Fatherhood Between Cultures: Lessons Learned and Shared

My earliest memories of my father were when he would take my mother and me shopping over the weekends. She stocked up on groceries, and I often got a treat. We always ended the evening at one of my favorite restaurants, Sindbad, an Indo-Chinese fusion place. Over the years, the front desk staff knew our family by name and my order by memory. I rarely ate anything but grilled chili cheese toast, and my dad placed my order every weekend with a laugh. 

A disciplined man who taught me to iron, polish shoes, and even fold clothes, my father is still a massive presence in my life. However, my life with my father impacted how I responded to my husband as the father of our children.

Spiritual Leadership

My father was the spiritual leader of our family. He reminded me to read my Bible every day and spend time in prayer. Looking back on my faith journey, I see how much he impacted me. My father is a simple man with a very childlike faith. Even today, during challenging times in life, his advice is to take everything to God in prayer. Sometimes, his solution annoys me, and I am tempted to look for more logical or theological solutions. Still, my father taught me that we all need to pray more, surrendering our needs before God.

Growing up in a home significantly different from mine, my husband was strongly influenced by his father and grandfather. We each walked into parenthood with different ideas, expectations, and dreams.

My husband was raised in a home where his mother was the spiritual head of the family. His mother spent years praying for her sons and continues to do so. She learned from the legacy of her mother and mother-in-law. As a result, my husband did not see himself as the spiritual head of our family. I sought his support and partnership in the early days of parenting and guiding our children on their faith journey.

Fatherly Affection and Attention

Always a loving “Appa” (The Tamil word for Father), my husband often carried our children everywhere. His favorite things were cuddling with them on the couch or wrestling and roughhousing with them. He never turned them away when they needed to be picked up or held, and in their younger years, they often went to him at night when they were afraid. 

Despite many years of travel for work, he made sure he was home every weekend, spending as much time with us as possible. He was and still is the father who questioned and challenged them as they grew up, always allowing space and time for processing feelings and emotions, never veering away from difficult conversations. If anything, he enjoys the long conversations much more than driving them to games or piano practice. His gift to our children has always been his time. 

It was quite confusing for us as a family to learn that in many American evangelical churches, the onus is on the father and husband to lead his family. Since that was not the norm for my husband, he never saw anything out of place to have me take the lead. In fact, he encouraged and appreciated my leadership.

A Transformed Faith, a Transformed Father

If you asked my husband, he would honestly tell you he was only a cultural Christian for the majority of his life. His “road to Damascus” moment happened much later, when our children were on the brink of adulthood. They have had a front-row seat to see him grapple with the power of the gospel and the way of Christ. They have also watched him grow in the faith and knowledge of Jesus.

As he grew in the love of Christ, he also significantly changed into the kind of man he is now. His transformation has been noticeable to the people in our lives and our two children who watched him. They have seen their father spend more time in the Bible, pray, and engage with people differently. His personality has not changed, but our son says, “Appa’s way of loving others is now rooted in peace, patience, and kindness.”

Now, my husband is much more aware of and obedient to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Most parents from Indian culture don’t consider apologizing to their children. Rarely do parents admit they are wrong, let alone apologize to a child.

But my husband does! When disagreements and tensions arise from the struggle of immigrant parenting, he is willing to listen to and understand our children’s perspectives. He is willing to make amends when he finds himself in the wrong. Through it all, he believes the prompting of the Spirit of God has softened his heart and made him more compassionate and kinder to his children.

The most beautiful thing that came out of this transformation is that it has helped the relationship between my husband and our son blossom. What was always fraught with tension and lack of understanding is now more patient and loving. Our son calls from college regularly to catch up and process things with his father, which is a blessing.

Our daughter also enjoys an honest, open relationship with her father. She talks to him about everything, from politics to the latest Taylor Swift album, from the pros and cons of social media to proper car maintenance.

Nothing is more powerful than watching someone grow in the love and knowledge of God. But even better is watching your spouse disciple, lead, and guide your children in their faith journey. My husband models a godly life for our children. I am thankful for this precious gift, this testament to God’s faithfulness and mercy towards our family.

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Sherene is a Christ follower, an adult TCK, and a lover of good coffee and long conversations. An immigrant to the United States, she is a writer and storyteller about issues at the intersection of Faith, Community, and Culture. Having lived in three countries and multiple diaspora cultures, she is comfortable living between different worlds, sharing her experiences, and educating others. You can find more of her work at www.sherenejoseph.me

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