Today I will celebrate my fifth Father’s Day of actually being a father. In January 2010, my first child, Jude, was born. Since then, my wife and I have had another son, Owen, and we recently had third child and first daughter, Ada.
I have a great father, and we have a good relationship. So I learned a lot about being a father from him. And I’ve learned a lot from other men I know. I’ve even learned about fatherhood from men who are bad fathers.
But what I’ve learned from observing these fathers cannot match what I’ve learned from being a father. One can learn a lot from watching others ride a bicycle, but until one actually tries to ride a bike, there’s a lot left unlearned. My experience as a father has taught me a lot about being a father. Though I have much more to learn, I thought I would reflect this Father’s Day and describe four things I’ve learned about fatherhood since I became a father.
1. The Significance of My Actions
I have always known that fathers are important. I’ve listened to enough sermons and conservative politicians to believe that. But I’m constantly astounded by how much my sons try to copy me. Whenever I am around them, they are watching me. And whatever they see me do or hear me say, they often try to copy. As a minister, my life is more “visible” than others. People watch how I live. But at least the people watching me in church have a filter. They usually notice hypocrisy or behavior that should not be copied. But my sons do not. They copy my actions unfiltered.
And my impact is not limited to my children imitating my actions. I also have a significant impact on my children by how I treat them. According to Kevin Deyoung in (Crazy Busy)[http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Busy-Mercifully-Really-Problem/dp/1433533383], we often underestimate how hard it is to really “mess up” our children. Many parents are too anxious about how they lives are affecting their children. But my experience in ministry has taught me that, though some parents might be too concerned about “messing” up their children, fathers and mothers do have a lot of influence on their children.
There is no idle word. No show I watch or song I listen to is unnoticed. No action is ignored. And no distracted minute that doesn’t communicate something to them, even if it merely communicates that it is okay to ignore another human so that you can stare at a screen.
2. The Insignificance of My Ability and Strength
If my actions are significant, my abilities, skills, and strengths are not. Sure, my abilities do somewhat affect my ability to provide for my family. While it is nice to be able to provide for my family, I am do not have any significant abilities or strengths to protect or provide for my children.
Many circumstances and events are out of my control. One of my kids could get cancer. The global economy could collapse and push even first-world societies onto the brink of starvation. The USA could splinter into warring factions, forcing me to fear that my town could be overrun by a brutal militia. My children’s school could be targeted by a school shooter. A tractor trailer could veer out of its lane and crash into our vehicle.
I don’t list all these scenarios because I’m unduly morbid or pessimistic. I just list them as a few scenarios in which misfortune could strike my family. And all of these circumstances are out of my control.
I remember coming home late one night a few months after my first child was born. He was already asleep in his crib, so I walked into his room to kiss him goodnight. While I was watching him sleep, I realized that as much as I wanted to protect him from harm, as much as I wanted to give him a good life, I was practically powerless to do so. Sure, I can do a little. But against the larger circumstances like I described a couple of paragraphs ago, I would be helpless.
Fatherhood can make one feel small and powerless.
3. The Graciousness of God
I seriously think I’m allergic to cheesy, sentimental statements. Ask anyone that knows me. They would confirm this.
But I’ll permit myself to say something cheesy and sentimental. Being a father makes one realize the true graciousness of God. Christian theologians often stress that it is through the grace of God that we have anything, including our existence. But my children are constant reminders that God has been gracious to me. God has been deeply gracious to me by blessing my wife and me with our children.
But, as Titus 2:11ff. tells us, God’s grace to us isn’t just about warm fuzzies in our hearts. God’s grace to us teaches us. Though children are gifts from God, and though being a father is a blessing, children bring stress and struggles into one’s life. But through all this God teaches a lot. So we can see God’s grace in giving us children through two viewpoints: first, through the plain blessing that children bring to one’s life; second, through the lessons God teaches us through our children.
4. A Broader Compassion
I suppose there is a mundane way that having children makes you more compassionate. You see up close the struggles of a person you deeply care about. Problems, traits, and failures you would have mocked or derided in other people are now worthy of grace and mercy when your children exhibit them. I think I’ve become more compassionate and caring from that.
But I believe fatherhood has made me more broadly compassionate through what I call the universality of fatherhood. That’s an unnecessarily complicated way of saying that being a father makes be feel solidarity with other fathers. We have the same struggles and concerns. Sometimes I abstract from the particularities of my life and think more universally about what many fathers are going through.
(I’ve been intending to write an article on this very topic for Father’s Day. But I have not had an opportunity to do so. Maybe I’ll do it soon.)
What I mean is this: when I think about how much I want to provide for my children, my thoughts sometimes drift to all the fathers around the world who do not know how they are going to provide even a meager meal for their children. I would not want to be in their position.
Or whenever I think about how I want to protect my children, I sometimes think about the fathers in war-torn Syria who do not know if their daughters will be raped or their toddlers killed by a missle or their sons killed by a stray bullet. I would not want to be in their position.
The same could be said for the fathers living with their families in Central America, fearful of the cartels. Or the fathers in refugee camps in Africa, uncertain of the future. And so forth and so on.
I can only vaguely imagine how awful it must be to be a father in such circumstances. And when I realize this, I am motivated to do something to improve the lot of these families. I am a father who does not have to face such predicaments, but I cannot rejoice in that fact and ignore the suffering. I should be, and am, driven to do what little I can to prevent a father from ever worrying about his children starving or being killed or being sold into slavery.
I could list other things––like how I’ve learned that being a father increases one’s temptation toward greed and pride––but this is long enough already. My oldest child is not even in kindergarten yet. So I’m only at the beginning of journey. I have much more to learn about being a father. But, truthfully, I look forward to the coming years and the coming lessons.
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