November 2007

During the 18th century and for much of the 19th, there wasn’t a whole lot of American literature for children. And when children’s books did get published, they weren’t designed for pleasure. Books were for schooling or for teaching religious and moral lessons—with properly serious illustrations chaperoning the text.

In what became the United States, this somber mode continued through the American Civil War. And then it went poof, dispelled by artists who became children’s illustrators by happenstance. By the end of the 19th century, the art in kids’ books had become madcap and zany and irreverent. From the postwar period, one can trace the imagery and style that are familiar from the classics of one’s own childhood.

(HT: Slate)


Trevor Cairney has recently shared on how research on families and demographic trends have demonstrated a number of significant changes in families and parental practices in recent decades. He summarises the trends under four headings:

  • Family structures are changing – e.g. there are less children in families, women are having children later in life, there are more sole parent households, there are more blended families, children stay at home longer (and many more return as adults) etc.
  • Employment structures are changing – that have an impact on families, with more parents working in multiple jobs, more women back in the workforce, many workers working longer hours, more people working from home etc.
  • Fathers and mothers have changed roles and levels of engagement as parents – While there is a trend towards some fathers spending more time caring for children, for others longer working hours have affected family life. As well, the increase in women doing paid work outside the home has led to more children in the critical first five years of life being placed in childcare.
  • Research has highlighted the critical role that fathers have – For example, fathers have a significant impact on their children’s learning and behaviour. The influence on children’s education alone (the quality of which is also correlated with many other behavioural factors) is significant, as a UK centre on fatherhood has outlined.

In a synthesis of five key UK studies Goldman (2005) concluded that higher involvement of fathers in their children’s learning alone is associated with:

  • better class and exam results;
  • higher educational expectations & qualifications;
  • better attitude to school, attendance & behaviour;
  • less delinquent & criminal behaviour;
  • higher quality family relationships; and
  • better mental health.

Other research has suggested that the influence of fathers and family structures flows well beyond children’s learning. Qu and Soriano (2004) conclude that family formation has important implications for individuals and society in relation to health and wellbeing, financial security, life outcomes for children and population growth.

Research also suggests that fathers who show affection, give support and yet offer an authoritative parenting style, have a more significant impact on their children, when compared with fathers who adopt a more authoritarian and detached style. Other evidence indicates that who the father is, and what he does in life makes a difference. For example, Goldman reports research that suggest that high levels of antisocial behaviour (eg, not paying bills, aggressiveness and so on) in fathers were associated with sons displaying more difficult behaviour at home and school.

In summary, what many research studies show is that fathers have a significant influence on the cognitive, emotional and social development of their children and that this is even more significant for boys.

What the Bible says about fathers and families?

The importance of families and the critical role of fathers are seen throughout the Bible. The concept of family is central to God’s plan for his creation and its restoration. The Bible teaches that relationships, like creation itself, were affected, disrupted and dislocated by sin in the Garden (the book of Genesis describes what happened). But God sustained his people in families and sought to restore them to their rightful place and adopt them into his own family (Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 1:4-5 talks about this). He continues to do so in spite of the curse that has been placed on family relationships as a result of sin, and the struggle that ensues between men and women (Gen 3:16). God’s plan to rescue his people ultimately involves family – his family!

Throughout the pages of the Old and New Testaments, family is important. The nation of Israel was one family, descended from Abraham. Within the nation that would rise up as a result of God’s promise to Abraham, there would be tribes defined around family lines and ultimately families within the family, all linked through fathers. Fathers are central to families in the Bible. Marriage in turn is seen as necessary to create a nuclear family – a man and woman, committed to each other in a covenant relationship, who seek to have and raise godly children (Mal 2:14-15).

Some practical implications

I can’t cover lots of implications in one post (but I might over a series of posts). There are many places I could turn to in the Bible for guidance, but there can be no better place than the advice that God gave to Moses to pass on to the Israelites in the desert before they entered the Promised Land. Having exhorted them to fear God and obey his commandments and to take care how they live (Deut 6:1-3), God gives instructions on how this is to be done within their families.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates.”
(Deut 6:4-9)
God expected the men of Israel to obey his commandments and to love him with all of their being – heart, soul and strength. He also expected them to teach God’s commands and expectations to their children in the ‘everydayness’ of life. To talk about God when they sat together at home, when they walked from place to place, when they were preparing for bed and rest, and when they rose in the morning. They were to speak of God’s ways, to wear the words of God’s law on their foreheads (no I’m not about to suggest we re-introduce this practice that is still followed by some Jewish people), and write them on the doorposts and entrances to their houses, so that they would not forget them and so that they could teach them even more effectively to their children.

Here is a picture of a father with a right view of God, who trusts, obeys and serves his God and who seeks to teach his children to understand the wisdom of God and to follow him. This is also a picture of an involved father. If we were to translate this biblical picture into contemporary terms, we would see a father who seeks to obey and honour God, who sets a good example for his family, who models what it is to be a child of God. Such a father spends time with his children (indeed will ‘waste’ time with them), listens to them and shares godly wisdom at meal times, while resting, while together at home, while travelling.

(HT: The Importance of Fathers)

A Review: Dynamic Dads: How to be a hero to your kids, by Paul Pettit.

Paul Pettit is a man’s man. The president of Dynamic Dads and a former sports broadcaster who writes on a level geared to the average dad, this book is best suited for a man who either doesn’t have the time to invest in a 300 page tome, or would turn apoplectic at the simple thought of a 300 page tome.  This book is a mere seven chapters, punctuated by inset ‘Dynamic Dad’ textboxes. Prefacing each chapter is a selection of quotations drawn from surveys, journals, Scripture, and various other luminaries, while each chapter ends with discussion questions ostensibly written with a ‘Dynamic Dad’s’ accountability group in mind. Pettit begins with the following statement, reflecting his desire that this book would serve its readers:  “I hope reading this book helps you become a better father. Or to be more precise, I hope reading this book helps you to father better.” This incident of inversion is a promising opening to a book that promises much by its allusion to heroic fathering.

Yet another propitious early sign is the author’s assurance that this is not another “nine steps” or “follow this proven plan” type of book; he does not claim to possess some “secret formula that unlocks the fathering code.” Pettit draws the parallel that just as God is mysterious and His ways are “often difficult to track or explain,” so fathering is a messy business with no surefire manual, nor recipe for success. With these humble statements Pettit launches into the rationale for writing this book, supporting his findings by proffering disturbing statistics, helpfully placing them in proper perspective: “Statistics, however, are cold, lifeless numbers. They alert us to a problem and for that I am grateful. But rarely do they move us to feel or to act. In addition, numbers do not have names. Statistics represent people and things, but numbers are not the people themselves. My heart does not break for the statistics but for the children: children who have never had a bedtime storey read to them by an adult male…” Throughout the book Pettit reveals his burden for children who lack fathers, or truly fatherly figures. Here is the wellspring of this book, and it goes deep.

The second chapter addresses the priorities of a godly father. Firstly, Pettit underscores the field on which fatherly heroics are performed: “It’s in the day-to-day, run-of-the-mill activities of our life that we impact our children the most. Habits, routines, and heroes are made in the normal days, not at the annual visit to the theme park.” That’s not to say that regular family vacations aren’t indispensible opportunities which serve to bind a family together, but the point is taken. Secondly, Pettit places people priorities over against time priorities, in correct sequence: “I personally know of no better way to accomplish [the task of being a hero] than to be a hero at home. How? Work hard each day at becoming a servant leader in your home. Honor your wife. Interact with your children at a deep level. And commit yourself to great character and integrity.” Later he states, “Your family will only be as solid as your marriage”, yet he realizes that fathering is a sacrificial endeavor on the part of both the husband and the wife.

Theologically, I was fairly impressed. Not only does this book root all fatherhood in God the Father, which many books on fatherhood do, but it is solidly Trinitarian, which is quite a bit rarer: “what is the Father is saying repeatedly? He is saying, ‘Listen to my Son!’ Jesus Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself…” Not only is Pettit concerned with the practical how-to’s of excellent fathering, he is careful to set out the theological underpinnings of fatherhood. He reflects a refreshing God-centered view of fathering: “we can’t compare God with an earthly father because doing so demeans God, but we can compare the actions of a good father with God and say, ‘In the ways that a father is acting as a good father, he’s acting like God acts.’ ”

Obligingly, Pettit brings theology home to roost. He owns that “In the real world that you and I occupy, dads engage us in the same manner as all humanity; fathers are fallen, imperfect beings with flawed motives and actions.” Therefore, we ought to teach our children that not only all fathers “trace their lineage back to the father of fathers, apple-crunching Adam”, but we ought also to actively instruct our children about sin, since “there is only one perfect Father and He is in heaven. The job of perfect father is filled. You need not apply” (author’s emphasis).

This book’s blemishes are few but worth mentioning. Most jarring is a recollection of a locker room event that monopolized an entire page of type and seemed only tenuously related to the point at hand. The author’s broadcasting roots are showing. Likewise, some references to pop psychology concepts such as father wounds, performance anxiety, self-esteem and natural male aggression didn’t seem to jive with the biblical care exhibited in the rest of the book. And I couldn’t really fathom that children would be excited about composing a family mission statement, nor that many dads would enjoy constructing a Legacy Map calculating net end results of quality time spent with their children. Those points aside, this book is a useful bottom-shelf introduction to excellent fathering. It’s appropriate to close with quote ardently calling for God-centered fathering, the only truly successful parenting in light of eternity:

“Let’s jump into this fray we call fathering. Let’s father as hard as we can until our sides ache and we feel like we can’t father one more day. Let’s father in selfless ways, continually pointing our wife and children to the Father of fathers.” Amen.

This review is taken from

We are grateful to Gordon Cheng for alerting us to The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name; finally, a ‘big Bible picture’, as opposed to a heap of random and moralised stories.

Judging the book by its cover, Gordon notes that the book is ‘a small hardback, nearly square, and it looks like a better quality children’s storybook’. He also praises the artwork: ‘The illustration for Goliath in the David story is a hoot. The waves in the storm before Jesus speaks words of calm are shaped like the stylised waves depicted in traditional Oriental art. The Pharisees and Sadducees—boo and hiss—look like they stepped out of the Spanish inquisition, with their Pythonesque blood-red robes and hoods. Fire, water, sky, stars and the green, green grass are textured and the colours are suitably primary where they need to be.’

And then, just when we think he’s forgotten to comment on the actual words themselves, he applauds author Sally Lloyd-Jones as ‘a natural story-teller’ whose stories are ‘funny, friendly, sad, scary, joyful and playful’. Sounds just like the Bible to me. Here’s a snippert from the crossing of the Red Sea:

What were God’s people going to do? In front of them was a big sea. It was so big there was no way around it. But there was no way through it—it was too deep. They didn’t have any boats so they couldn’t sail across. And they couldn’t swim across because it was too far and they would drown. And they couldn’t turn back because Pharaoh was chasing them. They could see the flashing swords now, glinting in the baking sun, and the dust clouds, and chariot after scary chariot surging towards them. So they did the only thing there was left to do—PANIC!

You can read heaps more about it here.

The 2006 New College Lectures – Children in the Spotlight: Issues in Early Childhood and Parenting – are now available.

‘It is part of the mythology of childhood itself that children hate learning and will avoid it at all costs. Of course, anyone who has had a child knows what an absurd lie this is. From infancy onward, children are the most fantastic learners in the world’. – Daniel Quinn, Schooling: The Hidden Agenda.

In her book Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West Sally Denton provides us with a glimpse into raising children in upper-crust London in the mid 1800’s. Jean Rio Baker is married to Henry Baker, and they have eight young children, less the one who has died as a toddler. Jean Rio later forsakes this life in the pursuit of Mormonism in America:

“Child rearing was left to governesses, and the children were taught what one of them called ‘the pure Queen’s English’ by private tutors, [while] Jean Rio pursued her musical career throughout Europe. A cook and butler handled domestic matters, and Jean Rio and Henry took their meals separate from the children. The family regularly attended public celebrations for Queen Victoria, and, to judge from their proximity to the royal family at these times, the Bakers were apparently among the elite of mid-nineteenth-century London society.

“Henry, a prominent engineer, built a miniature steam locomotive for his children. The couple routinely read Shakespeare aloud to their children from a leather-bound volume of the complete works a book Jean Rio would eventually carry with her to Utah, along with many others. ‘They were taught personal cleanliness, morals, manners, and religion in no uncertain terms,’ wrote a descendant. As each child turned fourteen, he or she was invited to the family dinner table, having received training in etiquette. At that age, the sons were presented with a silver watch and chain. By that age as well, the children were expected to have mastered the common requirements in history and literature, as well as bookkeeping and higher mathematics that included algebra. Upon turning sixteen, the boys received a gold watch and, as son William George remembered the symbolic rite, were told by Jean Rio and Henry that they would now be expected to conduct themselves as proper gentlemen at all times. All the children learned horsemanship and regularly rode the bridle path in Hyde Park; it was a proficiency that would serve them well in their future lives on the American frontier.”

Sally Denton, Faith and Betrayal: A Pioneer Woman’s Passage in the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 134. (HT: Delancey Place)

Oh how times have changed!

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