In this edition of That Papa, we talk to Josh Powell, a father to three daughters, who spearheads Young Life, an initiative that invests in the next generation through mentorship.
As a dad to three girls (with one more on the way!), Josh Powell knows a thing or two about raising little ladies in the 852. In fact, he’s found a career in investing in young people as the Director of Young Life Hong Kong. Young Life (not to be confused with Young Living, the essential oils brand!) is a mentoring program for tweens and older. By pairing these children with good role models, these mentors walk with them through the challenging seasons of the middle school and teenage years. Young Life has programs all over the world and their mentorship program has served over 2 million kids (from middle school tweens to university students). Josh spearheads the initiative in Hong Kong as well as being a hands-on dad and involved parent in every aspect. He candidly (and hilariously!) shares his experiences with us in this edition of That Papa.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? What brought you to Hong Kong?
Moving to Hong Kong wasn’t on our bucket list. We were happily settled in our hometown of Seattle, and loved living surrounded by family and friends. The opportunity to move came out of the blue when after 10 years with Young Life I was asked to help lead an effort to establish our organisation in Asia. After a look-see and meeting some amazing people in this city, we decided that this was a chance we couldn’t pass up. As hard as it was to leave home, we had a sense that the adventure in store would be worth it and didn’t want to forever wonder, “What if?” It’s been the greatest risk we’ve ever taken and we’d repeat that decision again in a heartbeat.
What is Young Life and how did it begin?
Seventy-five years ago, a young pastor in Texas was frustrated by the lack of engagement his church had with young people and he set out to do something about it. What resulted was a revolutionary new approach to working with teenagers that he called Young Life. It quickly spread across the world and has now reached more than 2 million kids a year in over 100 countries. Young Life (YL) is one of the world’s largest youth organisations. The core of YL is a mentoring model that gives students a chance to process their biggest questions with adults who’ve demonstrated care and earned trust through consistent investment and adventures. I initially became involved as a high school student and was exposed to a group of people who lived out their faith in a way that was wholly unfamiliar to me. There was something attractive about it and I was drawn in by the authenticity and generosity of those involved and quickly discovered a faith of my own which still forms my identity today.
What do you do at Young Life?
I’ve been a director with Young Life for 15 years and I now oversee our expansion around Hong Kong and the surrounding region through the development of teams of staff and volunteers, and leading the program design for our work in local and international schools and universities across the city.
Why do you think it is so important to invest in young people?
When you invest in a young person you can influence their whole trajectory and everyone that they’ll encounter. It’s an exponential impact. Nothing delivers a better return. Every kid deserves to have a caring adult investing in his or her life. It’s a game changer, and the statistics bear this out overwhelmingly. More than ever, kids need to know they’re valuable, that they matter, and that their worth is intrinsic and not based on their achievements. That’s not a message that is easily absorbed but one that takes consistent reinforcement from someone who has proven they care and has earned the right to say it.
Read more: The Worst Thing You Could Say To Your Child
What was your reaction to the news of your wife’s pregnancy (all four!)?
On the inside, my reaction was jubilant every time. But on the outside, my public reaction, the one that my wife sees, apparently hasn’t been so great. I think it just takes a few too many seconds for my inner enthusiasm to trickle out and onto my face and to get my fists pumping in the air. I could teach a class on how not to react, and I’ve tried four different ways! Honestly, I was genuinely excited each time and only the first was a total surprise.
How did you choose your daughters names?
I love this part of being a parent… getting to give someone a name. What a cool responsibility. Lots of lists, lots of back and forth until we finally agreed. We didn’t settle on our first daughter’s name until we saw her out in the open in the delivery room. But each time, it’s our secret, just my wife and me. Our eldest is Madeline (10), then comes Kate (8) and our youngest (for now!) is Emerson (5). The circle of trust is a little wider though this time around with our fourth daughter due in May. Some lady named Cindy at Delta Airlines is in on our secret because we couldn’t buy a ticket for an unnamed fetus. I swore her to secrecy.
What was your experience like changing the first diaper?
Nothin’ to it. Girls are easy.
How hands-on were you during the birth process?
I’d say I was pretty hands-on, especially considering my wife repeatedly yelled, “Don’t touch me!” I was right there by her side, feeding ice chips, distracting from pain, and taking lots of carefully framed pictures. I cut the umbilical chords of all my kids and have been assured that I’ll be able to do the same here in Hong Kong. The whole thing is so surreal. When else in life is there that much blood and screaming and everything is perfectly normal?
How do you avoid the dad-bod?
Stand next to other dads with worse bods.
What do you hope your daughters gets from you and what do you hope they don’t get?
I hope my daughters are better at numbers than I am and that they apply themselves more to their studies than I did. I skated by. But I do hope they’ll inherit my passion for people, my curiosity, a reckless optimism for what’s possible, and a centring faith that gives meaning to it all.
What’s your favourite part of your parenting routine?
Bedtime for sure. If I’m home, bedtime is Dad time. Books, songs, stories of the good old days when I was a kid, prayers for tomorrow, and an opportunity to put last reassuring words in kids’ heads before they fall asleep. It’s the best. When I was in grad school, I used to come home late at night and wake my kids up just so I could put them back to bed.
Who plays good cop and bad cop between you and your wife?
We’re even I’d say, at least we try to be. When my wife isn’t looking, then I’m the good cop. Who wants candy?
Favourite kid friendly places and activities in Hong Kong?
We’re big on Saturday adventures to islands and trails that lead to beaches and waterfalls. We love anywhere where our kids can run free and get dirty and bronze. We’re always jumping on a ferry to somewhere new. Our kids love the Monkey mountain trails around Kowloon too, but I wouldn’t exactly call that kid friendly. It’s a little too Planet of the Apes for me and I’m on edge the whole time fending them off.
What’s the hardest part of being a dad?
Anytime your kid is hurting and you can’t fix it.
What’s the best part of being a dad?
I love teaching and introducing my kids to situations where they learn something new or discover something they love.
Who do your daughters look like, you or your wife?
People say two of them look like me and one looks like their mom. I don’t see it though, I see my wife in all of them and I’m glad for that.
What’s your favourite characteristic of your children?
I have a lot of favourite things about my girls individually, but as a group, I love the way they look out for one another and that they are really great friends.
If there was one trait your daughters could take from you and your wife, what would it be?
That’s easy. We hope our daughters make our faith their own and live it out with joy and hospitality for the world around them.
What’s the funniest parenting story you can share?
My kids puke if they see puke, so if you get one of them started, you’re in for it. Take that ridiculous reality and throw in a Hong Kong taxi and you can imagine the back seat carnage! There have been plenty of disasters back there, but a few months ago when they all got going, my youngest managed to throw up on the back of the driver’s neck.
Do you have any tips for soon-to-be dads?
I have two:
- First, and this one is important. More than the need to be a great dad, you need to be a great husband. Putting your wife first is one of the best gifts you can give your kids.
- Second, say you’re sorry. You’re going to screw up with your kids, we all do. When that happens, apologise. Too many kids don’t hear their dad say sorry. They’ll learn that you aren’t perfect, which is healthy for both of you, and that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Read more: Seven Tips for New Dads from a New Dad
How do you keep the romance alive after having three girls with one on the way?
Romance is doable, even with a busy and growing family. The important thing for us has been remaining connected and available for one another. If my wife calls, I take it, and she knows it. And we try to keep a texting dialogue going throughout the day so we both know how the other is feeling when we get home. If you know what’s going on, you can connect with each other better. We also try to make time for regular dates, and when evenings aren’t an option, we’ll meet up for a quick lunch or a foot massage in the afternoon. Oh and an early bedtime is key… for the kids I mean!
Favourite date night spots with just your wife?
Somewhere we haven’t been before! We love to explore and try new places and in a town like Hong Kong, the options are limitless. It’s a plus if we can’t read a thing on the menu.
Read more: Date Night Spots for Mamas and Papas