I am a father.
It was hard to believe then, and it’s hard to believe now. Life is a miracle. I’ve seen it come and go. As I once looked to my father, gone now some 23 years, my kids now look to me. They’ve exited the house, and it’s quieter now. No more sudden screaming, bouncing on the beds, or birthday parties with a dozen sugar-crazed beauties clamoring for cake. The scales their voices played as they each practiced their vocal lessons live in the walls and the hovering air of memory. All those multi-colored conversations, the ones that we fell into at the dining room tables, in the offices, at the playgrounds, and in the cars, now drift around in our imaginations, and how those moments of talk and touch and sitting quietly together manage to pile into their spirits and contribute to their making is God’s work and grace, and beyond me. Now there are two people out in adult-land carrying something of my being and my life into their days, into worlds that will last far beyond my own. Who knows–for better or for worse–how all the mingling of souls we’ve experienced over the years will coalesce and converge to change histories–if not eternities–long years from now?
My kids both called today, their priceless voices landing in my spirit. Their words were profound gifts, the like of which I suppose many of us fathers doubt we deserve. So many questions arise in we fathers as we trundle along behind these precious ones through the years. How do I do this? Is it possible that I’m capable of this? What if I get it wrong? What if I fail them? What if I can’t stand it, the pressure of this responsibility? What is discipline, and for any given moment, is this the right sort and the right amount? They seem so fragile…what if I break them? Wound them? Hurt them beyond repair? Is this a moment for encouragement or hard truth-telling? What conversation will serve them best twenty years from now? Why isn’t it surgically possible to remove whatever hurtful words I dumped into their heads? How do I help them learn to suffer when I hate suffering so much myself? How do I shield them from ever discovering that I’m flawed, not nearly as wise as they think, and prone to utter and profound selfishness? How do I muster the energy and strength to fight the wars of my own life on their behalf so that they see me taking on what they must take on? How do I stand by as they struggle? How do I deal with feelings that no father is ever supposed to have? How do I help them know how badly I long for their own freedom? For their thriving? How best to call out the best of who they might be? (The unlocking of which is not something I own at all.) And how do I let them know that is through them that I know the truest meaning of the word “delight?”
What is the job of fathering? To unleash, to shore up, to call forth, to equip, to coach, to set the pace for, to discipline, to challenge, to hold, to cherish, and to love. A seemingly impossible task that’s been shouldered by men for thousands of years.
What are the means of fathering? Love of the mother, trust, respect, learning, apology, listening, serving, repentance, faithfulness, perseverance, humility, willingness to fail, and love.
As I often say, I am stunned. To be a father is normal, everyday stuff. It’s still going on, and as sure as I am myself, my state as “father” will continue. No big deal.
And it is miraculous. A mysterious privilege that I can barely believe God entrusts us with.
But that’s another thing fathers do. Entrust their children with the very life they’ve helped birth in them.
And then, we walk alongside.
Fathers, look to God, and be grateful…