After having been the only child for many years, my parents finally brought home a tiny bundle—my very own baby sibling. While many would celebrate the arrival of another member to the family, that special day was instead laced with disappointment for my father. I found out much later that my mother went into labor before my father got to the hospital. When he finally arrived, he took a look at the baby, uttered in dismay, “Another girl,” and walked off.
You would think that as a third generation diaspora Chinese family, we would have shed the traditional but disproportionate value placed upon a son over a daughter but clearly it was still the aspiration of my father to have a son. In fact, throughout my childhood, in trying to mitigate my father’s disappointment in my being a daughter and first-born, I would always try to prove to him that I could be the son that he never had. For example, I would insist on going fishing with him even though I find it most boring because I believed that fishing was what boys love doing. While I didn’t know it when it was happening, in retrospect I realized that I was constantly trying to vie for my father’s attention and acceptance. I had no doubt he loved me but at the back of my mind was this nagging notion that he would never be pleased because I am not a son.
It didn’t help that my father, like most Chinese fathers of his generations, was not very direct or expressive with his affections. We were often reminded that our father shows his love by providing for us and that we should be content as long as we are not starving, have a roof over our heads, and get to go to school. Hence, it was always hard to gauge where we stood with him—is he happy with us, or not? Are we meeting his expectations, or not?
Then at 14, I encountered Jesus who took my breath away. His selfless and amazing love immediately drew me to the Christian faith and I began my journey as a child of God. However, for many years after I came to faith, I did not experience the joy and freedom I had expected. Sure, I grew in my knowledge of God and was actively serving in church but I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough for God and was never sure if God was pleased with me.
After years of trying to be good enough for God, I was exhausted and was about to walk away when God gave me a moment of enlightenment—that since my earthly father was the only father figure I have experienced, I was projecting the earthly father I know onto God. For years and years I unconsciously believed the same about God and was trying to vie for God’s approval and love, not realizing that this Father’s love is unconditional—that he loves me the way I am. It was at this point in my journey with God that my heart began to heal and I started to accept and love my earthly father. I finally experienced the freedom to accept that I am female and I am a daughter of God. And God has since placed many older brothers in my life who championed my worth at work and in ministry who were like spiritual fathers to me. This brought redemption to my understanding of fatherhood.
Soon I discovered that I was not the only one who struggled with approval issues with her father—many of my Chinese Christian friends have had similar experiences. Many Chinese Christians lack a proper understanding of God’s unconditional and loving fatherhood because we project what we know of our relationship with our earthly fathers onto our relationship with God. And many of these Christians go on to become parents themselves who then perpetuate the vicious cycle of a misrepresented fatherhood of God. There is a great need in the Chinese church today for men who would model biblical fatherhood.
Chinese culture places great importance on filial piety—which is a biblical virtue. However, the new covenant (Luke 1:17) includes both the children’s honoring of their parents as well as parents turning their hearts to their children. This mutuality of relationship is reflected Ephesians 6:2-4 (ESV):
"Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise),"that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In other words, a child’s honoring of his or her parents should evoke a response of the parent to be worthy of the honor of their child. We need to help Chinese fathers unlearn some of the unbiblical traits of fatherhood they know and replace them with what the Scriptures teach us about God the Father—especially in regards to loving their children unconditionally for who they are regardless of male or female, with special needs or otherwise.
As for my father, well, it didn’t take long for him to realize that his two girls are the best gift he could ever ask for and have loved us to bits since!
Image credit: I'Ching Thomas.
I’Ching Thomas is a Malaysian Chinese whose present sojourn is in Singapore. She’s an aspiring Sinologist who wears three hats: Operation Mobilisation’s International Director of Leadership Development, wife to a New Testament professor, and mom to a third-grader. She moonlights as an apologist and a writer in all things related. Her first... View Full Bio