OCTOBER 13, 2016
Happy Daddy, Happy Home
Article by David Mathis
Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” –Matthew 3:17
The father is the fountain of the family’s joy. Where Daddy is winsomely happy — and happy enough to make the sacrifices necessary for the good of others — a happy family will follow in his wake.
Being a daddy is deeply bound up with joy. Is our joy contagious even to those who know us best and are around us at the most inconvenient times? Are we willing to sacrifice our own personal comforts for the joy of our wife? Will we establish and keep a family culture of contentment — a fellowship of joy — that our children genuinely enjoy?
Learn from the Sri Lankan
Many of us young fathers today would benefit from getting outside our bubbles and breathing some fresh cross-cultural air when it comes to fatherhood. We all have our blind spots and can be easily dragged down by the friction and fanfare of life in the West. What we desperately need more of is not newfangled tips and techniques, but a timeless, transcultural vision of what it means to be an earthly father under the wise and loving care of our heavenly Father.
Enter Ajith Fernando. He is an internationally known and loved Christian author and teacher, called “the Asian John Stott” by some. He was born in Sri Lanka (the island-nation off the southern coast of India), came to the United States for graduate studies, and returned to his native country, engulfed in conflict, and served for 35 years as the national director of Youth for Christ. Most of his career he has served in the perils, pains, and relentless frustrations of the Sri Lankan civil war that began in 1983 and lasted more than 25 years, until 2009.
Ajith is author of the award-winning A Call to Joy and Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry. Recently, Ajith came through Minneapolis, and I had the privilege of breathing in some fresh air on fathering over coffee with him.
The publication of his new book, The Family Life of a Christian Leader, was our catalyst to talk fatherhood.
Delight in Your Children — and Let Them Know It
One of the first bells Ajith rings for fathers of all ages — especially for young and aspiring daddies — is the tone of delight. It is a father’s responsibility, and privilege, to set the tone of joy in his household. A father will set the mood of his home, whether he tries to or not, whether he chooses to be present or absent. And a happy daddy is integral in creating a happy home. Rarely will a family’s ethos of joy rise above the father’s capacity.
“A father will set the mood of his home, whether he tries to or not, whether present or absent.” Tweet Share on Facebook
But joy is not only significant as the general tenor of family life, but also as the specific expression of a father toward his children. Just as God himself voiced his delight over his Son, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), so God wired our children to hear from us, their human fathers, that we are pleased with them. It’s important for our kids to know not only that Daddy is happy, but that they are a real ingredient in our happiness.
Our voicing of our joy in our children, or lack thereof, is fundamental to the father-child relationship, but that doesn’t mean we dads do it naturally. However much we may be inclined in this direction, all of us need to learn, as Ajith says, to “proactively express your delight in your children.”
Break the Cycle of Silence
Expressing delight in his children did not come naturally for Ajith. “My father was a driven, hard-working person who was deeply committed to our welfare and sacrificed to secure a good future for us. It was part of Sri Lankan culture at that time that fathers didn’t have much warm conversation with their children. I had to learn to develop a different model.”
As Ajith came of age and saw other visions of parenting, and then became a father himself, he resolved to break the cycle of silence and learn not only to feel a father’s delight in his children, but to frequently express it. It was a habit that did not come easily, given his upbringing, but a discipline he felt compelled to cultivate, for the health of his children and family. And for his own soul.
Enjoy Your Father’s Delight
Yet you can’t consistently and convincingly express a delight that you don’t have. The first step, Ajith says, before expressing joy, is experiencing it — and the transcultural key to learning delight in one’s children is finding God’s own fatherly delight in us as his child. It’s one thing to hear and confess, but another thing to truly know and enjoy.
Ajith has discovered in decades of student ministry in Sri Lanka that a key aspect of the discipling process is coming to know that God really does love us. God truly delights in his children (Zephaniah 3:17; Psalm 147:11; 1 Peter 1:6–7; Romans 2:29; 1 Corinthians 4:5). In our sin, we’re all disposed, in some fashion, to try to earn God’s affection. We may profess verbally that he’s a loving Father, but deep down the reflex of our soul may be, like the “wicked and slothful servant” in the parable of the talents, to see him as “a hard man” (Matthew 25:24, 26).