“God gave me children to teach me to grow up!” Good fathering does not come naturally, confess dads
Christine Leow // September 11, 2020, 6:07 pm
John Xie sought out mentoring for his journey of fatherhood when he realised that there must be other fathers who knew how to “see their children grow in the fear of the Lord”. (L-R) John's wife, Diana, and children Candra, Zoe, Joshua, Hannah, and baby Joseph in John's arms. Photo courtesy of John Xie.
It was an exercise John Xie, 39, was asked to do that really stumped him for a while.
His fathering mentor, President of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) and Senior Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Reverend Keith Lai, 62, had asked him to write a letter to his own father.
“It was something I picked up from the Father School when I went through it,” said Reverend Lai about the parenting programme that had its start in South Korea.
“We had to write a letter to our fathers to tell him how we felt, sharing our hearts – the good memories, the things we were thankful for, and the regrets. It was something that many never do.”
He realised that, while he could control his own life, he could not do the same for any of his five children.
The point was to help fathers be more aware of their own past journeys and to achieve some closure as well as to serve as a “launching pad to lead to more conversations”, father to father.
For Reverend Lai whose father passed away when he was 12, the letter-writing was cathartic.
“It was very healing for me. I never got to talk to him like this, ‘I wish you were here when I took my PSLE, when I was in the army.’
“Of course, I never got to post my letter.”
For Xie, it took six promptings before he got down to penning his emotions.
“I didn’t want to do it,” he said. “Since Pastor Keith didn’t say we must do it, I chucked it to one side.
“But over that weekend I got six reminders or promptings to do the exercise. I thought to myself: Better not ignore the promptings.”
Two days later, when he visited his father, he gave him the letter.
Said Xie: “So far, no reaction, no response. My father is a person who doesn’t say much, especially about his emotions.
“I’ve done my part. So, I take it that he is processing it. Maybe some kind of connection has already taken place.”
Don’t be afraid to ask
What started Xie on his own journey of being mentored was the realisation that, while he could control his own life, he could not do the same for any of his five children, aged seven months to 11 years.
“There were all these values I wanted to instil, but I couldn’t just force it on them.”
“(As an adult) I felt good that I could decide what I wanted to do, until the children came along. Then I felt that I couldn’t do anything.
“There were all these values I wanted to instil, but I couldn’t just force it on them.
“In the initial years of parenting, I was very much humbled. I would cry before the Lord. I found that I needed God’s grace and mercy much more.”
There must be other fathers who had gone before him who knew how to “see their children grow in the fear of the Lord” and “if they were willing to share, I will ask (them for help)”, he thought.
Then, he met Reverend Lai. The pastor had conducted a spiritual formation course at Xie’s church retreat.
When Xie, who was home-schooling his children, discovered that Reverend Lai had home-schooled his two children too, sons who are now aged 29 and 27, he just had to reach out.
“When the father’s role (as spiritual head) is not reinforced and strengthened, everything will fall apart.”
Instead of merely giving him tips on home-schooling, however, Rev Lai ended up running a fathers’ mentoring programme for Xie and four other home-schooling fathers in Xie’s circle.
Explaining why he wanted to mentor the men, Rev Lai said: “I realise many fathers need help. Fathers are supposed to be the spiritual head, the spiritual gatekeeper of the family.
“When the father is not doing his job, the wife and kids will be unhappy. When the father’s role is not reinforced and strengthened, everything will fall apart.”
That was also the reason why Rev Lai started a fathers’ mentoring programme in his own church nearly five years ago. Using tools from the global movement The World Needs a Father, the initiative has drawn fathers even from outside Covenant Presbyterian Church.
“My heart is to train fathers to go out to train other fathers,” said Rev Lai.
Not my plans, but His
Asked what was the one lesson he has since learnt as a result of being mentored, Xie said that, apart from the rich pool of resources and practical tips, he learnt that “God gave me children to teach me to grow up”.
That drew a chuckle from Rev Lai.
“We write down (in a journal) things that God impresses upon us for our children. This is their inheritance.”
Added Xie: “I started with idealistic goals for my children. I had to grow up and release control of that. They are disciples of Christ. So, it’s important for me to pray more for them and ask what God has for them.”
So, now when his oldest comes to him telling him “I want to do this, I want to do that”, Xie gently turns her towards God.
“I tell her, ‘Did you ask God what He wants you to do? If you think that is the way He wants you to go, we will support you.’
As part of his effort to hear from God for each child, Xie and his wife have started a small journal for each of them.
“We write down things God impresses upon us for them. I tell them this will be their inheritance,” said Xie.
Letting go and letting God has been what Rev Lai has been practising all these years with his own children. He recounts an incident with one of his sons who approached him asking if he could get a tattoo.
Said Rev Lai: “My first reaction was that it wasn’t a good idea for a pastor’s son. But the first thing I did was not to say ‘no’ but to enter into more dialogue with him.”
Father and son chatted about the reason for the tattoo, what it would do for the teen and whether it would help him. In the end, his son decided, on his own, against the tattoo.
“My son learnt to experience God first-hand, that God is real and more than sufficient.”
The same gentle prodding is what Reverend Lai did for his older son, Caleb, when he shared his desire to be a speech therapist.
“When he first told us about this, my wife and I said, ‘What’s that?’”
Noticing his son’s burden for children, Rev Lai helped him hold on to the vision God had for him to help children speak better. The young man eventually earned a scholarship to study speech therapy abroad.
“My son learnt to experience God first-hand, that God is real and more than sufficient. That’s something we hope he will carry with him through his life,” said Rev Lai.
“Fathers need to recognise the immense impact they have on their children. They are the first line of discipleship.
“They need to disciple their children to be what God intended them to be without exerting human pressure on them, guiding them in the way God has prepared for them.
“Then they can be lighthouses in their own families and impact society for Christ.”
Beyond old patterns
But mentoring fathers is challenging as there are “the blind spots”.
“We are all brought up in a certain way by our parents. So, we either think it’s a good way or we overreact and swing to the other extreme.
“Fathers need to recognise the immense impact they have on their children. They are the first line of discipleship.”
“What we know is what we know till someone comes along to help us,” said Rev Lai.
And the hardest blind spot to overcome is the insistence that “studies is the most important thing”.
“It puts unnecessary pressure on the children and damages the relationship. That’s the saddest part.”
Xie has been working on his own blind spots.
“My father lost his father at a young age. So, he was a self-taught father who did his best.
“There are some character traits that I got from him that are very good, like being very moral. But I also see myself very much like my dad in other ways.
“I don’t want to confront issues. Solved or unsolved, I just move on. This is his toolbox and I also use the same tools when I face problems.”
We, men, don’t have many words for emotions. Sometimes, we don’t even know what we are feeling.”
His wife, who is a “very communicative person who connects a lot and wants deep, authentic communication” has taught Xie to talk about his feelings. Now, he tries to use what he has learnt to connect emotionally with his oldest daughter.
“I thought, How do I connect with her? Maybe I should lie on her bed and talk to her before she sleeps.
“But she said, ‘Eee, did you bathe?’ So, I bathed and tried again,” Xie shared good-humouredly.
Applauding Xie’s willingness to try, Rev Lai said: “The hardest work and the most fulfilling work is to be emotionally connected. We, men, don’t have many words for emotions. Sometimes, we don’t even know what we are feeling.”
No dad should walk alone
Because of the encouragement from the modelling and the community in the mentoring programme, Xie now mentors other fathers to share the same love and affirmation he has received.
“We get to share how we face challenges, how we deal with them. And we find strength knowing that ‘I’m not alone’.
“There’s a kind of assurance and permission that someone else has gone before me and he has brought up his children. I don’t think it sounds as daunting as before, when I was alone.
“It takes a community for fathers to sharpen one another and to spur each other on,” said Xie.
“No matter how good we are, we can be better. No matter how bad, we can start afresh.”
The men in his cell group are now going through the same material Xie has used in his own mentoring programme with Rev Lai, and Xie is facilitating the group discussion. Xie is also journeying alongside a former university classmate.
“I received a message from him and he was talking about how fathering is challenging. I told him about the material and that it’s a Christian resource.
“Although he isn’t a Christian, he wanted to go through the programme.”
Rev Lai encouraged fathers to consider journeying alongside others, because “at least, if nothing else, one father can say to another, ‘Don’t do it the way I have’.”
“First, start your own journey of being mentored. Then, start your mentoring by faith because according to Romans 14:23, whatever is not done in faith is sin.
“Finally stay accountable and under authority. Have someone you can run to any time, someone to listen to you and help you.”
Asked what has been most rewarding in his journey with fathers, Rev Lai said without hesitation: “When fathers are awakened to their role and they rise to take the lead and become more proactive, more engaged.
“No matter how good we are, we can be better. No matter how bad we are, we can start afresh.”
Salt&Light Family Night: Real talk on pornography
According to a Whole Life Singapore survey, three in five husbands and one in five wives in Singapore have viewed pornography.
Young people are not immune either. A 2018 CNA report noted that there was a rise in the number of younger people, those aged 25 and below, seeking help for sexual and porn addiction.
With porn so easily available now because of the Internet:
- How prevalent is the issue amongst Christians in Singapore?
- How can we resist temptation?
- How can we seek healing and restoration?
In our next Salt&Light Family Night, hosts and family champions Carol Loi and Alex Tee will be joined by people who have journeyed with those trapped in addiction to pornography:
- Quek Shiwei, Director of Kallos
- Pastor Randy Khoo, The People’s Bible Church (Pastoral Counselling & Family Life)
Come together to learn how to live free of pornography/
Date: Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Pre-registration is required. Register now at: https://bit.ly/SLFamilyNight15Sep