Fatherhood in the Time of COVID
"Everything. Laid. Bare." A father's raw reflections on the Circuit Breaker and the love that sustained him.
by Theodore Nathanael Lee
Altogether. All Day. Every Day.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.” - James 1:17
As I write this, my son, Isaac, is laughing a little too loudly in his bedroom, while he is having his
Connect Group meeting by videoconferencing.
I send him a text, telling him to keep it down. But I suspect he does not get my message. I am trying not to open the door to tell him to keep quiet because Papa is trying to think and write. But I don’t really want to embarrass him in front of all his church friends who are currently on his computer screen.
So I grab a pair of headphones and continue working. Nope. Did not work. I will need to go to the room to tell him off. Sorry, please hang on.
Ok, I am back.
This is what happens when you spend all day together as a family.
Nothing tests your ties and bonds as a family when you stuck together under the same roof for two months, which is how long the Circuit Breaker lasted. Actually it was 56 days. Plus 17 days
for Phase 1.
Yes, I counted.
Yet, somehow we coped. And thrived. And enjoyed our time together.
When your children see you 24/7 at home, they see their father in every situation. When he is working. When he relaxing. When he is praying (or not praying enough). When he is angry. When he is goofy. When he is loving with their mother. When he is arguing with her too.
Everything. Laid. Bare.
In these times, you start to ask yourself, how do you be the father you need to be to your children?
Where is the manual for this gig?
When the church asked me to write this, about my journey as a father, I was terrified. What do I know about this? Sure, I have three children: Faith, 19, with severe autism. Isaac, 17. Joy, 15. But 19 years at it, I still feel like an amateur.
Being a father isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, I think.
When I first became a dad, I felt like I fell into the deep end of a pool, and then after some flaying of my arms and drinking pool water, figured out how to float, and then later, swam a little.
Where is the manual for this gig?
What do you do when your firstborn daughter turns out to have special needs? What do you do when your son is bullied in primary school? How do you cope with your youngest daughter entering puberty?
That is when you realize that your model of fatherhood has to be God Himself. The Father. With the capital F. The OG Dad. Who has seen it all, who has put up with it all, who still loves with a love that transcends all understanding.
Who does not change like shifting shadows.
During Circuit Breaker, one of the biggest things I needed to adjust to, was taking care of the mundane household things.
In pre-COVID times, I would spend hours at work, so I only saw my family late at night, and on weekends. My wife, my helper and my mother took care of many household matters.
When the semi-lockdown happened, it became my job to do the marketing at the supermarket and wet market. I decided I had to be the one to do it, because I did not want the family out there, exposed to the virus. Only one person should do this, and that one person would be me.
Buying groceries? Me. Dabao food? That was me too. Buying any essentials that the family needed (including certain feminine products…), yup me.
I grew to enjoy the routine, though my arms ached from lugging so many bags of stuff home. By public transport.
That is where the verse above comes in. Every good and perfect gift. That is what goes through your mind as you try to provide for your brood.
I learned to buy the best vegetables and meat I could afford. I looked for the specific Fuji apples the youngest liked. I bought the carrot cake that the son ate every morning. I queued (with extreme safe distancing) for the wanton mee at the wet market that mommy liked.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” - Matthew 7:9,11
In doing these small mundane tasks for the family, I began to understand how God the Father provides for us. Any lingering anxiety I felt about my work and finances, all these years, any doubts about being able to provide for my family, especially in this pandemic, evaporated when I was reminded of this verse.
If I would go to the ends of the earth (and the Lorong Ah Soo wet market) to give my family what they want and need, what more would the Father do for my family and me?
Art of patience and grace
Working and studying from home for months on end also taught the family the art of patience and grace. Sometimes, I can only work at night, because during the day, the rest of the family have their HBL and in my wife’s case, meetings on Zoom.
So the kids learn to “clear the room” when Papa needs to do some recording at night, after dinner. When you only have one living room, and up to four people who need to use it during the day, you have to give and take.
Sure, it means they can no longer watch the big TV in the living room, and sure, they all have to keep quiet because hey, Papa does not have the benefit of his soundproof studio that he usually uses in the office. But they respect that Papa now needs to work.
After all, in the day, Papa tries not to get in the way of their work too. In fact, more likely, their old man is out buying groceries or dabao-ing food anyway. So there isn’t much time for Papa to work in the day.
You do what you need to do to make this family thing work. And as I stumble through this mortal coil trying to be the best parent I can be, I am reminded that it is not my own limited and flawed ways that I need to lean on. No, in my weakness, I lean on the Father of heavenly lights, who is good and perfect, and whose love never changes.
Reflect & Respond
How have you experienced God as the Father for your family and you?
How would you like to respond to God, knowing that every good and perfect gift comes from Him, whose love never changes?
In whose strength have you be relying on in your God-given role? Are there any doubts and anxieties you would like to surrender to God as you lean on Him?