Reflecting on the Calling of Fatherhood (Father’s Day 2014)

[Been out of pocket this week – a few belated postings going up in the next few days.]:

Most days I feel like a good father but I’m just being humble. It turns out, I’m actually “The #1 Daddy.” My six year old confirmed this for me in writing and I can produce this document at a moment’s notice.

I’m tempted to set it all on cruise-control but in a moment of self-awareness, I thought maybe I’d reflect on the goodness and the challenges of fatherhood.  I’m thinking about my personal joys, I’m thinking of two friends celebrating their first father’s day among a few other scenes featuring fathers and grandfathers playing out in my head.

This Father’s Day, I was surrounded by my family, my wife, my children, my own father and mother, brother, sister and her husband and kids. We’re vacationing together and it all fell on Father’s Day weekend. We all live in different parts of the country now so these days are special.

If we’re local or Facebook friends, you know we just announced that Susan and I are expecting baby number 4. If you don’t know us, we’re a couple who spent 6 years in fertility treatments, quit them and adopted our first child, became astonished by the birth of our second child, first biological, excited for our third and though grateful, we are understandably surprised and border-line overwhelmed at the thought of a fourth.  A couple who stayed up nights pleading with God to have children simply forfeits the notion of being too frustrated with another. Frankly we’d rather have five than none (but an honest prayer sounds like, “Lord umm, have mercy?”)

Which gets me wondering about fatherhood. What if my next six year old has a different experience than my first? And what about the other two? I’m hopeful but I cannot help but acknowledge that it’s so easy to over-romanticize notions like fatherhood.

We all know parenthood is hard work, we all have access to the statistics of the benefit of having stable father figures at home, two parent homes, the damaging affects of abuse, absence and numerous other factors and it’s all staggering.

I understand why men want to leave their families. I used to think it was a sign of weakness when I heard a frustrated parent say, “I just want to run away right now.” These days I can’t help but feel that if you don’t think that, you’re probably not doing this right.

There’s the constant inadequacy (“I really have no idea what I’m doing”), the pressure (“I can’t take another thing, my head is about to explode.”), the noise (“How is it physiologically possible that these little creatures can make so much noise??”), and then there’s your own stuff (“I kinda wanted to do a few things for me.”) which always sound selfish when you put it in writing but depending on what you actually mean, this could be appropriate and healthy.

That inadequacy, that pressure, that frustration means you care. It’s how we respond the moment after that’s going to make the difference for our families. If we don’t move forward in a loving healthy way, we’ll burn out and become a shell of ourselves. If we move forward with too much selfishness, we’ll be guilty of some form of neglect. Those that are faithful with their responsibilities of fatherhood discover the nature of sacrifice, the need for self-care, the importance of communication and being on the same page with your wife.

That’s all true, noble and I pray I can live up, in and grow deeper in such things but it’s natural for me to reflect on the dark side of things.

I’ve been in ministry for almost fifteen years and among the amazing aspects of it is the access you have to people’s lives, particularly family-life. Most of these years have been in youth ministry which gives you access not only to teen-agers but to the dynamics of family life. I’ve seen even the most brilliant, and most successful of people fumble their way through seasons of parenting adolescents. From where I sit, it looks like one of the most challenging responsibilities of life.

I’ve also seen incredible parenting that in an honest moment makes me think, “Lord, I pray I can have half that wisdom and clarity.” I think of one gentlemen with humble beginnings and an extraordinary sense of fatherhood and relational giftedness. And predictably, I’m supposed to throw the well-educated, uber-professional dad under the bus but the truth is, I’ve seen countless that fit this description live up and redefine the idea of fatherhood. I’m telling you, fields like ministry give you amazing access into people’s lives.

Some haven’t got it right. Some have got it tragically wrong. Like all holidays, these days are tough for many of our dear friends and loved ones. Some are grieving the loss of their dad, many more experience absence in different forms. Some have actually left, some have abused, some have squandered their divine calling to father. I hear many of the stories’ through the lens of their children. And some times I’m sitting in a counseling session and thinking, “That father absolutely sucks. If he only knew …” (and that’s me filtering and attempting to be polite).

I feel for their children and have spent many hours ministering, praying, and hoping that our they will experience the presence of our Heavenly Father in a profound and obvious way. Among the many lessons we learn from Scripture is that God provides. He gives grace, strength and  healing. May this be received to those who need it.

Every parent wants to get it right and these kids are incredible gifts and precious responsibilities. And the world we are raising them is filled with so much pain and hurt. These days I’m thinking about what it means for Susan and I have two boys and two girls. As one, who is caught up in what feels like a million conversations, the need for clarity and meta-narratives seem essential and invaluable. Again, the Christian vision for life seems best-equipped for navigating the challenges of this world and finding the joy that God offers through it and into it.

I’m thinking of the timely conversations of the treatment of women in our society from the young women’s and the young men’s perspective – both need shaping. I’m thinking a lot about femininity and a great deal of masculinity. I’m thinking about power, manipulation, corruption, leadership and redemption (I hope to blog more on these issues).

These conversations are for everyone of course – but as a father today, they feel absolutely essential. To my fellow fathers, we have an immense calling, may God give us strength. And the kids in our homes make us cards that tell us we’re the “#1 Dad in all the World!!”, let’s not make them question their innocent praises.

Happy Father’s Day friends.