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On Dads & Family Culture

When I was in EMT school, on one of the first days, our instructor was putting us through scenarios. “You are dispatched to a call for a man down. You arrive and find the patient face-down, with a weak pulse, and shallow, slow breathing. What do you do?” I’ll never forget when one of my classmates raised his hand and shouted out confidently, “Call 911!” I’m not sure I can even describe the look on our instructor’s face when he said, “YOU ARE 911!”

That, in a nutshell, describes how I felt when my wife and I brought our first child home from the hospital – probably even when we put her in our car for the first time. “What are we doing? We should call for some help!” Then the slow realization…I AM the help!

My wife and I now have four children – two girls and two boys – and I still feel like we should be calling someone. The responsibility is massive. Particularly right now, when so much in life is unstable, our children will look to us and watch our responses. They will take their cues from their parents, as always, and form habits from them. Particularly as a father, I have found it helpful to remind myself of both the great responsibility and great opportunity given to me by God. There is a strange freedom that comes from simply acknowledging that the task is huge and it is mine.

In Ephesians 6:4, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” He repeats this command in Colossians 3:21 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”

There are a few things to notice about these passages. First, note that they are given directly to fathers. Let’s be honest. For the average family, it is Mom who bears most of the weight when it comes to the kids’ education. Taking them to school, serving the school, being involved and present for school activities? Usually Mom. And, if you homeschool your children, then it is likely even more lopsided! Yet, the ultimate responsibility for raising children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord falls to the fathers.

Second, notice that this is a commandment. There is no, “Fathers, it’d be a good idea…” or “Dads, you might want to consider…” This is a command, right in the same context with “Children, obey your parents…” So, dads, we have to take this with the weight of a biblical command, because it is.

Third, notice the terms used – “discipline and instruction.” The word for “discipline” is “paideia” and, if you’ve been around classical education for a while, you’ve probably heard that term. This is the Greek word for both education and culture. Education is not just schooling as we typically think of it. Education is enculturation – it includes the habits, patterns, and culture given to a child.

The word for “instruction” refers to a pattern of instruction; not just the content of instruction, but the pattern of it; not just what we teach (though that is included), but also how we teach it. At the risk of oversimplifying this, our words matter; our actions and habits matter more.

So, what fathers have to understand is that we are ultimately responsible for the enculturation of our children – the habits, patterns, and traditions of our homes. We are commanded to create a home and family culture that will build them up or nurture them in the Lord. And, we have to do this in a way that does not overwhelm them, discourage them, or provoke them to anger. And, of course, there are all kinds of ways we can overwhelm, discourage, and provoke them to anger.

  • Be inconsistent – in family rules, practices, and habits
  • Be hypocritical – expect of them what you refuse or fail to do yourself
  • Be unreasonable – overly strict, overly harsh
  • Be unapproachable – don’t listen, don’t open up, don’t be honest about your own failings and struggles

I think Deuteronomy 6 beautifully sums up the responsibility Paul was giving to dads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (6:4-9).

Moses described the culture of the home, the form or pattern of family life. He is detailing how we are to live – talking, sitting, walking, night time, morning time, working, eating, etc.

So, dads, we have to ask ourselves some really difficult questions in light of what Scripture says.

  • What is the culture of my home? What are our habits and patterns like?
  • How am I influencing the culture of my home? For good or bad?
  • Have I abdicated my responsibility in this to my wife? Do I assume it’s just her responsibility or leave the weight of it on her?
  • Am I consistent in the culture and instruction I’m giving in my home? Do my words and actions/habits match?

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