Saturday, September 6, 2014

Post-Worthy Fatherhood

I love my girls!  I remember the first time I held our oldest daughter.  Born via emergency c-section, I held her for almost an hour while the doctors finished with my wife in surgery.  She looked up at me with her big blue eyes and I could not imagine a greater feeling of love, protection, joy and hope than what I felt for her in that moment - and I had only just met her!  But when each of her sisters came along my mind was blown again and again as those feelings, that I thought couldn't be surpassed, instantly expanded to include their precious new lives.

Like most dads I am probably just a little bit smitten with my girls!
I am excited by their stories... I am amazed at their achievements... I am heartbroken when they suffer... I am taken by their beauty... and I am constantly astonished that God would be so gracious as to entrust them to me.

But as I engage with social media I sense a disturbing trend that seems to have permeated modern parenting culture... a trend that has the potential to do great damage to parents and children alike... and a trend that I find myself caught in all too easily.

Every dad wants their child to do well.  We want them to hit all of their developmental milestones, to make friends easily, to learn well at school, to enjoy playing sport and to basically succeed at life as a child.  But the world of social media has turned these normal and natural desires into a competition for parenting supremacy.  Yes, it is a wonderful thing to celebrate the growth, development and achievements of our children... but Facebook celebrations have taken this to a whole new level:
  • No longer do I just want my child to enjoy their make believe play... they have to make something spectacular so I can post a picture of their creative genius
  • No longer do I simply want my child to learn to speak... I want them to say the cutest things so I can post our conversations in an entertaining way  
  • No longer do I want my child to do well at school or sport... they need to win something tangible so I can post a picture of them with certificate or trophy in hand
Now you might have purer motives than me when you post stuff like this... maybe you just genuinely want to "share the moment" with friends and family.  But when I searched my heart to find out why I am drawn to post stuff like this I found that often it was more about sharing "me" with the world than sharing my kids.  I can honestly say that I have fallen into the trap of thinking that my kids, and their achievements, are nothing but a reflection on my achievements as a dad... and looking at the constant flow of child related posts on Facebook, I can't help but think  that I am not the only one.

All to easily we seek to use our children to justify our parenting skills... to justify our genetic superiority... to justify our creative ideas... to justify our love for our children.  Basically we can be guilty of using our children to show the world how great a dad we really are.  But the problem is that even if I am the best dad in the social media world... if I used my kids to justify this status I am probably closer to the worst dad in the real world.  There are few thoughts more crushing to a child than the notion that their dad might be using them, their achievements and their relationship with him for his own gain.
  • How long before I start viewing my children's achievements through whether they are post-worthy or not rather than celebrating just for the sake of blessing them?
  • How long before my desire to spend time with my child is more about finding new material to gain likes on Instagram rather than genuinely longing to invest into their life?
  • How long before being a dad is just a means to the end of promoting myself amongst my peer group?
Not only will I crush my children with the thought that they have to measure up to my post-worthy standards... but I will burden my own life with the doubt and fear that I won't measure up either... My fatherhood will live and die by how many "likes" my kids can receive.

But there is one thought that can help me escape this cycle of post-worthy fatherhood... it is the thought that before I am a father I am a son... a son of a heavenly father whose love for me is not conditional on my capacity... my achievements... my looks... or my success.  In fact when David reflected on the father-heart of God in Psalm 103 he said,
"As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him..." 
God knows my fragilities, failures and flaws and yet chooses to lavish His steadfast love on me anyway.  His love for me is not conditional on my achievement but is given with the full knowledge of my averageness... even my below averageness!  A love He proved when He willingly gave of Himself to redeem me from my sin through the sacrifice of His precious Son Jesus.  God my Father did not choose me as His child because He thought my capacity to achieve might get Him more glory... rather He gave of Himself so that I might gain His glorious love.

As I watched my girls run around the park at Little Athletics on Friday night I realised that in all likelihood they probably won't be Olympians... but seeing them run, jump and throw with smiles on their faces... and just be who they are... gave me so much joy.  And God is teaching me that if I like this... I shouldn't really care if anyone else does or not!

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