Fatherhood and Manhood

First before I go into the heart of this post, I have a prayer request for anyone who reads this post.  Please keep in your prayers Adam and Sarah Walker Cleaveland, who just lost their twin boys (Micah and Judah) who were born at 20 weeks and couldn’t survive.  It was at Adam’s blog that I first encountered this video.

So nothing is closer to my heart/life than the issue of fatherhood/manhood. You see I grew up in a single parent household with just my mother.  Let me tell you that my mother is an amazing woman and I can’t imagine life being differently then it was and I don’t think I am screwed up because I didn’t have a father growing up.  Still, I would be lying if I didn’t say that it had an impact on my life.  I always wondered what was wrong with me that my father didn’t want to have anything to do with me.  I also knew that the one thing God called me to more than anything else was to be a father and to break the cycle.

So that is the background and here is the reason why I want to write about this video: nothing bothers me more than the construction of one type of fatherhood being “biblical” and all else being something other than what God intended.  I wrote a whole paper on it in seminary where I explored those of faith who wrote about fatherhood (by the way sadly most of the books only came at fatherhood from one framework and often that also came with a construct of “manhood” being the same thing as “fatherhood”…which means many who might not have that framework are staying silent on a very important issue…who knows maybe they are out there and I just didn’t find them).

Most of the views I came upon align with the framework Mark Driscoll is coming from in his response to the question posed. It is that view that I want to respond to, but first I want to say that I have tremendous respect for Mark Driscoll.  I disagree with him on many things, but I respect him.  Having met him while I was in college and having conversations with him, I can truly say that I believe that he is a man who is after God’s heart.  I think he has helped many people discover Christ and move closer to God and unlike some I am unwilling to say that because he has a different framework/worldview that he is leading people astray.

On this matter though I think he is wrong and here is why:

(1)  First and foremost to take the passage from Timothy that is quoted by both him and his wife out of its context and to apply to a certain understood construct of family is problematic in my view.  The passage he quotes, 1 Timothy 5:8, is in the midst of a paragraph of instruction that Paul is giving to Timothy about care for widows.  The passage specifically is dealing with those widows who have family members (in this case children and grandchildren) who were called to take care of them according to their faith.  What it wasn’t saying was that “fathers who don’t make a paycheck have denied their faith and are worse than unbelievers.” Could one take the prescription directed at the children and grandchildren of widows and then apply it as such? Yes, but then we get into some deeper questions of pushing interpretation.  Driscoll states it with such conviction and clarity in a way that communicates that it is obvious that that statement is directed at fathers and dealing with the role within the marriage/family economy.

Which brings me to a different subject.  I am curious what their understanding of care for the elderly would be? What is our role in caring for widows? Do we care for widows? I don’t have an answer, but I would hope that individuals who aren’t caring for their mothers/grandmothers would get a serious chastisement and fall under church discipline with the same vigor.

(2) What is provision? To argue that provision is the same as being the sole income provider within the family economy is faulty in my opinion. A father can and is a provider even if they are not the income producer. A father can have authority (which I would argue a different conception of authority than the “you will submit to me that some think”) while still not being the income producer. What seems to be at work here more than anything is a certain construction that goes very deep: A man’s worth as a man is equal to what he produces, if he doesn’t “produce” then he is no longer a man as defined biblically. I find that so faulty though, to me a man’s worth appears to come from God and is found in how that individual seeks to grow closer to God and to help others (like their family) grow closer to God.

(3) The myth of statistics. Driscoll is using statistics as a buttress to his argument, but why? If it is simply a matter of being “biblical” or “unbiblical” then statistics shouldn’t be needed. In fact if one is arguing so hard against the perverted culture that permeates the world then to rely on statistics is to by and large also depend on that “perverted culture” to buttress your arguments when it helps your argument. The lives of humans are not easy to isolate. Want to know why? You can’t get a control. Yes, there are too many variables for one to just use one variable as an argument for why it is right. Yes, those statistics to point to a reality, but do they also take into consideration economic class, neighborhood safety, influences, etc. (you could go on and on) Human relationships and outcomes are complex because we are lives are complex.

Can we get to the heart of the matter?

The real heart of the matter is are parents invested in their kids lives? Do they give of themselves so that their children grow up nurtured and cared for and thus prepared for life. We can rail on manhood, fatherhood, gender-roles, etc., but until we deal with the real heart of the matter which is selfishness then we are failing to name the real culprit. If a man wants to be a stay-at-home dad because well he doesn’t want to work and he thinks it is easier to be a stay-at-home dad and he doesn’t take that role within the family seriously then yeah it is a problem, but no more a problem than if a woman did it. If parents are constantly looking for others to watch their kids because they want to live “their” lives either as individuals or as a couple then yeah it is a problem. But if the parents are seeking to be parents and to provide for their children like God has provided for us, then it doesn’t matter if they are gay, straight, stay-at-home dads, both working, etc.

I should be rebuked if I am shirking my responsibilities as a father and I should be shown my error, but that isn’t about whether I am the money-maker or not it is about if I am being a provider like God has provided for us as God’s children.

9 comments

  1. I think Mark has a point toward the end, where he says that having day-care attendants or school teachers raise your children, where you could have prevented that from happening, is “failing” as a parent. It should be the parents that provide for their children, by teaching them in the right way.

    But I would agree with you. Mark, for one, is misinterpreting the scriptures to mean, that a man has to go out earn a paycheque, and that qualifies as providing for the family. He confuses this with straight up “role switching” which it is not.

    Also, Mark has a habit of saying that “if you do not understand the Bible in the same way that I do, you have a sick/broken heart, and need to repent to the Most High and learn the Bible my way.” This is yet another case where he has done this.

    It sickens me to see how he can just berate people to their face (on a false interpretation) and then add at the end, “well that’s biblical”.

    1. I’m not sure why having more responsible adults than just parents involved in your children’s lives is so terrible? We put our daughter in a wonderful daycare facility, where she has even more role models than just her dad and me. She gets wonderful care, has amazing friends, and is learning a ton from a diverse setting. Why would it be so much better for me to keep her home – so I can limit her engagement of the world and only teach her one perspective? This argument always confounds me.

      1. The thing that really troubles me about Driscoll’s position is the absolute lack of understanding contextual situations. Do you know how many parents don’t have the ability to “choose” to stay home with their children? There is a total lack of looking at the reality of life not to mention considering the fact that many different cultures have different understandings of how to raise children, etc. I understand your frustration.

  2. Hi Justin, Greetings. I thought that you were incredibly gracious in taking so much time to respond to these people. I turned it off after her first comment. The Bible is written in a patriarchal society, they are obviously happy with that view and so they just re-project it onto the Bible, which isn’t hard to do.
    Peace,
    Dan Wolpert

    1. Dan-

      My sentiment is that one has to engage at some point to at least try and dialogue or sympathetically critique.

      I agree that the culture the Bible was written in should have some account, but Driscoll doesn’t even recognize that and outright rejects it in his view of scripture so to engage him on that point would be a lost cause.

      1. Hey Justin, While I theoretically agree that dialogue or engagement is good. I have found that there are folks where, as you put it, engagement is a lost cause. So I’d rather just serve them some tea and not talk….
        Peace,
        Dan

  3. Penultima-

    I think that you are right that the desire to parents should be to care for our kids as much as possible. We do have to realize that there are times that day-care is unavoidable, etc.

    Being raised in a single-parent household with a mother who at times was working 3-4 jobs to make ends meet, I know this first hand. The thing is though she probably invested in and was involved in my life more than some of my friends/classmates parents that could even spend the whole day with them. I think overall it is a matter of how we invest the time that we do have.

  4. I believe a family should take to heart Matthew 6:25-33. That in my opinion covers the roles as biblical parents. If you can achieve that, that will cover all we need to be successful & “providers”…Jehovah Jireh, our provider.

    1. Tiffany-

      Those are wonderful thoughts and a great way to frame success in parenthood and even really in life. Thank you for sharing.

      P.S. Hope the boys are continuing to grow and thrive.

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