Posted on June 19, 2011
Fathers’s Day. We celebrate, or at least turn our attention to the role of fathers. From the beginning of time, the role, “Father” has been central to the existence and procreation of humans. Perhaps no role, or word has been more under attack than this one. The word “father”, for some stirs warm feelings of fondness, and comforting strength, while for others it stirs loathing, or fear. For some the word seems strangely disconnected from any real experience, and feels more like a set of letter on a coffee cup. At any rate, God had a plan for Fatherhood, beginning with, and always ever, expressing His true nature. No wonder there is such a war against this idea.
For me wrestling with this word has been a significant part of my journey.
I had a father, but the dent he left in my life was just that. A dent. I knew more of what he didn’t do, than what he did do, and what he did do, seemed to leave a trail of hurt, and abandonment. Somewhere between that dent, and this day, I have waged a war of my own. I have waged a war to re-define in my heart and in my own family what it will mean for me to be a father.
Interestingly that war has entered a new phase, as my last teen-ager turned twenty last month. The word ‘father” changes again.
So at the risk of sounding like I think I got it right, I want to say a few things about that wrestling match. I want to say a few things that I have learned, in learning to think like a father.
1. My own fear of being a father only affects my kids if I let it keep me out of the game. Just stay. That is more than many do. Mistakes are not fatal, and there is really only one perfect Father anyway. My job is point them to meet Him, and try to live with them the way I see God live with us.
2. ” Bring up a child in the way they should go” is not a directive based on a list of right and wrong. “The way they should go” is unique to each one. Job one is to discover who they are, so that I can help them become that person. How totally fun, and absolutely terrifying to discover that each of my kids is absolutely their own person.
3. My job is to teach them to choose well, not simply to get them to blindly obey.
4. It is a tightrope to see all the potential that is within them and to love them absolutely in their unfinished state. Encouraging growth without communicating disapproval is crucial to move them through to adulthood.
5. I want to carry all their difficulties, but really loving them means allowing them to develop the strength to carry their own struggles.
6. Their fully developed personhood is the goal, not your comfort, or preferences.
7. Give them your heart before you give them your thoughts.
8. Look them in the eyes. It”s how they know they are in there.
9. Model what you want them to have and be. Your words are empty if you do not live it in front of them.
10. Hug them. A lot. Do it again. I don’t care if it makes you uncomfortable. Hug them.
11. Words can hurt. I don’t care what the nursery rhyme says. I have done much more counseling for people regarding the words their fathers’ spoke to them than for any sticks and stones. Speak into them what you want to see grow in them.
This year I am watching my kids move up and out of our home. The mixture of emotions has been surprising and surprisingly strong.
I am proud. They are wonderful people.
I am sad. I like having them around, but they should move on.
I am thrilled. I see them pursuing the lives they were made for.
I am frustrated. I think of what I could have done better for them, and it is mostly too late.
Here is the state of the war. The word “father” used to mean to me, “the scary guy who was never around and ultimately left everyone hurt and unprotected”. I picked it up. I beat on it for a while. I laid it down, I pushed and prodded. I cried and cussed. I turned God loose on the word, and sometimes I wouldn’t even let Him near it. Every day I picked it up again and it looked and felt a little different.
Today the word means “the one who gives life and identity”. It means, “the one who is there and loves unconditionally”. Today it means one who gives hie whole heart to his children even though it is not their job to take care of it. Today the word father means “one who watches four amazing adults take whatever I have given them, good, bad, or ugly, and take their turn at the world”. Today it means a collection of heart-filling memories that I will always have even when they live in different homes or different countries.
God re-defined, and is again re-defining the word “father” for me. How about you?