Missions and Absentee Fatherhood

Today’s guest post comes from the pen of Jeremy Parks. Jeremy is a Texas native with North Carolina roots, works for IMB in South America. His wife and children tolerate his obsession with cooking, woodturning, and new ways to start campfires.  He blogs at SBC Voices.

I suffer from a bit of a phobia.  A phobia, of course, is not simply a fear of something; it is instead an irrational fear.  I will freely admit to having a level of worry and fear that exceeds what is proper for the situation.

I work in international missions and happen to be responsible for a specific people group, roughly 72,000 strong, scattered across a country the size of Colorado.  I have some local partners here and there, but by and large I work alone.  I could probably travel 3 out of 4 weekends in search of people who need the gospel.  This leads to my phobia: absentee fatherhood.

Sociologists, psychologists, and counselors routinely advertise the risks of absentee fathers.  Inaccessible, missing, disconnected fathers often seem to lie at the root of a whole list of identifiable emotional and behavioral problems in teens and adults.  My drive to avoid causing problems in my kids has a pronounced effect on how I approach work-related travel.  Oddly enough, I tend to equate weekends with entire weeks.  That is, if I am gone 3 out of 4 weekends, I somehow convince myself that I’ve been gone 75% of the time. 

Yes, I know, it is odd; like I said, it’s a phobia.

However, a few weeks ago I went out of town for an extended weekend and the family did great.  It was more than fine – it was wonderful.  My wife told me about all the benefits that came from my being temporarily out of pocket.  That’s a subject for a different post.  At any rate, I shared the pleasant news with a buddy as we were fishing, a guy who has been a pastor, missionary, leader, and counselor.  His take:
“Dude – I’ve had years in which I’ve traveled not at all followed by years in which I was gone 190 days.  I’ve seen families fall apart when Dad was gone and families grow stronger as Dad traveled more.  I’ve learned that a father can be inaccessible even if he is in town, so travel isn’t the culprit.  The reason travel gets such a bad rap is that the stresses brought on by a traveling father often bring to light other issues.  Those issues are the things that crush a family, not the actual travel.”

Hmm….”the stresses brought on by a traveling father often bring to light other issues.  Those are the things that crush a family….”

His comments caused me to evaluate my family and the way in which I am there for them (or not there, as the case may be).  Am I passive?  Overbearing?  Can I listen without interrupting?  Do I respect the choices my wife makes while I am present and while I am absent? 

I think we’re doing ok, and I’m probably going to loosen the reins on my travel schedule.  I’ll be paying close attention to issues that come along.  The real challenge will be making sure I don’t blame travel for some real issue, something festering.  It takes a certain amount of bravery to look past the surface issue (Daddy travels) and see the real problem that travel has brought to light.

Bravery, my friends.  Pray for bravery.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01446388434272680014 Jim Pemberton

    No ministry is greater than that to our own families. When a family suffers because mom or dad is away doing ministry too much, the ministry has become an idol. Where possible, it’s far better to include the family in ministry than to forsake either.