I can never remember when Father’s Day is, but I am thankful that my three sons do.
Reflecting on my journey as a father, what comes to mind are the times I did wrong to my own sons, and how they—and God—were so ready to forgive me for my failings.
Looking at how they’ve matured in the Christian faith, and how my first two sons begun to start their own families, gives me an even stronger sense of gratefulness for how God has helped me through fatherhood.
Despite the times when I’ve lost my temper, or when I neglected to give my sons the attention and care I should have, God has taken what happened and turned it into something good for my sons as well as me. He has taken a flawed father and showed that He is the ultimate good Father who could do no wrong and cares for each of them, for He loves them even more than I can possibly ever can.
That, I believe, is one of His biggest gifts to me that I give thanks for on this Father’s Day.
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What A Father Should Not Do
I’ll never forget the time, for example, when I hit one of my sons in frustration.
When my eldest son was growing up, he struggled in school. He showed little interest in his studies, played truant, and barely scraped through important exams. We received letters and phone calls from his teachers complaining about his behaviour, and his lack of interest and attention in class.
I’ll never forget the time I hit one of my sons in frustration.
Two subjects he struggled with particularly were Chinese and maths. We got him a Chinese tutor, but I decided that I could help him in maths. I soon discovered, however, that this was not as easy as I thought.
I realised that the approach to solving problem sums had changed since my time, and that it was very difficult motivating my son to stay focused on his schoolwork. Apart from being disinterested, he appeared to show an inability to comprehend the lessons.
I became increasingly impatient with him, and ended up losing my temper and shouting at him on more than one occasion. Once, when he still couldn’t solve a problem despite me showing him the steps, I was so overwhelmed with anger that I hit his face with my hand.
Shocked, he shook with fear and started crying.
Training a Child in God’s Way, Not Mine
I was equally shocked by my own actions. I had disciplined my son in past times for being naughty, but never for failing to solve a maths problem!
Immediately, I felt helpless and hopeless as a father. A deep sense of shame overcame me as I realised I had taken out my unrighteous anger on him and physically abused him.
What brought me to my knees to seek God’s forgiveness was His instruction to fathers not to embitter their children, so as not to discourage them (Colossians 3:21). How could I mistreat my son, a creation of God and a gift from Him? (Psalm 127:3).
It reminded me that my responsibility as a father was to train up my son according to God’s way, not mine.
God’s instruction to parents in Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it”, was also a rebuke to me. It reminded me that my responsibility as a father was to train up my son according to God’s way, not mine.
While it was natural to want him to do well in his studies, I realised, it was even more important for him to grow up to honour and glorify God, to live a life worthy of the Lord, and to bear the fruit of the Spirit in his character and behaviour.
That day, I apologised to my son and asked for his forgiveness. I sat him down and told him that I should not have hit him, that I was wrong, and that I had been a bad example to him.
A Case of Neglect
It wouldn’t be the first time I had to apologise to my children.
Another time, I was fetching my second son home from school and asking him about his classes, when he became unusually quiet. A look of distress came over his face, and suddenly, he burst into tears. “Why do you love me less than you love the others?” he asked to that effect.
My son’s words stumped me. Our middle child had always been obedient and respectful, diligent in his studies, and given us few problems. Perhaps that’s why my wife and I felt that we didn’t need to spend as much time on him as we did on the other two.
Upon reflection, I realised that I could have done much more in affirming my second son for being a good son. I also realised how easy it is for children to compare how their parents treat them and their siblings.
I realised that I could have done much more in affirming my second son for being a good son.
My wife and I had always held the firm belief that we should not play favourites with our three boys, and we had tried our best to treat them fairly and equally when it came to giving them gifts or rewards. What we had failed to see, however, was that we also needed to give them equal time and attention.
Once again, I sat down and apologised to my son for not spending adequate time with him. I assured him of our love and our pride and joy in him, and told him, “We couldn’t ask the Lord for a more perfect son than you.”
We also determined to be more mindful in spending time with him, and asking him how his days in school were and what joys and challenges he faced each day.
In both incidents, my sons forgave me. My eldest son eventually learnt to focus on his schoolwork, while my second son became a positive influence to his brothers.
Today, I rejoice that my three sons are doing well, by the grace of God. Two are happily married men and have made me a proud grandfather of three grandchildren.
We should not lack the courage to seek our children’s forgiveness and to tell them, “I am sorry.”
But I’ll never forget the two incidents—among many others. They remind me that parents are no saints. We are fallible and can make terrible mistakes when raising our children. Growing up as a young and first-time parent myself, I can remember the endless mistakes I have made raising my children. If not for the grace and faithfulness of God, my sons would not be who they are today.
At the same time, I am also reminded that we should not lack the courage to seek our children’s forgiveness and to tell them, “I am sorry.” They deserve to know that we can err in our ways, and that helps them to appreciate that we are just as vulnerable to doing wrong as they are.
What also assures me is the knowledge that we have a God who is ready to forgive our sins if we confess it to Him, for He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9)
This Father’s Day, I pray that God will help us all to be the parent He wants us to become, and that our actions and words will honour God always. Happy Father’s Day!