Golfer Hunter Mahan made headlines for demonstrating what a new generation of fathers has made increasingly common: prioritizing family over career.
As noted by columnist Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal, no one really remembers who won the Canadian Open this year. They just remember the player who didn’t even finish because he flew home to Dallas the moment he learned his wife was in labor with their first child.
At the time, Mahan was at the top of the leaderboard and well on his way to earning a winner’s check worth more than $1 million. Gay called it a clear example of an athlete who put his life before his occupation, even when his occupation couldn’t be going any better.
“On Wednesday morning I spoke to Mahan by phone,” Gay wrote Aug. 1. “He was back at home with Kandi and Zoe. Mom was good. Baby was good. A couple of nights had passed. Diapers had been changed, many of them by the new father. Tired and happy, Mahan found himself in an improbable spot: a sports phenomenon for making a decision not to play sports.”
Mahan, 31, and his wife had discussed what might happen if their child was born during a major tournament, but as soon as he saw the sonogram pictures he knew it wouldn’t matter what was happening. He was going to be there for the birth, Gay recounted.
“When I am done playing golf, I’d rather be noted for being a good husband and good father than anything else,” Mahan said, adding that “success comes and goes.”
“Seeing your daughter every day, having a family — that is stuff that makes you happy to your core,” the golfer said.
It turns out that Brandt Snedeker, who went on to win the Canadian open, identified with Mahan’s decision. Two years ago Snedeker, 32, left the Honda Open to be present for the birth of his first daughter Lily. “It was the best decision I ever made. I’m sure Hunter would say the same thing,” Snedeker said, according to CBS Sports.
What Mahan and Snedeker represent, Southern Baptist commentators said, is a swinging of the pendulum back to more involvement from fathers. The trend includes younger pastors who are placing their families above their congregations in ways their predecessors may not have been given latitude to do.
Waylan Owens, dean of the School of Church & Family Ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “We are seeing a backlash in certain segments of our population against two generations now of absentee fathers, whether through rampant divorce, workaholism or neglect. Young fathers are seeking to be what they never had.”
Owens, who also serves as associate professor of church and family ministries, said for at least the last 15 years Southern Baptist seminaries “have been beating the drum of the old saw, ‘If you lose your family, you lose your ministry.'”
“Of the seven verses of pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, more than two verses require a pastor to lead his family well,” Owens told Baptist Press. “Young ministers are taking heed.”
Rather than begrudge a young minister for prioritizing his family, Owens said church leaders “can help a pastor simply by paying attention to his relationship with his family and how church responsibilities are affecting that.”
“They can encourage him to invest quantity time in his home, especially in his wife. They can ask him in an encouraging way whether he is living out at home what he is preaching to others,” Owens said.
Evan Lenow, assistant professor of ethics and associate director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern, underscored the need for ministers to keep their homes in order.
“From a ministry standpoint, managing one’s household well and keeping children under control with dignity (1 Timothy 3:4) require more than just lip service,” Lenow said. “These qualifications for pastors require real time spent with the family. In fact, a pastor who neglects his family for the sake of the church actually runs the risk of disqualifying himself for ministry.”
A balance is needed on the issue, though, Lenow said, because the pendulum can swing too far.
“The biblical understanding of roles in marriage still places the responsibility of providing for the family on the husband and father. While fathers should be commended for investing more time in their families, we are not advocating fathers as the primary caregivers and mothers as the primary providers,” Lenow said.
Mahan also pulled out of the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational Aug. 1-4 to spend the “precious first week” with his daughter. He planned to return for the PGA Championship beginning Aug. 8.
— Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.