Raising Egalitarians, part 1 (Fear)

I was raised in a patriarchal household, where my dad made all the decisions.  If he didn’t want to go to such-and-such place, then we wouldn’t go.  If he wanted something done, we’d do his bidding. There were no questions and no discussions.  Not even with my mom.  His wish was our command, and that was just the way it was.

As I grew older, I became aware of the injustice of our family dynamics.  My parents both had full time jobs, and when they came home after a long day, I observed that my dad would sit and enjoy one of his hobbies while my mom cooked and then cleaned.  I never saw her sit down from the time she came home until the time she went to bed (except the brief moment of eating).  And yet my dad never expressed any appreciation.  Any words that came from him were criticism.  Why is the food over salted?  Why is it soggy?  When he wanted a second helping, he would hold his plate out to my mom, and she would go to the kitchen to get him the second portion.  It seemed to me that she was no less than a servant to him.

There was an unstated fear of my dad.  If we did not carry out complete obedience or meet with his expectations, then he would berate us.  Internally, I often felt like I was cowering in a corner.  I was very afraid of my dad.

However, this was only one side to my dad.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to recognize his devotion to us, his determination to provide for us, and his generosity toward us as his adult children.  As a child, however, I did not see these things.  I only knew fear.

And that is the greatest problem with a family dynamic such as the one I grew up in.  Patriarchy is driven by fear.  Rather than love, there was fear; and fear leads to hatred; and hatred is a poison that can lead to death.  Patriarchy also robs individuals of a correct understanding of their value.  The patriarch doesn’t understand that he doesn’t need to fight to secure his power and control over the lives of his wife and children in order to have value, and those under his rule don’t know that they have value at all.  To not believe that you have value and worth can skew your perceptions of the world and wreak damage on all aspects of your life for the rest of your life.  The oppression never ends.  The patriarch is being harassed and pursued by his own fears, meanwhile, he harasses and incites fears in his own family.  It’s a vicious cycle that can only be interrupted — and overthrown — when Christ enters the picture.

And then when Christ does, the question becomes, how do I escape the cycle?  Rather than passing on what was ingrained in me, how do I exemplify God’s vision for family to my family?  How do I cultivate love rather than fear?  And how do I raise egalitarian children?

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