When Mean Isn’t Funny
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Colossians 3:21
At the gym, with my buddies, we engage in a near-constant stream of mild-mannered insults towards each other in a continual effort to outdo each other in being funny. And we are funny, or at least we think we are. We’re adults – for the most part – and we’re mature enough to understand that we’re just joking around, making fun of ourselves and each other. By nature, it’s a competitive environment that inherently involves a little trash talk. No one ever says anything that is truly mean and – I think – that everyone has a laugh and goes home with no hurt feelings.
A problem can occur though if I don’t have the wisdom to know when to shut it off. If I carry that same mocking, borderline-mean humor into my home, it can be quite destructive. As a dad, I often see it as my job to bring comedy into the house. Thus, I tell dad jokes. As a man though, I also know that mean is sometimes funny. So, the temptation is to treat my kids like my buddies at the gym, making jokes at their expense, to make myself appear humorous.
I remember growing up though, realizing that mean isn’t always funny. As a kid, I was acutely sensitive to anyone who made me feel stupid. Looking back, I can also see that I made the same jokes at the expense of others. At the time, I could only see how others were being mean to me. I didn’t truly mean to be hurtful to others, so I thought it was different when I did it. I was just being funny. And that is the faulty attitude we can now bring into our family lives as fathers. When I do it, I’m just being funny. I’m not trying to be hurtful. Lighten up!
At home though, mean just often isn’t funny. Mean is simply mean. Our kids don’t need all affirmation all the time. Sometimes they do need discipline, tough love, or just to toughen up. What they never need however, is ridicule. In today’s passage, Paul commanded us not to provoke our children, lest they become discouraged. This original word, erethizo, meant to anger, provoke, or irritate.
Though he didn’t specifically address mean-as-funny, this passage causes me to think about how I might erethizo my kids. What do I do that irritates, discourages, or provokes my children? It’s most often when I think I’m being funny, but I’m actually being mean. Doing so, is almost always an effort to make myself appear humorous at my kid’s expense. Which really isn’t funny at all. It’s just plain mean.