My friend Amy Buckley asked me to share some of my process around being a stay-at-home dad/ male nurturer. I hope that this writing can be a good window into some of what it is like to be a male nurturer in American Christian culture.There are all these lists of things that make you a “real” man, a “biblical” man, or a “manly” man. All of these lists and cultural norms promote this distant “provider” figure who exerts authority and discipline over the whole family. These are the lists I heard growing up, and I died inside every time I heard them because I knew that I wasn’t that person.
I am a male nurturer; my gifts are the gifts of hospitality, generosity, mercy, and teaching. I love with depth and passion, and my dream work is to develop others’ gifts so they can grow as people and do God’s work well. I thought that the job of pastor would fit that nurturing gifting well, and I was mostly right until I ran into the folks who tried to push me into the “Christian Men are God’s Cops” mentality.
I see myself more as one of God’s EMTs. When I see someone hurting my instinct is to wrap my arms around them and hold them until the tears run their course, to bind their wounds and bring them to the great physician. When my daughter skinned her knee, I wrapped my arms around her and held her as she cried. I gently kissed her and told her “I am here. Daddy’s here. It will be OK.” I stayed in the hospital room as the nurse slid an IV into my youngest’s arm, holding her arm, kissing her forehead and saying “Daddy’s here. I love you.” I was fully present to her in her suffering and cried with her.
I am the big teddy bear daddy, full of hugs and ready to play silly games and be dressed up in silly ways. I love to be at home, to cook, clean, and spend hours reading, singing, and playing. Laundry and dishes can be acts of prayer and worship that draw me closer to God even though they, like God, can be never-ending and some days I want to chuck them all and use paper and plastic. I love feeding people. I step into my kitchen (my favorite room) with joy, knowing that I am living into the gifts God has given me to nurture. It is against my being for people to leave my home hungry, and I get told by some that by choosing this joy I am not being a real man. Although nobody seems to be able to say that after they have eaten at my table.
I am a male nurturer, and there are plenty of us male nurturers out there. It is only at this stage in history that we can begin to say “Let my spouse follow their career dreams. I want to stay home and take care of the family and make our living space Home.” To me making “home” is the essence of nurturing: creating a space in which someone knows “You belong.”
Even though nurturing others is tough work I get joy because I am uniquely wired and gifted by God for that work. I would actually contend that the role of pastor is essentially one of nurturing others’ faith, especially since I see in most of the pastors I know a deep desire for the people in their spiritual care to thrive and grow. When I have gone to gatherings of pastors from my area, I hear our heartache over someone who is hurting, the joy at someone’s first steps of faith, and the constant search for better ways to serve our communities. I hear the longing of nurturing hearts and hear the pain when they feel compelled to act against the way God designed them.
I have learned from listening to other pastors and nurturers that truly being a nurturer requires me to be fully present to those I am nurturing. This is challenging and requires epic self-discipline Which I sometimes succeed at, and constant evaluation and correction of the character and quality of my presence. It means I have to check to be sure I am leaving enough room for others to use their gifts. It means creating opportunities to discover talents and helping people process the lessons of failing at something. Being a nurturer involves a lot of cleaning up other peoples’ poop literally and figuratively, and no matter how hard we try some always seems to stick to us. Pain is often present and never gets easier to face. Being a nurturer means talking about all the hard work you saw the one you are nurturing do, and not talking about or getting credit for the time, effort, and energy you spent helping them grow into their success. My greatest rewards as a nurturer are that sigh of contentment I hear after a meal, joining in the applause at the graduations, and seeing the many mustard seeds grow.
Gil George is a follower of Jesus in the Pacific Northwest who has been part of many denominations over the years. He is a Stay-at-Home Dad, poet, technical consultant, recently completed his call as Senior Pastor of Clackamas Park Friends Church, is a graduate of George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and is discerning his next steps in his ministry life. Gil Blogs at An Extroverted Quaker. Most of the posts are sermons and reflections that arise from study and worship times.
Gil is married to Mel and has been blessed with an awesome daughter whose 8th birthday is approaching way too rapidly and another awesome daughter who turned 3 last September.
Gil is available to speak on Lament and Worship, Equipping Communities to Serve With People Experiencing Poverty, Multi-Cultural Community, Welcoming and Appreciating Diversity in Worship Communities, and Living in Community.