Sunday, June 20, 2010

On Fathers and the Father

A man once told me that he won’t go to church on Father’s Day. “Oh, really,” I said. “Did you lose your dad and being in church on Father’s Day reminds you of your grief?”

“Nothing like that,” he replied. “It’s the discrimination.”

“What? Discrimination? What do you mean ‘discrimination’?”

“Well, on Mother’s Day every mother gets a rose. On Father’s Day every father gets a lecture: ‘Do this! Do that! You’re missing the boat. You’ve got to do better.’ Discrimination!”

I suspect he’s got a point. But the word is probably not discrimination; the word is complication. Being a father is a complex thing. We know we’re important; we’re just not sure exactly what we’re supposed to do. We know we’re supposed to pass out cigars when the baby comes. We know we’re supposed to make sure the kid has shelter and diapers. We know we’re supposed to open the jar lids that get stuck and kill the bugs and spiders that sneak into the house. We know we’re supposed to teach them how to ride a bike and throw a baseball. We know we’re supposed to take them to church, discipline them when they get out of line, teach them how to be responsible with money, show them some level of affection, help them pay their way through college, and then let them go when they find Mr. or Miss Right. It’s complicated. And since there’s no book I know of called Daddy for Dummies, some of us just kind of figure it out as we go along. If you’re like me, you depended a lot on their mother to make sure they turned out okay. Complicated.

But oh so powerful in the life of a child! Roger Thompson put it this way: “If you were a piece of paper held up to the light, we would see a water mark on your soul that has the name of your dad on it.” I’ll never forget watching an episode of the documentary Moon Shot in which one of my childhood heroes, Alan Shepherd, described a conversation he had with his father after the Apollo 14 moon landing. “Son,” said his father, “do you remember in 1959 when you told me you were going to be an astronaut, and I told you I was against it? Well, I was wrong.” There’s really nothing all that striking in that comment. We fathers give bad counsel now and then to our kids—sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. That’s life. What was striking, though, about Shepherd’s telling of this story is that as he concluded it, his eyes began to well with tears and he couldn’t speak. Here was a now-retired, larger than life American hero, first American in space, a man who had stood on the face of the moon, a man of immense courage and daring, getting all choked up as he talked about this backdoor blessing he received from his father. See what I mean? Powerful and complicated.

So let me encourage you fathers today to set aside the complexity of your role and to use the power of this relationship to bless your children. Even if your example isn’t so good and even if no one’s going to be nominating you for Father of the Year, find a way to bless your kids. They need it. They yearn for it. Only you have the power to do it. I don’t know why this is so, but it is so. And oddly enough some of the joy your children will feel in your blessing will bounce back to you.

Oh, and one other thing: when you’re struggling with the complexity and the power of your father-role, remember this: you're not alone. You’ve got help in heaven—Someone who understands, Someone who sympathizes, Someone who is with you and for you, Someone who can show you the way and bless you with the wisdom, patience, and strength to do your job well. Jesus told us how to get hold of Him. He said, “And when you pray say, ‘Our Father …’”—a pretty remarkable metaphor when you think about it, huh?

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