We recently received a very long email from a very intelligent and industrious young woman. We thought her question was an important one, and are posting a short portion of her email (edited for brevity and discretion) and our answer.
Dear Anna Sofia and Elizabeth,
…My father is someone who I love very much, but he does not know how to utilize my energies and although he tries to do what your dad does (even listens to the tapes, watches the movies, etc) he does not breath life and vision into our family! I am naturally a very vision-oriented and goal-setter type of person, and this is very difficult for me. I love being at home more than any other place, but my father has not showed much of an interest in utilizing my talents, or really caring if I am part of his vision or not.
…my father failed to breath life into what I was doing and make it important. Sure he would thank me, but …by the time I finished, I was disgusted deep down with all the time I had apparently wasted. …I must admit I put my foot down and angrily retreated from helping him.
…I am someone who MUST be continually challenged by what I do, or my life becomes so meaningless and worthless that I scarcely can get out of bed in the morning. And my father, I feel, has failed in bringing this into our home. I have tried countless times to own what he does…but I end up getting frustrated with his lack of organization and when I try and fix it, he and I are both perfectionists and leaders, so we clash. Then I try and do things his way, but his way makes absolutely NO SENSE to anyone but himself (I am sure you have heard of people like this). My mom and I are often at a loss. After many of these episodes he just started cutting me out of what he does, instead of trying to find a way to make it work. Also, what he was having me do was in NO WAY challenging…I still enjoyed it and was happy to do it, but like I said, I feel my mind getting dull and sleepy when I am not challenged, so I need challenge at some point in my life, and my father does not provide it.
…I do think generationally and largely! And I know my father does too, but he allows life’s cares to choke what his dreams and visions are, and along with them, my hope fades…. Until I wake it again with things that I make happen! But not my dad.
…I guess my question is this: If my father is not providing the vision and structure that I need, and I begin providing it myself, is that wrong? I cannot MAKE my father do what your father does for you all! So what then? As I said before, I have no great ambition to just GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! By no means. I just have a need to be always be challenged in my daily life, and my home oftentimes does not provide that for me. No one in my home knows how to do excellent bookkeeping, prepare taxes, or find a good real estate deal. …I must say that in my heart of hearts I wish my home provided me with so much challenging and visionary work, that I had no time for anything else. Sometimes my soul longs for it exceedingly and I am angry at my father for not providing it for me, as yours has for you.
…Please God, I will marry a man who will give my daughters something to live for every morning! I say this with no anger or bitterness at my father (at least, not right now) but with firm resolve: I don’t want any other young woman to have to go through the heart-ache I have gone through, and still go through.
Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing back from you sometime. Please pray for me in the meantime, that I would treat my father with respect, no matter how little I respect him in so many issues these days… Thank you.
… After talking and praying at length about the best advice to give you, we will cut straight to the action. You are clearly a strong-minded young woman, and we believe you’d prefer hearing straightforward, hard counsel to sugar-coated reassurance that won’t help with the problem. We will be responding to many of your very honest, frank concerns in similar honesty and frankness — so please read on with an open mind and heart.
After reading your email many times, we have a number of concerns about problems that will affect more than your relationship with your father; we’re concerned about the kind of relationship you’re preparing to have with your future husband. You have a wonderfully enthusiastic, visionary attitude about your future marriage and children — but we are concerned that you are allowing habits and attitudes to creep into your life that will damage your ability to respect and help your husband.
Our first concern is that, for all your attempts to help your father, your focus appears to be more on yourself — what will stimulate you, what will challenge you, what will teach you new skills, what will use your gifts — rather than on what will fulfill his dreams and use his gifts. The latter is what being a helper is all about. It sounds, though, almost like you want him to be your helper in a sense — someone who will give you encouragement and a feeling of accomplishment and help you meet your goals by providing you the work you want to do. There are a lot of daughters out there that desperately want to help their fathers …but only on the condition that they provide for them the kind of work that they wanted to do anyway. This is why so many daughters are frustrated with their fathers. It’s not that their fathers don’t have ideas for things to do; it’s that the daughters aren’t satisfied with those things. What is really your goal here? Your success or your father’s? And are you planning to change your focus when you get married?
We understand (and share) your desire for challenge and stimulation. It’s a good desire. But you need to use this strength to be an asset to your father and not a demanding, high-maintenance burden. By all means use this strength and desire to “do excellent bookkeeping, prepare taxes, or find a good real estate deal” and come up with all kinds of ways to be fruitful at home, as long as you have your father’s blessing in doing it and he doesn’t have something he’d rather you do instead — or better yet, in figuring out ways to help him out where he’s lacking. If your family has no expertise in a certain area, by all means be the one to develop that expertise to better serve your family! This is something we Botkin siblings have to do all the time, and it’s the way our family expands our bases.
Which brings us to our second concern: that you are relying on your father to provide you with things you are supposed to provide for yourself:
A reason to get up in the morning and something to live for every day
Your relationship with the Lord, and your own character, perseverance and faith, should be the source of all these things. You can’t rely on another person to provide these things, and you will only make yourself frustrated by doing so.
Part of what may be fueling these expectations is our Third Concern: that you are comparing your father with other fathers.
Comparing what God gave you with what God has given other people is a way of judging God and what He has done. It breeds bitterness; it was the sin of Cain, which made God say to him, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Gen 4:7)
When we measure our fathers against what we imagine other girls have, they’re always going to come up short. Comparisons are often based on presumptions, which are usually wrong. You say, “I cannot MAKE my father do what your father does for you all!”/”I am angry at my father for not providing it for me, as yours has for you,” but this is based on a presumption of what our father does. It sounds like your father is a big-idea visionary, as is ours. Your description of his personality, his eccentric organization habits, and especially the fact that he doesn’t have time to give specific, daily instructions or follow-up encouragement, sound all too familiar to us. Our father does tell us the projects he wants to work on, but he has to rely on us to figure out what to do each day, how to help him in his goals, how to teach ourselves the skills we need for that, and to keep ourselves motivated.
Because we (us, our mother and our brothers) want to help him, we figure out how to make his objectives a reality, we give him encouragement, we try to take up slack where he is stretched too thin, and we try to free him up to think about bigger things than the burden of meeting all of our needs. We do this because we share his vision and have made it our own, even when we don’t fully understand it. This is only possible for girls when they:
1. Trust God to lead through fathers, not daughters; and
2. Know they are commanded to honor their father’s leadership.
Which brings us to our fourth concern: that you are not trying to honor your father.
You close by saying that you desire to “treat my father with respect, no matter how little I respect him in so many issues these days…” and perhaps you believe this will fulfill your obligation to honor him. But the Bible is clear that mere lip-service doesn’t count as honor: “…not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22)
We are going to be most blunt on this fourth point, as this is the most serious of all our concerns. Throughout your email you betrayed the state of your heart in statements like these: “…he does not know how to utilize my energies…he does not breath life and vision into our family!”,”he failed to breath life into what I was doing,” “he repeatedly hurt me by seeming to discount my efforts for him,” “he failed in bringing this into our home,” “he allows life’s cares to choke what his dreams and visions are,” “he is not providing the vision and structure that I need,” “my father does not provide it,” “his way makes absolutely NO SENSE,” “I cannot MAKE my father do what your father does for you all!” “I am angry at my father for not providing it for me, as yours has for you.” etc.
We fear for you, that you have been desensitized and seared your conscience to the point that you think this derision is acceptable. When Scripture commands that we honor and obey our parents, it doesn’t give any conditions and provisos in case our fathers don’t seem respectable to us. It’s not an option. To make the statements above, you clearly do not honor him in thought, and you did not honor him in deed (your object was not to cover for your father’s supposed weaknesses, like Shem and Japheth did for Noah, but to expose them.) You say you love him, but you talk as though you despise him. Don’t let anyone make you think that that is normal or acceptable — Scripture calls this attitude accursed. “Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deu 27:16)
Consider that the same God Who made that statement specifically chose your father for you.
Please, please repent and apologize to your father for each of these four things, and anything else you have done in the past to dishonor or grieve him. You still have time to correct these wrongs and mend your relationship with your father. For your sake, your father’s sake, your family’s sake, and your future husband and children’s sake, you must — so that they don’t have to “go through the heart-ache I have gone through, and still go through.”
It’s good that you love to be challenged, because being the daughter of a man like your father or ours is a huge and stimulating challenge — one that will require a lot of self-motivation and talent for making things happen and getting things done. Here is a big challenge for you: Firstly, you must love and honor and cultivate respect for your father. Second, you must seek your father’s heart and vision. Third, you must be able to come up with ways to use your gifts to make your father’s vision a reality, without him telling you what to do.
We know our advice has been tough, but it should give you more real hope than a “you’re doing fine, just pray and hang in there” message. We actually believe a lot of the difference between a frustrating, grievous situation and a joyful, fruitful one is in your hands — if you are willing to do what it takes. It will call for dramatic changes to your attitude and approach; but a dramatic change is the only thing that will yield a dramatic improvement to the situation. You said, “I really do want your advice and I so want to do the right thing!” and we believe that. We will certainly be praying for you, that God will give you the grace and the strength to do the right thing.
Thank you for reading and considering what the Lord put on our hearts to tell you, though it has not been easy to write this. Do write if you have any further questions!
Love in Christ,
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth