read scripture, there is no clear picture, no checklist given of what it means to be a man.
In our conversation my friend brought up three roles he had been taught that men ought to have: protector, provider and priest. I have heard these categories before. But, I have not chewed on them much since exchaning paychecks for tea parties and play dates.
I struggled with the idea of being a provider. My cultures, Asian and American, tell me that this is fundamental to what it means to be a man. When I quit earning a paycheck, did I quit being a man? After all, whether it is tilling the land or toiling behind a desk, is that not what a man ought to do? According to some, I have lost sight of what it means to be a man. Of course, by provider they mean the provision of resources for survival: shelter, food and so on.
I have to reject this idea. I had to reject this idea to become a stay at home dad or the shame would have crushed me. I had to learn that my value was not tied to how I contributed to the marketplace. But that is the prime lie that our culture tells us. We are what we earn. We are what we are worth. But worth to whom? I had to learn that, while many men provide paychecks for their families, far too few fathers provide love. I am providing for my child in ways most fathers will never have the time for.
Besides, is a woman not also to provide resources for the home? The woman of valor in Proverbs 31,a woman to be honored, works very hard to provide for the home financially. So, provider cannot be a uniquely male role.
When my father died I was six years old. I don’t remember much of the funeral. But I do remember some of my families members coming up to me and telling me “you are the man of the house now. You must be the man of the family.” I was freaking six years old! In many ways, that was the death of my childhood. Even though I had no idea what it meant to be a man, I had received my charge. I knew I couldn’t get a job. So, in my little mind I was supposed to protect my family. But, of course, I was incapable of that as well.
I reject the idea that a man’s identity is tied to how he protects those he loves. Throughout scripture we see men who were not able to protect their families through no fault of their own. What should we say of Job? Should we question his manhood? What scripture does tell us again and again is that it is the Lord who both provides and protects. This does not mean that I am unwilling or unresponsible to protect my family. But, it does mean that protector is not who I am. To say so is to put myself in God’s place, making myself an idol.
Here, you would think scripture is clearer. A man is the priest of his household, right? Perhaps, depending on how you understand scripture, but the way it is often used undermines an important biblical truth, the priesthood of all believers. If you are in the body of Christ, whether man or woman, you are a priest. What I mean to point out by this is to say that a woman is no less a priest than a man. So, priesthood is not a unique role a man has in society or in the home. I, in Christ, am a priest, not because I am a man, but because I am in Christ. So, while priest may be something that I am, and something that I do, it doesn’t specifically help me understand what it means to be a man.
The more I reflect on these categories, the more I question how important it is for me to understand what it is to be a man, biblically speaking. What does interest me is what it means to be truly human. I am far more interested in living into what it is to be human, than what it is to be a man. Jesus became human so that we, men and women, can be as he is. That is not to say that we become God. Rather, it means that by God’s grace and through God we can be what we were made to be. A theology of manhood interests me slightly. A theology of humanity made whole by Jesus interests me a lot. I do my best as a son, father and husband to be a priest who provides and protects. But, they do not define me. Christ defines me, as he defines my wife and my daughter. While I do not want to neglect what God has to say about being a man, I would rather focus most of my effort on what God has said it means to be human, an image bearer of God, joined with Christ in transforming the universe back into the good creation God made.
It was late afternoon when I walked into Supercuts. All of the chairs were empty, so I sat right down to get my hair cut.
The stylist asked me if I had just gotten off of work. “Kinda,” I replied. “I’m a stay at home dad.” She looked a bit puzzled, as if she wasn’t sure how to proceed.
I’m not sure if what she said afterward was offensive or affirming. She went to her stylist playbook and started breaking out all of her stay at home mommy jokes. She went on about how difficult it is to get away. She asked me who was watching the little one. I replied that my wife had just gotten home from work. She laughed and made jokes about never getting to get out of the house.
She asked me if I used hair product. I replied” Yeah… sometimes.” She giggled and said “what’s the point of getting dressed up for a baby, right?!” I laughed, because she was right. Now that school is out most of the dirty laundry is Regi’s. Sometimes she comes home and both of us are still in pajamas.
I walked out of Supercuts not sure how to feel. But, I think it was nice to be treated like any other stay at home parent for a change, rather than some freak show performer. Usually I feel like a platypus in the zoo. You know, not some cool animal like a lion that everyone appreciates. No, stay at home dads are the equivalent of some venomous web-footed egg-laying oddity of nature to be gawked at and perplexed by its very existence.
At least I left the place smiling, and no bonbon jokes were made.