Who’s your daddy?

What to do when pops is too busy for the family

Pastor Ted Firch of First Christian Church in East Sacramento.

Pastor Ted Firch of First Christian Church in East Sacramento.

SN&R Photo By David Jayne

To help bridge the gap between the “Have-Gods” and the “Have-Nots,” SN&R brings together faith leaders and pitches them the real-life ethical questions that spring from their communities. Venturing beyond biblical references and high-minded philosophies, our hope is to give voice to the complexity, insight and compassion inherent to any spiritual calling.

Each day we wake up, put on our respective faces and go out looking for fulfillment. We want love or money, status or success—or some combination thereof. We want meaning. And yet, so many of us go to bed at night with a sense of lack—the inkling that we may just be avoiding the very thing we want most: connection.

Children are good examples of the pure and unfiltered desire to connect. They cuddle up to mom, clamor onto dad and unabashedly express their affection … at least until they experience the bitter sting of rejection. But until then, kids feel no reason to shy away from the people they love most.

As adults, we look for intimacy—for a connection—elsewhere: work, sports, TV, drugs, food. Ultimately, we end up spending more time making money than making memories. So, how can we see what’s important and come together with the ones we love?

My husband is a workaholic. He works at least 60 hours a week and also holds a volunteer position in our church. Our three kids only see him on weekends, and even then he’s busy doing house projects and stuff. When I try to talk to him about it, he gets defensive and says he’s working hard to support our family. How can I bring our family together?

The first thing, says Jeff Chapman of south Sacramento’s Faith Presbyterian Church, is to acknowledge one thing: “It’s very difficult to change another person. If somebody’s not open to trying to live in a different way, there’s little a person can do to make that happen.”

Chapman would know, as he’s been working in the church for two decades, first as a youth director and now as senior pastor. He originally wanted to teach high school English, but discovered that his passion to teach was geared more toward Christ than Shakespeare.

“In this kind of position, one of the best ways we can influence people is through prayer,” Chapman continues. “There’s an old quote: ‘We should probably talk to people less about Jesus and talk to Jesus more about people.’ Oftentimes God’s response back to us is how we can change.”

Chapman models this willingness to self-reflect by owning up to his own struggle between work and family.

“It’s a real battle to give my time to the places that really matter, particularly my kids and my wife. My wife, in many ways, gets the shortest end of it,” he says. “My kids and wife want to spend time with me, and that won’t always be the case.”

Pastor Jeff Chapman of south Sacramento’s Faith Presbyterian Church.

SN&R Photo By David Jayne

He has a deep conviction that “nobody has more influence on kids than parents do. If a dad like this can recognize, ‘If you abdicate your influence in your kids’ lives to shape and inform them, something—MTV or peers or whatever—is gonna fill the void.’”

Ted Firch, pastor of historic First Christian Church in East Sacramento, referred to his experience of his own father, who was oriented more toward achievement than affection.

“He didn’t know what to do to be a dad. His own father had seen his role of dad as CEO and kids were employees. … So this woman may be working against a personality type that can’t really understand the father role.”

Firch grew up in the small “very white, cowboy” town of Oakdale, and experienced the call to ministry in high school. He attended UC Berkeley in the ’70s, where interaction with groups like the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade proved an “invaluable experience” in expanding his sense of diversity.

As father of three grown kids, Firch understands the impact he has on his kids. “From a faith perspective, it’s both a blessing and the most unbelievably huge responsibility you could possibly have,” he says. “It’s not a responsibility that is required of you by the state, but it’s required of you by God.”

Firch’s first step to help someone would be to “saddle up to the man at a church event and share about the sacredness of the calling of fatherhood. … If he doesn’t get that hint, the wife might need to accept where he is right now and hope that he can grow into an understanding of his father role. But most folks like this aren’t going to have the Ebenezer Scrooge experience, where someone slaps them in the face and they wake up the next day and everything’s different. Usually, there’s a sense of gradual awakening to another possibility of how to live.”

Chapman notes a cultural shift that has occurred in the past 40 years, with “dads of my generation now investing far more in the lives of their kids than dads in my dad’s generation. … Maybe because a lot of us grew up with dads who loved us but were pretty much unavailable, we wanted to be different.”

Another factor in examining a man’s attachment to work, said Chapman, is that “such a core of a man’s identity is that my job is who I am.

“I wrestle with this myself: What happens if I’m not a pastor? Who am I?” Chapman ponders. “It really gets to the heart of some identity stuff. What gives you value? If it’s your career, that’s a pretty shaky foundation to place your value on because your career will end someday.”

With his own kids, Chapman prays for them to “see that their value ultimately is based on the fact that they’re loved and cherished by their Creator.”

To remind himself of this, Chapman observes the gift of Sabbath, which is “largely neglected, not only in the culture but also even in the church—at our own peril. This [commandment] actually made the top 10! One of the things you see when you take a day to stop and rest is that you’re not in charge. You’re not God, and the world will go on without you. Your identity is not your work; it’s in the fact that you belong to God.”