Douglas Wilson: “Fathers are jovial and open-handed”

This is ostensibly about food, but read and think about parenting in general, and specifically Christian parenting of the strict sort, where it seldom is grasped that the  function of the father is to GIVE.   And giving that isn’t jovial (love that word) doesn’t touch the receiver as a gift.


What are fathers called to? Fathers give. Fathers protect. Fathers bestow. Fathers yearn and long for the good of their children. Fathers delight. Fathers sacrifice. Fathers are jovial and open-handed. Fathers create abundance, and if lean times come they take the leanest portion themselves and create a sense of gratitude and abundance for the rest. Fathers love birthdays and Christmas because it provides them with yet another excuse to give some more to the kids. When fathers say no, as good fathers do from time to time, it is only because they are giving a more subtle gift, one that is a bit more complicated than a cookie. They must include among their gifts things like self-control and discipline and a work ethic, but they are giving these things, not taking something else away just for the sake of taking. Fathers are not looking for excuses to say no. Their default mode is not no.

The canard that is frequently applied to the Puritans does not apply to the historical Puritans, but it does apply to a certain kind of dour, pinched personality. This is the kind of person who says that God is up in heaven, looking down on us, trying to find someone who is having a good time. When he finds such a one, He tells him to stop it right now. H.L. Mencken defined puritanism as the haunting fear that somehow, somewhere, someone might be happy. That is, as I said, a slander on the Puritans, but there is a kind of person that it does apply to. That kind of person fills up the lives of others with “this is bad for you,” “so is that,” and “so is this,” and “that too over there.” I ache for children growing up in such homes, not because they are “eating healthy” (because they usually aren’t which is another subject), but because the spiritual environment is so unhealthy. What statement is being made in all this about fatherhood and provision? The kids grow up in “a garden,” but not the Father’s kind where all the trees are permitted but one. They grow up in something called a garden, where all the trees but one are forbidden, and the one that is allowed grows ricecake-like globules that taste like bits of styrofoam glued together in a nutrient ball. And so the children are surrounded by delightful fruit that their father could afford, but refuses to provide them, and which other kids get to eat freely. They have a father who does not provide, although he could, which means that he must not want to. They have a father who does not provide, who does not bestow, who does not overflow. They come to think that God the Father is like that, and they conclude that they must not be worth very much. That sense of guilt for just existing carries over into adulthood, and they then do the same thing to their kids. We need more guilt over sin, and a lot less guilt over breathing, maintaining a temperature of 98.6, and needing a certain amount of glucose for the brain. Slandering the character of God is one of the sins we need to reject as sin. There are people who need to start feeling guilty for feeling guilty all the time, if you follow me here.

Such folks still need to have a father who delights in them objectively. They need a father who delights in them the way Joseph delighted in Benjamin, by heaping up his plate. But with a lot of these people, that’s not going to happen any time soon. How many children in Christian homes think that the universe is governed by a pinched, censorious face because that is the face that is presented to them? Many Christian parents need to confront the fact that they are no fun at all, and that when the kids show up at dinner for their gruel such a dinner is a fitting metaphor for what is going on everywhere else in that home.

The prodigal son famously veered off into excess. The older brother was a dutiful fusser. The yearning father was the one who had kept the fatted calf for just such an occasion as this return, and directed that it be prepared for his wayward son, now repentant. Did the returning prodigal really need to go to another party? Yes, apparently he did, but it needed to happen in his father’s house.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s