We Become Our Parents

fatherhoodWith all the mass shootings lately, people are quick to express opinions on gun control and gun regulations. As horrific as the mass shootings are, they are a symptom of a much larger problem. The mental health of shooters often comes up, in the vast majority of the cases, the shooters have used some type of behavioral medication. The one common thread through almost every shooter’s background is the lack of a strong male figure in their lives. Dad was not there.

It’s human nature to emulate the people who are closest to us. Whether we want to or not, we take on the attitudes and characteristics of the people with whom we spend the most time. As much as our friends influence us, the people who care for us when we are in our formative years ultimately have the most significant impact on our lives. 

The people parenting us when we are very young are the people who determine who we become. These are the people we want to make proud, and we remember at key moments in our lives. They shape how we approach experiences and relationships. Our parents shape our reactions to the blessings and challenges that we encounter. Although change is always possible, it gets harder to change our basic personality as we get older, the patterns have been set. The early examples in our lives manifest themselves later on, whether we want them to or not.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. 
Proverbs 22:6

Over the last few years, while I wasn’t paying attention, I turned into my dad. While I was growing up, “consistent” is the word that would best describe him. He worked the same job for years, home by 5:10, dinner at 5:15, recliner and evening news at 6:00. We were at church EVERY Sunday at 8 am. As my dad aged and then retired, he started looking after his health more, focused more on gardening, and his woodworking (he was a true artist). My life pretty much mirrors this, although I’m not the level of woodworker he was. I’ve kept the same schedule every day for years. In the last few years, I’ve gotten more into gardening, and I’ve set up a wood-shop. As I was arranging my tools recently, I realized again how much I miss my dad and how much I’ve turned into him. Those generational examples can be broken, but it’s complicated. We generally become the people who raise us. I was blessed with an incredible dad, but what about children without that father figure in their lives?

Running a large orphanage, or even being involved in orphan care, you spend a lot of time thinking about parenthood, and the impact it has on a child. Too often long term childcare situations, whether it be foster care or orphanages, focus on the basics. This is entirely understandable, there is a hierarchy of needs, and we need to have the basics covered. Food, shelter, medical needs, education, etc. are all critical in raising children. These basics will keep a child alive, but do they create emotionally healthy adults? Children will not mature in a healthy way without consistent positive examples that they can learn from, and emulate, as they grow into adulthood.

Many orphanages worldwide operate like most families in that they need to focus on the basics first. Out of necessity, anything beyond the basics of keeping children alive doesn’t happen often. In families, the hope is that by default, one or two reliable parental figures are there to provide an example, a pattern to follow in life. In orphanages and long term care situations, the father figure can be elusive. No child belongs in a system, but there are children in long-term care situations in almost every culture in the world. How do we do better? How do we provide more than the basics to keep them alive?

Although I’m a huge advocate of short-term missions, short-term teams do almost nothing to provide long term examples for the children who need it. What short-term mission teams do offer, is the support the long-term staff and missionaries need to stay the course, to remain in the child’s life for the long-term. Orphanage staff need the support and encouragement of teams and individuals behind them and praying for them.

If you work in orphan care, please know your work matters. I know from experience, there are many days you ask yourself why you’re doing what you do, and if it makes a difference. It does. You won’t reach every child; you won’t always have the opportunity to touch a child’s life long term. But when it works, it can make all the difference in a child’s life. Please keep it up; it’s worth it. You might be the only example a child has to model their life after. Do it well.

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What About Dad?

50984016_10216681108634208_1859912021047246848_o.jpgFather, dad, pops, whatever word you use for the male parent in your life, it can bring up deep and complicated emotions. Our earthly father, and our relationship with him, for good or bad, will influence us for our entire lives. When you’re dealing with an orphaned or abandoned child, this can be profoundly complicated. Where does their security, and definition of fatherhood, come from?

It’s the rare movie scene that causes almost every male to tear up, the end of Field of Dreams is one of those scenes. When Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) plays catch with his dad as the sun sets it will squeeze a tear out of almost any man. That moment of healing between a father and son, the symbolic act of the “catch” as something is passed between them is powerful. There is just something about the relationship we have with our father that is universal. It’s not always great. Eventually, we realize that our parents are just flawed individuals like everyone else, but that relationship will brand us and follow us. It is reflected in the way we live out our lives, and how we parent our own children.

My wife and I were blessed with great fathers; men who lived as faithful providers, good examples, and loving husbands. They both lived by a defined moral compass. Although we’ve both lost our fathers over the last few years, their influence remains and continues to guide us. There are many things I remember fondly about my dad. He lived in a precise and consistent way: same job his whole adult life, ate dinner at the same time every night followed by the evening news, we were at church EVERY Sunday in the same pew. His temperament never changed; he was a rock. The worst I ever heard him cuss was the occasional “ah hell.” He gave me my love of Steinbeck novels, fine woodworking, and classical music. He made me who I am and I miss him deeply.

For any of us, our relationship with our earthly father is intertwined and woven together with our image of who our Heavenly Father is. Grace, acceptance, stability, discipline, love, all of the emotions and attributes we believe about our God are viewed through a window tinted by the image of our earthly father. Our heavenly Father is perfect; our earthly fathers are flawed. For many people, believing in a perfect Father after being abandoned or abused by their earthly father takes many years of healing, if it happens at all.

Restoring the image of a healthy father figure is essential to the long-term healing of a child who has been orphaned or abandoned. This restoration does not happen over-night, and it needs to been done with great care. Whether you’re caring for a child in an orphanage, one in foster care, or one you’ve adopted, this healing of the father image needs to happen if the child is ever going to grow into a healthy adult. It’s also critical if a child is going to have a healthy image of who God is.

If a child, especially a male child, does not have a male showing what a healthy person is, they will seek out whatever examples they can to see how to live their lives. I’ve seen this happen to young men who are raised in poorly run orphanages. They leave home and have no history of a strong male example to draw from as they make life decisions. How to act as a man of God, how to treat women with respect, how to walk with dignity. They spend much of their lives approaching life, and relationships, in a broken way. Their marriages fail, their faith never matures, and they’re left with finding their way in life from an unhealthy stew of input from wherever they can find it.

I do not believe the healing of the father image happens in counseling or “quality time,” although both of these things play a part. Healing takes time. A lot of time. Years of consistent healthy male examples in the life of a child. A child needs to watch healthy men of God living out their lives on a day to day basis. They need to watch healthy decisions, reactions, and actions take place for many years for the healing to take place. By seeing a solid male in action, showing grace, stability, guidance, love, and acceptance, a child can begin to understand who God is. Much more than we can ever realize, although we are flawed, we represent who God is to our children. We need to truly take on the image of Christ if we are to have a hand in the healing of broken children.

A few days ago, I was at a BBQ with several of the orphaned children (now adults) who were raised in our home. Midway through the party, I watched as a great young man, now married with three children, patiently and slowly showed his attentive eight-year-old son the proper way to season and grill steak. This might seem like a simple act, but I watched this man represent what it means to father someone, and show the patient guiding hand that our heavenly Father represents (The steak was pretty good also).

If you’re caring for orphaned or abandoned children stay the course. Healing doesn’t happen quickly. Continue to live a life representing who our Heavenly Father is. You are being watched more than you realize, they will follow your example.

The above photo is of Ramon Reid and his son. Ramon knows what putting fatherhood into action is all about. We need more men like Ramon in this world.

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