Fatherly Advice, Part 3

I hope everyone had a great Father’s Day despite the pandemic. Even as we slowly but surely recover, things are still not quite the same. For some, this Father’s Day is rough because we lost out father to Covid-19 or complications from the disease. That happened to my friend Nadia. Or we had lost our dads long ago and the wound remains raw.

Regardless, the Bible teaches that our Heavenly Father is different. He is eternal and thus will be around forever. He is always close by, and will never be gone due to a deployment or a business trip in another city. God the Father desires all men and women to be saved even as His heart breaks for those who have rejected Him. That is the Father we have in Heaven.

God the Father will never exasperate us. That is a weird thing to consider until we realize that it is in the Bible too.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:4

Funny story whenever I think about these verse. This was back in the 1990s and I was still in high school. One summer, my dad and mom took us to listen to this one Hong Kong pastor that my dad knew from a long time ago but they had lost contact. This pastor was talking about his adult daughter and how she was leading a children’s ministry at their church. One Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, I forgot which, his daughter brought the children into the church sanctuary where they recited the Bible verses – Children, obey your parents (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

Ephesians 6:1-3

You can probably imagine the scene where all the parents are smiling. This effect is greater especially in Middle Eastern and Far Eastern cultures where parental respect and obedience is highly valued and practiced more so than in the West. Then the children continued their recitations “Parents, do not exasperate your children…” That quickly wiped all the smiles off.

Why? Every parent at one point had exasperated their children. In the KJV, the verse is rendered “Do not provoke your children to anger…” The strong language makes this truth uncomfortable to parents, because it shows the relationship is certainly two ways. I am not talking about situations where a child throws a tantrum because the parents rightfully denied a request or removed a privilege. Rather, there are two very clear instances where a parent, especially a father, provoke their children to anger.

Situation 1: Inequitable blessings and discipline

“It’s not fair! How come my sister/ brother gets this and I don’t?”

“You never punish him / her. Jan always gets away with this.”

We have all said that growing up and probably heard it as a parent. There is a perception of unfairness because I got six M&Ms and my younger brother got seven pieces. Unfair! Dividing up M&Ms is one thing, but what happens when that is scaled up? I got the beat up SUV but my sister gets a brand new Lexus. And what happens if this becomes a pattern over ten, fifteen, twenty years? That certainly will provoke any child to anger.

In other words, playing favorites is one guaranteed way to provoke children to anger with each other and certainly towards the parents.

Situation 2: Inability to adapt to changing relationships

Some parents refuse to admit that the relationship with their children has changed in much more drastic ways than they believe. These parents might recognize the big changes, like the difference from a two month old baby, versus a two-year old toddler, to a twelve year old middle school student, to a 22-year old college graduate, and then a 42 year old parent. Eventually, there becomes a role-reversal when the parent begins to suffer all types of age-related diseases. For example, diseases such as declining or loss of eyesight and hearing or more debilitating ones like Parkinson’s; suddenly the adult child has to take care of the parent.

I would also add there are little things – the small but significant ways where the relationship between parent and child has changed. Let’s say the son or daughter went away to school in a different state, or joined the military, or went on an extended youth missions trip. Suddenly, they learn new ways of doing things (for example, folding laundry) or new skills. They realize that these ways are better/faster/ more efficient than what their parents taught them to do. When they go home, they do things “their way” only to get criticized by their parents for doing it “wrong”. Folding laundry is one example and you may laugh, but I am sure that you are thinking of an incident with your parents where you disagreed on how to do a household chore.

At this point, the parent has two choices: either insist on their way as possible parental prerogative, or swallow their pride and realize that their child is no longer twelve but a capable adult. The former leads to a breakdown in communication and anger; the latter is very counter-intuitive but builds respect. The latter is strongly against the grain in traditional Middle Eastern and Eastern cultures that it might need a proverbial earthquake to dislodge it.

I have seen this in my own family and in my friends’ families where the older generation are slow to adapt and accept that the relationships has changed in big and small ways. And if the older generation is not careful, they can provoke their children to anger.

I wonder how people fully understand just how damage parents can inflict on their children, even if it is inadvertent. They didn’t mean to do it, but their children have grown up with anger and resentment towards their parents. If so, this is a warning. I do not want to end on such negative sounded tone, but I repeat what I said earlier: We have a perfect Heavenly Father who will not be unfair and certainly will not provoke us but will give us everything we need for in this life.

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