Fourteen Things Expat Dads Want To Tell Expat Dads

by Rachel Pieh Jones on June 16, 2013


Last week my husband changed the oil on our car. Then he helped our seven-year old daughter sew a dress because I am worthless with anything remotely craft related. Then the two of them went outside and shot water bottles with a BB gun. This is one seriously rockin’ dad.

Over the years I have met other seriously rockin’ dads and for Father’s Day, I wanted to write about being a father overseas. Alas…I’m not one. So I enlisted the words and wisdom of wise, fun, creative, deep, spiritual dads, men I admire for even more than their dad-ing. These are men committed to serving God and their local communities but I am convinced that one of the greatest gifts they are giving the world is their children, because of how they have lived and loved and parented.

They have over 50 years cumulative experience in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In honor and celebration of these dads and with the aim of encouraging and inspiring other dads, here are fourteen things expatriate dads do well, in their own words (condensed and combined by me).


  1. Raising kids well and spending time with them is more important than ministry and work. One dad phrased it like this, “We were committed to never sacrifice our kids on some ‘altar’ of the ‘great work’ or ‘high calling’ that we were pursuing.”
  2. If possible, don’t work too much. And when the work is done, it is done, time to play.
  3. Commit to taking time off. One dad took his family on a day trip every two weeks to get out of the crushing cement city life.
  4. Enjoy and explore the country together. For one dad this means the beach and hiking in volcanoes and trying new restaurants, crawling around caves.
  5. If something is lacking, create what you can. Be the football coach, or start the team. Pay a little extra for access to a swimming pool. Build a bunny cage. One dad spoke of the lack of outdoor spaces for bikes and play in the city. He makes sure to get his family to grass and trees on a regular basis.
  6. Build habits and memories that transport well. Pancake Fridays. A prayer box filled with photos of family and friends from across the world, prayed through at every lunch. Family scripture memory. One dad is a ‘Tree.’ He forms a shape with his body and the kids scramble up like moneys. He claims this is possible in any country on the planet, even in airports.dad3
  7. Be honest about struggles. One dad shared how valuable it is to share burdens vulnerably with his kids so they can learn and grow as well. Let them know about dad’s work and calling and as possible, help them enter it.
  8. Know each child individually. Their friends, their experiences, their reactions. And respond accordingly.
  9. Celebrate and encourage the unique gifts of your kids and the place you live. One dad takes his son big game hunting and encourages his archery skills (2nd place at the Africa Regional Field Archery Championships!)
  10. Help kids process being a Third Culture Kid. Talk about where they come from and where they are, both the positives and negatives (with emphasis on the positives).
  11. Be wise about immersing them in the local culture and wise about when it is time for distance. One dad spoke of his children’s fluency in the local language. Another spoke of realizing, when his daughter was about to hurl a rock at kids who were teasing her, how much emotional pain she was experiencing and that he needed to step in.
  12. Be flexible about education options. Within one family, four children utilized four different educational opportunities.
  13. Encourage courage. One dad taught his children to use local buses by 10-12 years old. But also draw appropriate boundaries for your context. This same dad said no taxi rides without at least one male teenager or an adult.
  14. Be willing to make hard choices, and to stand by them with faith and joy. One dad said, “We gave up much and our kids gave up much to serve as we did in Central Asia. But we gave up Central Asia rather than leave our kids resentful when that became necessary.”

sometimes dad scares us

Dads, what have you learned over your years? Moms and kids, how are you going to celebrate the dads among you this Father’s Day?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Drie Culturen

    I like this post, there’s lots of great advice here. I have good memories of exploring the countries I grew up in, in Africa. We had hiking trips on mount Mulanje (Malawi) and on the Chimanimani mountains (Zimbabwe), camping trips all over the place, even slept in cave, did rock climbing and so on.
    I like your nr 10 advice, I think that’s a very positive one and do not be afraid to talk about the downside too. There is a real paradox, there are great advantages to growing up abroad but there are real challenges too. It can help kids if these can be addressed too :).

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks Drie. I thought these dads had a lot of good words. Camping seems to be a popular family activity – our family loves it too. We head to the beach to sleep under the stars.

  • Laon

    15. Read to your kids.

    We live in a concrete city, but every night the kids beg for another chapter of whatever book we’ve been reading. We’ve got a deal — they wash dishes while I read. On the weekends, they get multiple chapters. There may be car horns and traffic jams outside and a sweltering 35 degrees inside, but we’re immersed in the worlds of Old Yeller, Cheaper by the Dozen, Little Women, The Black Stallion, and many others. Put away the laptop, turn off the TV — pick up a book and read to your kids.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Yes! I love it. Add that #15. We love to read out loud too and do a lot of audiobooks while traveling. I’d love to hear some of your other favorites? We laugh harder every year at The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which we read at Christmas time. And of course we love the Chronicles of Narnia.

  • Matthew Wright

    I have to say I agree with every one of these – including #15! The homeschool curriculum we used with the kids was heavy on reading and family read-alouds so we read a lot of books together! We especially liked the “little Britches” Series by Ralph Moody, and Best Christmas Pageant is a family Christmas tradition. The kids are now 18, 20, and 22 and still insist that we read it aloud every year over Christmas!

    #7 is a key principle – we went through a very difficult time that included being kicked off of our team and sent back stateside for a while. My wife and I were so caught up in our own pain that we did not realize the toll it was taking on our kids as well. We thought they were too young at the time to understand things, but many years later we found out how profoundly they were impacted by the events of that time. Obviously, things need to be shared in an appropriate way for their ages and level of understanding, but letting them see you work through the struggles is important. The flip side of that is to share all of the joys as well! We made it a habit to share with the kids as many of the unexpected blessings as we could! When God provided for us at just the right time, we’d share it with the kids and have a little “Go God!” moment together. They have been learning along with us the lifestyle of dependence on God, and because they have seen the concrete examples through the years the lessons continue to be reinforced.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thanks for sharing this Matthew. I love hearing from dads, and from other families who read together. I’m going to look up that series by Ralph Moody, I don’t know it. And YES – share the joys too. I like how you put it about learning the lifestyle of dependence on God.

  • Dad

    I am not an ex pat dad but an expat grand dad. I have learned to try to live life to the fullest, never give up, love God, have fun , be intentional, oops, I’m gonna divulge my ten rules of life so I’ll stop till I publish my next book. :):):)

  • Lori

    Loved this article…my son is an overseas dad…literally!

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