September 2008

Kuala Lumpur is no place to drive. The roads are poorly engineered and poorly maintained. On the way to work scrap iron dealers have removed all the storm covers leaving huge holes in the paved surface of the road. Road crews occasionally place pylons in these holes, but they get stolen as well. More often than not these holes are marked with parts of trees, or old styrofoam containers. They have been that way for six months. No one does anything. No one expects anyone to do anything.

And don’t get me started on the drivers. A small bribe gets anyone a license, and the only sure rule of the road is that the the bigger vehicle will do you more damage. Everyone MUST have a car, as that is the only sign of your social status that everyone here recognizes, so the roads are absolutely packed. There is no point in driving in the city, it just leads to trouble.

But driving in the country is different. The highways are well built and maintained and the scenery can be absolutely stunning. We are off to Singapore tomorrow, and I have borrowed a car from a Chinese friend who runs the cafeteria at the College. He has three vehicles, a van, an SUV and a Mercedes. He loaned me the Mercedes. It is a big hulking brute of a car with very little muscle under the hood, but it is a pretty sweet ride. We will try to post from Singapore, and we will certainly pick up our mail, so stay in touch.

Enjoy your children. I will end here as this is the cheeriest thought on which to dwell. Your children are a gift from a loving God, sent to bless, encourage and challenge you to grow. I read somewhere that being a parent is your last and best chance to grow up. I never knew what that meant until it happened. Through my children I have begun to learn what it means to be a humane, caring man. They inform my outlook on life even though they are now grown. My responsibilities to them will never be over, but they now are reduced to such an extent that I can fully enjoy the gift that they have been, and continue to be to both Pam and I. It is a great responsibility to be a father, but it is a great privilege as well.


In these last seven posts I have sought to put down some of my thoughts regarding parenting. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert; these are just some of the things I have learned; that my children have taught me. If you got something out of them, great. If you didn’t, that’s fine too. But nobody has children to learn lessons; you have children to have fun! And lessons, aside, what truly remains when they have grown and gone is the memories you have of them: dressing them up for Halloween, going to the beach at Port Stanley, teaching them how to swim and ride bikes and ski, going to Disneyland, and the cottage on Georgian Bay, living in Malumghat and Kandern, seeing the Himalayas, and St. Peters, climbing the Eiffel Tower, and the Monkey Temple. These things may mean little to you, but to Pam and I and our kids they bring back a whole host of associated memories that flood the mind and stir the heart.


It was wonderful being a parent. I feel so blessed and fortunate. Everyday I thank the good Lord that in His great goodness He gave me these wonderful gifts. If you are a parent, you will know what I mean. If you are not, may the Lord bless you with children, as He has blessed both Pam and I.

     Your children belong to God, not you. He is the one who made them, and He has a purpose that you may only dimly be aware of. Let Him bring about that purpose in His way. Your job is to prepare them for that purpose.

     Think of yourself as a steward. The Lord has entrusted these precious lives into your care. For a short while you will be all they know. You get to have fun with them and share in their joy of discovery. But they don’t belong to you. You must look after them and encourage them; you must protect them, even from yourself and your own prejudices. You must take them into your lap and read to them, and nurture a love of learning that will endure. You must pour your love into them so that they can be strong and self-sufficient and not needy. You must encourage their interests, and sacrifice to fund those interests, even if you don’t fully understand them.

     And when you show them what is wrong, you must do it kindly. There must be instruction in discipline, otherwise it is mere punishment. Doesn’t a loving Lord treat you with kindness when He disciplines you? You must treat your children the same. And if you must spank them – and that must be a last resort – it cannot be in anger. Control your own behaviour, before you attempt to control theirs. And you must hold them afterwards and tell them that you love them and that you earnestly desire them to make a better choice next time. There will come a time when they will have to make those choices without your guidance.

     And you must model what you want them to be, and discipline yourself so that you become that person. Don’t indulge yourself and give in to your excesses. And you must set aside your resources for them, so they are not overburdened financially as they set out in life. You are a steward of God; these are His precious children, and He commands you to treat them as His. You are to set yourself aside so that your children can have what you cannot. This is what it means to be a parent.

     Nobody sets out to be a parent with these things in mind; otherwise none of us would ever start. But you must let God remake your heart and reorder your priorities as you come to understand His greater will in bringing children into your life. It is a huge responsibility, and a huge privilege. I’ll conclude these thoughts tomorrow.




Let your children choose. And understand this: You may not be their choice. Your career may not be their choice. Nothing about you may be their choice, but you still must give them the freedom to choose. When you demand that your children choose what you find valuable, that is just your own ego talking.


And I’m not talking about your profession either, that’s an easy one. I am pleased that none of our children are a teacher or a nurse; that means Pam and I gave them that fundamental choice. But we also gave them choice in every other area as well. We exposed them to piano lessons, and then gave them the choice to continue. We paid for their university tuition and books, but made no demands on which subjects to take. Thankfully they didn’t change their minds too often, as that is an expensive choice! But you must let them choose all the other issues as well. You must let them choose how to live, where to live, with whom to live.


You are not going to agree with all of your children’s choices. You’ve lived a life; you know what some of those choices will cost them. After all, you paid a huge price to learn those very same lessons when you were young that they are intent on revisiting. You could spare them a load of grief; you could protect them from a lot of harm. But they don’t want to know, right? What do you do? Let them make the mistake; they’ll learn from it. And the lesson will stick a whole let better because they paid for it with their own pain and humiliation, and not vicariously through yours. Yes, that means you get to go through the whole pain and humiliation thing again with them, and because they are your own flesh and blood you will feel it just as keenly the second time around. But what is the alternative? Do you really want them dependent on you for advice and direction when they are grown? Let them make the choice, even if you know it is a mistake, and love and support them through it.


The hardest area for Pam and I is of course our faith. To us that is life and death. Choosing Christ is eternal life. Rejecting Christ is eternal death. But still you must give your children the choice. Expose them to what is right and true, live it out in your own lives, surround them with those who love them and love the Lord while they are young, and then leave the rest to Him. You cannot force faith. It is a choice that everyone must make themselves.


You need to respect your children’s ability to make their own way in the world and not restrict or hamper them with your perspective on things, even if it is a wise and thoughtful perspective. Let them be who they are, who a loving Lord intended them to be. It is, after all, their life, not yours. You owe your children that much.

Self-promotion is an odious thing, and even self-revelation can be dangerous. I have what might charitably be called ‘a checkered past.’ Christ dealt with that when He saved me, but it does leave you wondering how you should deal with the knowledge of what you used to be. I can remember a whole series of conversations with Pam when we were younger that began with me saying “Before I met you…” She would always cut me off with a brief “I don’t want to know.” Being young and stupid (an unavoidable combination) I always figured she meant “I don’t want to know until I get to know you better.” But as time went on, I began to realize that she meant she didn’t want to know. Ever.


I must confess I felt a little resentful at first. After all, we live in an age where everyone needs to know everything about everybody, right? But because that is the temper of the times, does that make it a good thing? Over time I began to see the wisdom of my wife’s point of view, and even the trust and courtesy she was extending to me by her discretion. I had been damaged by the stupid things I had done in my dissolute youth, did I need to damage her, or our children by regurgitating such tales? What would be the point of such self-promotion?


And what is the point of being a parent anyway? Isn’t it to build up your children into who they were meant to be? Of what advantage is it to them to promote yourself, to build yourself up in their eyes? Doesn’t that just weaken them; make them feel that they don’t measure up to you? Is that doing them a service? Philippians 2:3 says that we “should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves.” Our job as parents is not to make ourselves look good, or important, or even notorious, but to make our children feel good about themselves.


I get a little chuckle out of my children’s gentle reprimands that it is about time I began to see the world as it truly is. But even now I am not prepared to drag my past out in front of them for viewing. I am happy to let them tease me for being a stodgy old conservative. It is a measure of how far I have come in overcoming my past. Nor do I need to brag on what I am doing in the present. God sees my worth. I would rather talk about what my children are doing, that is what fills my heart.


Did you know that my daughter went out to Calgary with nothing but what she had in her car and the offer of job tending horses and within a year and a half was the manager of a Reitman’s store with a million dollar inventory? Now that’s an accomplishment worth talking about! She is 25 today, and I couldn’t be more proud of her than I am. You go girl; show ‘em what you are made of. Happy birthday; I love you for who you are!

Be a father, not a friend. Your kids will have lots of friends. Some of them will be their age; some of them will be your age. Encourage them to have friends that help them, whatever age they are. Trust me; you are going to need all the help you can get to raise your children. But restrict friends that affect your children in a negative way. Do not be passive about this, as a friend would. Do not take the attitude that a friend would take and say to your kids “whatever you want to do is fine with me,” or “do whatever you think is best.” Your children need a father. Somehow, without being fully qualified, you got selected. So be one. There is nobody else that can.


Your kids may grow up thinking you were wonderful father, or a terrible one. They may talk to you and appreciate what you have done, or they may despise the ground you walk on. But what does that matter when their welfare is at stake? Are you going to put your good reputation, your ‘friendship’ above their protection? You have to do the job you were given. You have to be the father. Sometimes (often!) that means making decisions that are difficult.


I cried when I insisted that one of my children give up a close friend. The friend was into drugs and leading my teenager astray. But this was the only close friend my teenager had in a difficult time, and I knew they would not find it easy to forgive me for what I had to do. I cried for my child’s loss, and for mine as well as I knew this would cause a serious rupture between us. But nevertheless, I did it. I did it because it was the right thing to do, because it would protect them from certain harm, and because as the father I had to make that decision.


Other times your children may develop friends and interests that have no bearing on the things you are interested in. You have to let them go and become the person that God intended them to be. Being a Dad doesn’t mean you own them. They are God’s child first; you are in effect, just a steward. Being a Dad doesn’t make you the boss either.


You must be the Dad; you must make the decisions, and they have to be the right ones, regardless of whether or not they are popular. If you end up being friends with your grown children when it is all over, that is a bonus. But it cannot be the goal, and those who make it their goal do their children no lasting favours, and perhaps, lasting damage.

Put others before yourself. It is not enough to avoid doing injury to another; you must actively promote their welfare above your own. Yes, this means giving up what you would like to do. Pam has worked in psychiatry for most of her career. There is an interesting phenomenon among psychiatric patients: they all have irregular sleep patterns. There is a correlation here, and perhaps it runs in both directions. At the very least it points to the need for regularity as a component of health. We decided early that we were going to get our children to bed at a decent time every night. This meant giving up lots of things that we would rather have done in the evening. But we put our children’s need for rest and health above our need for recreation and an evening out with friends.


Pam went back to work when Liz was approaching two to avoid losing her nursing license. We got a reprieve when we went to Bangladesh, but when we got back it meant a lot of evening, night, and weekend hours for her. She made the commitment that she would only work when I was home so the kids would not have to be raised by sitters. Not everyone can do that, I understand, but nursing gave her that option, even if it meant working all night and staying up until the kids went to school. It also meant a huge load of responsibility for me as well; with long stretches of looking after kids alone while trying to renovate houses, mark papers and meet commitments at church, but that is the commitment we made to our kids, and we paid the price to make it work.


This present step in our marriage is no different. Pam’s missionary work means that I get to spend a lot of time alone. She is away this week in northern Malaysia. Last week it was Cambodia, the week before that was Singapore. When she gets back we get a week together preparing for her conference, then she’ll be in Singapore for another week and after that Nepal for a week. It makes for a lonely time for both of us, as my job doesn’t allow me that much time off. But this is the ministry the Lord has called us to, and in our lives, we put others before ourselves.

When you have children, you sign a lifelong, non-verbal contract in flesh and blood. Being a father can be extremely rewarding, but don’t kid yourself, it is serious business, and it requires a serious commitment. This is part of what I have tried to keep in mind:

Do no harm. Don’t say or do anything that will damage someone else’s chance to have a happy life. You may feel inclined, even compelled to pursue a course of action, but if it means potential damage to someone else, you are wrong. It is not God’s will to hurt another, and if you think it is you are mistaken. You think your wife doesn’t care for or understand you? That’s tough; a divorce or an affair would cause damage to others. You’d like to go back to College or pursue a Master’s? Ask yourself how much damage that loss of income would do to your family. You want to take up golf or join a rock and roll band? Does that show your care for your family, or your disregard for them?

Keep your opinions to yourself. You buy plug protectors so your children won’t stick their fingers into electrical sockets. Do the same for your opinions. Expose your children to what is good, keep them away from what is harmful, and keep your own prejudices and opinions out of it. Give your children credit. They can make up their own mind about the world; they don’t need you to do it for them. Respect their intelligence and their judgment and perhaps someday they will teach you a thing or two.

Pam and I see nothing contradictory to our Christian values in having a glass of wine with our evening meal. But before we had children we made a decision to give that up until they left home as we did not want our actions to be misinterpreted by our children and prove to be a snare to them. Nor did I inflict my caustic views of America or what I see as a degenerate social structure on my children. That would have caused them damage. How could my eldest son have spent two productive years in the States and still be employed by an American company if I had poisoned his mind against America when he was young? That would have been cheap, and inexcusable.

Do no harm. Repeat that to yourself before you do or say anything. Children are malleable, so be careful. Don’t indulge yourself in your habits, choices or opinions to their harm. There’ll be plenty of time for self indulgence when they are grown. More thoughts tomorrow.

As a parent you are often confronted with the issue of what to tell your children, and when. McCain has been getting some mileage out of the electoral wasteland that comprises many pockets of the urban and rural poor by accusing Obama of wanting mandatory sex education for toddlers. True, but only to an extent. Obama would like to see kindergarten children warned about getting into cars with strangers. He doesn’t want the Kama Sutra on the curriculum.


At what age then do you offer the Kama Sutra? At what age do you discuss homosexuality, or AIDS? When do you talk about your own convictions regarding fidelity, thrift, God, temptation, failure, your dreams for the future, your follies of the past? How do you balance the roles you assume when you have children – of being a good father, a caring and considerate husband, a friend, a bread winner – with those that define who you are: a vocal critic of the privileged elite, an impassioned advocate for the underprivileged? How do you maintain the sense of who you really are when so many are depending on you to be who they need you to be?


I have a number of principles I live by that have helped me navigate these difficult waters. They don’t deal with specifics, except to illustrate some key points, and of course the devil is in the details, but they do cover the larger picture. I may be wrong, and even more likely I may be seen to be wrong, but I am not thoughtless, and perhaps what I have to say might be of some use to you as well. I have seven of them- the perfect number – and to avoid tedium I will post a couple each day. I welcome your feedback and perhaps you might be willing to share your thoughts on the subject in the comments.


I don’t get out much when I’m working. The weekends are usually spent marking – the bane of my profession, I am afraid. So it was nice to actually get away this weekend to the Cameron Highlands. We took a new friend, Glynnis from Australia with us as well.

This is one of the foremeost tea growing areas in South-East Asia, and the tea from this region is unlike any other. It is a full-bodied, black tea, but there is very little tannin in the brew, and as a consequence it is remarkably mild. You can drink a couple of pots of this stuff – as we did on a couple of occassions this weekend – and there is no after taste, no burn, no dryness on the tongue at all. It is an exceptional tea.

And we had the great fun of drinking it in exceptional circumstances, on a platform suspended 100 feet over the tea itself, looking at the slopes beyond in their neat terraced rows. The Highlands are famous for their vegetables as well, and it was strawberry season, so we bought some of those as well. The air was crisp and mild, in the best Canadian tradition, and the views were gorgeous. We picked out a couple of nice guest house spots for our return visit, because this site is worth going back to.

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