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  • Lim Yoon Pin

How I Stopped Being a Dysfunctional Father

A man's all-or-nothing decision to change his fathering legacy


My dad was a kind father. There was once I lost more than $100 in a taxi as a teenager, and he reacted by giving me the amount in full. I will always recall this act of love with deep gratitude. I think his acts of kindness have influenced my parenting, and I find myself displaying this attribute frequently and with relative ease towards my own children.

However, Dad was also a quiet and passive man, which unfortunately resulted in him being rather emotionally distant. I don’t recall him playing with me much when I was younger, and even after I became an adult, we did not manage to forge a strong emotional connection.

In retrospect, I realise he was not a strong father figure for me to model after. When he passed on, it dawned upon me that I had not truly made an effort to know my father – what he stood for, his values, his fears and his dreams. This is one deep regret that I still have.

Perhaps it is due to this lack of a positive fathering model in my own childhood that I adopted what I call freestyle parenting with my own children. My wife calls it convenient parenting. As far as possible, I stayed within my comfort zone, giving the flimsy excuse that children should have the freedom to make their own choices. On hindsight, I realise that I failed to exercise spiritual authority and God-given stewardship over my children – and my spouse and children bore the brunt of my actions.

A Family in Crisis

My skewed priorities made parenting a struggle. My sole ambition was to establish my career. I had just received my doctoral degree and was so focused on work that I spent little time communicating with my wife and connecting with my children.

It was irresponsible but didn’t bother me at that time – to be honest, I loved only myself. Around the time our twin sons were born, our family of six stopped going to church and withdrew from the community.

My relationship with my children deteriorated as I morphed into an authoritarian figure who imposed hard-to-reach standards and was critical whenever they fell short of my expectations. My quick temper created an atmosphere of fear and tension – a toxic environment for everyone.

Finally, when my eldest child was 16 years old, my marriage reached crisis point. My wife called for a separation as the marriage had become “a meaningless one” despite her efforts – she had borne us 4 children and all I did was abdicate my rights as the head of the household to her. My eyes were finally opened to my wife’s deep hurt, and we were both in tears that night.

Restoration, Reclamation and Rebuilding

The turning point came shortly after my wife and I had “agreed to part”. We were invited to attend a Father’s Day movie screening at a church, and I had accepted the invitation as a last-ditch attempt to salvage our marriage. As our entire family of 6 sat watching the movie ‘Courageous’, the scenes tugged at my heart. I was convicted that I needed a fresh start in my fatherhood journey.

Once I acknowledged my shortcomings as a husband and father, God began his restoration work in me. I renewed my relationship with my Abba Father, and my own fathering perspectives soon began to transform.

With some discomfort, I signed up for a parenting course after the movie. Shortly after, I was challenged by a simple yet provocative question, “What is the purpose of having children?” As I searched for answers, I discovered the role of a father as described in Deuteronomy 6:7 — To raise our children and the generations to come as faithful followers of Christ. My perspective as a father changed radically at that point, and I can now clearly see the purpose of my role as a father.

I discovered the role of a father as described in Deuteronomy 6:7 — To raise our children and the generations to come as faithful followers of Christ.

There is no “lost cause” when it comes to God. As I took small steps to reclaim stewardship over my family and children and to prioritise their emotional well-being, I began to see a change in our relationships.

How is it that we are good at strategic planning in the workplace, but don’t apply that same rigour when it comes to family and children?

With a renewed commitment to my marriage and children, I re-focused on building a God-filled spiritual climate at home. We now have a regular family devotion and prayer time; my wife and I also recently went on a short couple retreat to take time off for ourselves and to discuss our plans for our family, finances, and church ministry.

How is it that we are good at strategic planning in the workplace, but don’t apply that same rigour when it comes to family and children?

Transformation takes effort and time; altering my fathering style has been a gradual and challenging process. Indeed, I still face the tussle between wanting to meet my own self-centred needs, and loving my children.

However, being aware of my own weaknesses has helped me to be intentional in my actions, which over time, has created healthy habits. My wife now has a husband who cares for his family with the love of our heavenly Father, and my children, a father who has changed from an authoritarian figure into a loving and accepting parent.

Fellow fathers, if you want to leave a legacy that will bless your children and the generations to come, begin today. It’s not too late. Be open, engage in honest conversations with your family, commit to change, and watch as God blesses your efforts and transforms your family, beginning with you.

© 2018 Whole Life. All rights reserved.

This article was first published on Focus on the Family Singapore's website. Visit for more content and resources for parenting and family life.

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