June 2007


One of my favourite artists is the folk musician Eric Bogle. In one of his songs, he reflects about the hump-back whale, and what it might be like to be at the sharp end of the harpoon:

The saddest sound I’ve ever heard
Is the song of the hump-back whale
His moans and sighs and his eerie cries
Sing a sad familiar tale
For he sighs and blows as if he knows
His race is nearly run
And that soon with all of his kind he’ll fall
Before the whaler’s gun

For every living thing on earth
Nature made a space
Each a living strand of a fragile plant
That can never be replaced
And not from need but from want and greed
Man’s torn down nature’s web
With greed possessed he will not rest
Till the last of the whales is dead

In my mind’s eye I can see them die
As the whaler finds his mark
Hear the muffled boom of a cruel harpoon
As it blasts their lives apart
I see the flood of the rich dark blood
As it stains the ocean red
That bloody green will not wash clean
Till the last of the whales is dead

I’ve never heard a hump-back’s song, of even seen the creature. But I have heard not a few injured dogs yelp, and it’s a song which cuts and offers no healing.

Bogle’s song reminds me that life of full of songs, and not all of them happy, or human. Sinead reminds me of that too, only her songs are mostly of joy and uncompromising playfulness which too is part of life’s symphony. She loves to sing. And the different tones and meters of her tunes reflect the different moods that she is in. To parody Bogle,

The sweetest sound I’ve ever heard
Is the song of this alluring girl
Her moans and sighs and her joyous accents
Tell of life, hope, and of a disciplined carelessness.

The sound of a river scurrying over rocks while you’re standing in the middle casting a fly is like nothing else in the world. The sound of a child singing simply for pleasure is also like nothing else in the world. Logan Pearsall Smith once said, ‘What music is more enchanting than the voices of young people, when you can’t hear what they say?’

W H Auden was on to something: ‘No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible’.

Over at A Family Runs Through It, Phil has posted a really helpful synopsis of the final chapter of Ben Stein’s book, Tommy and Me. I thought they were so cool that I ordered the book straight away … for the bargain price of £0.06. I also thought that Phil’s synopsis deserved reposting so here they are again:

Ben Stein’s Ten Commandments of Fatherhood:

1. Time is of the essence. Spend large amounts of time with your child. Kids don’t want “quality time”… They want you to be there all the time.

2. Share your strength with your child. Be an ally, not an adversary. Share with him stories of your own fears, failings, and anxieties and how you overcame them.

3. Do not expect your child to make up for your own losses when you were a child. Let your kids pursue their own hopes and dreams.

4. Look for the good in your child and praise it. Children are nurtured by praise as plants are nurtured by water. Deny it to them at their peril and yours. Children who are told that they can succeed in fact usually do succeed.

5. Do not allow your children to be rude. Being polite is a basic foundation of human interaction, and kids will not succeed in life if they’re surly and disrespectful.

6. Patience is indispensable. Children’s behavioral flaws cannot be corrected by flipping a switch. It takes a long time and a lot of patience to teach positive behaviors. If you are an impatient, demanding, short-fused dad, you will get that irritable, demanding kind of kid.

7. Teach your child and let him teach you. Children will tell you what they want and need. Dads get into trouble when they do not listen to their kids and dismiss their feelings as not important. Also, your child should get the benefit of your wisdom and experience about life, so tell him what you know about the world around you. Learn from your children and let them learn from you.

8. Value your child for what he is, not for what you think he should be. I want my son to know that whatever he becomes in the future, he is prized just for being my son, right now.

9. Raising a child is a job for Mom and Dad. Children with absent fathers are wounded for the balance of their lives. Dad should and must be in there pitching along with Mom, helping out as an equal partner in the tough job of raising children. The true heroes of our generation are at home with their kids.

10. Being a Daddy is priority number one. When you decide that your kids come before your sales quota or your poker-playing schedule or your overtime to make partner, then you will find that all of the other pieces of Daddyhood fall into place – teaching and learning, patience, looking for the good and praising it. When you put your kids first, you are far less alone in this world. What’s more vital, so are they.

Thanks Phil.

Just been thinking about what I value most about being a dad? Of course this will change but at the moment here’s a few things:

  • The awesome gift of watching a little human being grow, and being used to steer the process.
  • Sharing with Sinead the things I love (like reading, music, painting, cooking, poetry, travel, and being in the garden) and the values I treasure (like love, grace, forgiveness, playfulness, generosity, patience, humour and authority).
  • Reflecting on in what ways human parenting reflects God’s parenting. (See Tom Smail’s essay on ‘Perichoretic Parenting‘).
  • Observing a huge gamut of emotions, facial expressions, sounds (the girl can sing!) and problem-solving solutions – often all within the same minute.
  • Learning heaps about my self, my limits, and what I really value.
  • As a stay-at-home dad, I value getting to see and play with Sinead more, watch her develop more, laugh with her more, dance with her more, teach her more, discipline her more, be taught by her more … and eat lunch together – just the two of us every day.
  • I value that she gets to see me more than most kids do see their dads. I hope she values this too.
  • Walking to the park when it suits us, and not a boss.
  • As a full time student who could happily bury his head in books for years, being a stay-at-home dad helps to keep my life in perspective.
  • I (usually) love the distractions – having my clock and agenda set by one and things other than myself. This also helps me to procrastinate and time-waste less. When Sinead has her 45 minute sleep, for example, I have to use this time wisely and not just read blogs.
  • I enjoy serving my wife in this way. She (mostly) loves her work as a physio, and me being at home means that she can still go to work.
  • By the time I’m most tired (ie. in the late afternoons), Judy is home from work and so Sinead doesn’t have to endure a tired late-afternoon dad.
  • Being with someone I love so much all day.
  • I’m sure there’s heaps more, but I’m too tired to think of any. That’s part of being a dad I don’t like.

What do you value most about being a dad?

The 2007 National Men and Family Relationship Forum is to be held in Adelaide on 2-5 October. More information here and here.

Recently, I watched one of the most challenging films that I’ve seen in months. Shooting Dogs (entitled Beyond the Gates in the USA where it has shamefully not got a distributor) tells the story of an English priest – Father Christopher (John Hurt) – who heads up a school in Rwanda in 1994. Christopher is caught up in the growing violence between Tutsi and Hutu tribes which escalates into genocide. The film, whose official website is a blog, is based on a story co-written by BBC journalist David Belton who was working in the country at the time of the genocide. The film powerfully accounts the events that took place at the Ecole Technique Officielle school in Kigali between April 6th and April 11th in 1994.

The film depicts the experiences of the world-weary school headmaster Father Christopher (John Hurt) and Joe Connor (Hugh Dancy), a charismatic and idealistic young man taking a year out teaching in Africa. When the genocide begins to erupt, the school becomes a refuge for Europeans and Tutsis. A contingent of Belgiant UN soldiers is stationed at the school but as the Hutu government vows to eliminate all Tutsis, the refugees wonder if the UN will protect them from the machete-wielding Hutu militias who start to surround the school. The film paints the UN as spineless, toothless and racist.

Director Michael Canton-Jones elicits naturalistic performances from the actors, some of whom are survivors of the genocide, as are many of the support crew. The film was shot at the location where the actual events took place. Canton-Jones employs mainly handheld cameras in order to give the film a documentary feel. John Hurt and Hugh Dancy give strong, emotional performances as characters caught up in a series of moral dilemmas as to how they can help the Rwandans – both Hutu and Tutsi . By focusing on the fate of one school, this accomplished film succeeds in giving an overview of the devastating Rwandan genocide and the apathetic paralysis of various governments and organisations in dealing with the growing conflict which claimed the lives of somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 human beings.

I must say that despite watching the film with a bottle of good red (something which in itself requires reflection), it took me hours to get to sleep afterwards – such were the questions that it elicits: questions of justice, sense of call, costly discipleship, human limitation, the sacramentality of incarnational ministry, politics, love, racism, human depravity, hope, the sacrificial love of a parent. Moreover, it drove me to silence … and prayer.

Most reviewers have compared the film with Hotel Rwanda, almost unanimously preferring Shooting Dogs. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare the two films as is usually done. Although the overlap of historical subject matter is obvious enough, the films are attempting to do very different things. Both, I think, do it very well. Another film on the same theme is Sometimes in April, which I also watched recently. It’s also well worth watching.

Though its violent content makes it unsuitable for wee kids, I reckon that Shooting Dogs would be a great flick to watch – and discuss – with your teenagers.

This came in an email today:

‘Guidance is priceless. Next to love and nurture, giving your child a sense of discipline is one the most important gifts parents can bestow. While most parents realise how critical it is to set limits, doing it in a consistent, effective way is by no means an easy task. We all want kind, thoughtful, well-behaved children but we don’t always know the best way to achieve this. And in the back of our minds, we all worry that setting too many boundaries may curb our child’s spirit. Finding the right balance between encouraging your child’s freedom of expression and guiding him on the right track, can be a truly difficult task at times. So it’s well worth taking the time to discuss these issues with your partner, with other mothers, and family members who can offer advice. Try to decide early on how you will deal with disciplining your child. Trust your instincts and don’t pander to toddler tantrums, even if your little angel is causing the most incredible scene in the middle of the supermarket! Remind yourself that you are the adult here, and that this is not about who “wins” in the battle of wills. Always try to stay as calm as possible, keep your own anger at bay, and stick to your discipline routine. Remember that consistency and fairness are the two most important ingredients, and don’t waste any time worrying about what other people might think of you or your child’s behaviour’.

Just thought it was worth sharing … cos dads never have tantrums, do we? But if we did (try to imagine life on some other planet for a second), what should the kids do?

I read some really encouraging things about dadding today. Here’s two of them:

This post outlined six early reading skills that form the base that kids use to learn how to read and write and encouraged us to take our kids to the library more.

This article discussed how fathers’ parenting styles can differ significantly from mums and that it’s important to see the value and contribution that each style makes to our kids well-being and development and to a happier home.

Yes, we all parent differently …


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