Monday, 19 October 2015


Several of the characters that I am creating in my story writing are defined significantly by the crucible of their relationship with their Fathers. 
A pre-teen girl living on a drought stricken sheep property in northern New South Wales describes her memories of the dust, the smoke from fires and her Father’s sweat after saving her from disaster. An aboriginal boy admires his Dad who sacrifices his own comfort every day to do the long hard slog into town to work so his family is supported. Another character avoids any reference to his father because of the pain, grief, and sense of shame it causes.

To show the depth of these interactions I have had some fun with the phrases that these Dads used regularly. This brings insight into their lives, but especially the development of their children (my main characters). A poll of 2000 dads by Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment revealed the top 'dad phrases' – Cliche phrases like: 'I'm not going to tell you again!!!' ,  'Were you raised in a tent ? !' and 'Don't talk back to your mother', were classic ‘dadisms’. The top two phrases were money-related - being: 'Do you think I'm made of money' and 'Money doesn't grow on trees'. Next on the list was: 'When I was your age ...' The classic dad question of 'If you were told to jump of a cliff, would you?' was also included and 'They don't make them like they used to' finishing off the top ten.

What 'dadisms' did your own father use? 
What our Dads say shape our lives. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

When developing my characters I realised I needed to take their growth seriously by delving in to what their Dads had input into their lives.

Consider this story in the Gospels and what a father has to say:
Take a read of MARK 9:14–28; 30–32pp—Mt 17:14–19; 22,23; Lk 9:37–45
Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Evil Spirit.

Think about the words of this boy’s Father. There is so much meaning in the father’s reply to Jesus, in v24. ‘I do believe, help my unbelief.’ A weak faith can still take hold of a strong Saviour. The Dad had made some mistakes – an example might be in recognising simply that this father had brought his son to Banias which was the centre of the occult. Interesting that the first words of this Father are (paraphrased) “Teacher I have a problem”. For dads this is often a silent cry for help. They are human. They are going to face human frailty. Our characters need to as well if our readers are going to connect with the narrative.  
It’s important that our characters seek help – the father asked the disciples to deal with the boy’s sickness. It’s important to show that previous attempts didn’t work. It’s important for our characters to be real about what they are going through- Be Honest and Authentic. It’s important to show that maybe they are willing to have another go, even with unexpectant perspectives.

The 2nd Word of this Father is “HELP!”
This might inform not just our writing but our own journeys as well. No matter what you are facing.  No matter what mistakes you have made. No matter what you have tried before. Bring it to Jesus. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help. This story helps us understand that it is okay to say that you are struggling with your belief.

The third words of this Father are effectively “I Believe, but I have trust issues”
Be real. Be honest. Be authentic.

Consider my paraphrase of the father’s words :
 1)  The 1st Words of the Father are “TEACHER I HAVE A PROBLEM”
 2)  The 2nd Word of the Father is “HELP” !
 3)  The Third Words of the Father are “I BELIEVE, BUT I HAVE TRUST ISSUES”

They are summed up in these six words in verse 24:
 ‘I do believe, help my unbelief.’

Just 6 words: expressive of a weak faith, a faltering and flickering faith.

 But a real faith, and a sincere faith. Even a weak faith can lay hold of a strong Saviour. This desperate man has put himself in precisely the position where he can receive Christ’s help. I am weak, but he is strong. The father pleads with Jesus, v22: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

The fact is that the sick boy at the centre of this narrative may never have known what his dad had said. But in this story we get to understand the boy by understanding what the dad had said and done. Let’s revisit the heart of this father.
  1)   I love my son and I want him better
  2) He’s been like this since he was little, and I’m over it.
  3)  I want the best for my son.
  4)  He’s my only son , He’s my life
  5) I’ve made mistakes but I want to fix it now
  6)  I can’t fix it on my own
  7)   I’ve been trying to get help
  8) Other things haven’t worked 
  9)    I’m struggling with my belief
 10) But Jesus you can do it !

And then we don’t hear from that father again.

We often only remember the dumb things, or the hurtful things our own fathers have said about us. There is sometimes another conversation going on though.
The statements of this father who made mistakes, and faltering quests for help are transformed by the presence of Jesus. Jesus’ questions and statements lead to the transformed boy. Despite the shortcomings of his father.

This means so much for our creative writing character developments; but it also means so much in reflecting our own, real character development.



  1. Thanks for this great reminder of our heavenly Father, Shane. And I did laugh about those very familiar and corny "dadisms".

  2. Thanks for your reflections on the role of fathers in fiction and in our lives, Shane. I love how you put it 'Even a weak faith can lay hold of a strong Saviour. ' And also the point that our parents are only human (as we are as parents) - they/we make mistakes but still they/we can have a positive impact on their/our children.

  3. Some great insights there Shane. I'm reading a novel at the moment where two of the characters have unresolved issues with their fathers, and it has shaped the way they behave in the present. It certainly does add depth to the characters and has the potential to touch others going through similar issues. Thanks for sharing

  4. My father taught me not to go about life in a rush. Both his manner and his words, 'The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get', have helped me enormously in my struggles with ill-health. I'm now passing that skill onto my grandchildren. The blessings (and sins) of our fathers are far-reaching indeed.