The Father's Role in Home Education
By Rick Boyer
Published in The Teaching Home magazine, Jan/Feb 1997
My only claim to fame is that I have 13 children and don’t color my hair. I don’t claim to be an expert on fatherhood. I don’t know a man who does. If there is such a man, my guess is that his children are still quite young. So it is not with an attitude of authority that I write, but in a spirit of sympathy.
We fathers are at a disadvantage from the start. It begins with childbirth, when the mother has the option of receiving or declining anesthesia. I’ve been through 13 births, and I’ve never even been offered the choice! Then once the baby is born, it becomes evident that women are endowed with a parenting instinct that their husbands cannot hope to match.
I discovered this when our first child was born. Every time Rickey cried, Marilyn seemed to know instinctively what his need was. She could have fed, changed, and quieted while I was still trying to find the OFF button.
Unless my on-the-job training experience is very unusual, there is much fatherly bumbling done despite the best intentions.
Somehow, most fathers survive the first few years of fatherhood only to find themselves faced with new challenges when the issue of schooling arises.
For the man who chooses home education for his family, there is often an identity crisis. Most of us were educated in the public schools and our concept of education is colored accordingly. One thing we did not learn from our schooling is the role of a father in educating his children.
Since the modern home-education movement is still largely a first-generation phenomenon, we fathers have had to improvise our own job description. We already had a pretty clear concept of Mom’s role. She had to be the teacher. Dad’s work schedule usually doesn’t allow the flexibility for him to fill those shoes. So we debated; just what is a father to do?
The schoolish model we had in our minds seemed to cast Dad in a minor role. Some people thought of him as a substitute teacher, who really wasn’t of much use except to stand in for Mom where his expertise made him better suited to teach a certain subject.
Dad was also viewed as a school janitor. The best use for him was to shoulder some of the housework to free up more of Mom’s time to teach.
The first of those two roles seemed a bit narrow to me, and the second just didn’t appeal to me at all. So I did as I always do when I need a basic understanding of an important subject. I went to the Scriptures looking for principles to give me guidance.
The Bible has a lot to say about fatherhood, sometimes through references to human fathers and sometimes in describing our heavenly Father. The job description includes at least seven distinct functions, the first of which we will discuss here.
If we will apply those functions to the home-education setting, we can learn to be the most effective fathers possible. We can also leave helping with the cleaning and laundry mostly to the children. After all, it’s an important part of their education.
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5:8).
The first and obvious role of a father is to provide for his family.
Finances. The husband of a woman who teaches their children at home has a bargain to start with. In our part of the country at least, a couple can home educate their children for a year at approximately the cost of sending them to one of the local private schools for a month. With that in mind, Dad would be well advised to allow his wife some freedom in the use of the checkbook to supply her classroom.
My wife has earned my trust in handling money by making better use of it over the years than I could. Because she has the freedom to bargain hunt, Marilyn regularly comes home with some notable results. She buys in bulk when prices are low and watches for sales.
We don’t have space to list Marilyn’s greatest triumphs. Once she found a store that had made an ordering mistake and was severely overstocked on boys’ jeans. She came home with 50 pairs at a dollar each. Suffice it to say that she takes care of a family of 15 quite adequately on a modest single income.
Besides giving Mom the freedom to shop when it’s most advantageous (it’s really dumb to wait until you need the item and have to pay full price), being a provider means doing things for her that she can’t readily do for herself.
Work space. One good example is that of providing a suitable facility for her working and teaching. Jesus said He was going “to prepare a place” for His bride, and we have that responsibility as well.
My sons and I have had to be creative because of the normal size of our house and the abnormal size of our family.
We built a shoe shelf (it looks like a big bookcase with dividers) in the basement entryway, floored the attic for storage, installed a pull-down attic stairway, hung ceiling fans to augment the air conditioning, built extra shelves in the closets, enclosed the carport, and performed a number of other fun activities.
Providing a place for your wife means making your home as suitable as possible for her work. If you have worked in unsuitable surroundings or with inferior equipment, you should be able to sympathize.
Career preparation. A sometimes neglected aspect of providing for one’s family is preparation for the children’s future careers. By that I don’t necessarily mean college, although that may be a part of the plan. I’m more concerned with teaching our children a useful way to make a living.
One of my own sons, the three who are old enough to do so have all been apprenticed in our family construction business and were capable workmen by age 16 or 17. In addition, they work with Marilyn and me in producing and distributing our books. When we do a seminar or convention, we are assisted by one or more of the boys or sister Katie.
In addition to apprenticeship in the parent’s work, a father can provide opportunities for his children to pursue their own interests and develop talents in areas unrelated to what the rest of the family is doing.
Our eldest son Rick, at 22, was an avid political activist. At age 19 he was elected county chairman of our party, making him the youngest county chairman in the state.
Number two son Tim is a mechanical type who works part-time for me and then puts in another several hours a day as maintenance man for our church. I couldn’t have taught either politics or fix-it work, but I’ve encouraged the boys to follow their natural bents, and it is paying off.
Being involved in the business of the family and the community also has the benefit of teaching children the skills of business and human relationships, other important opportunities for a father to provide for his children.