My Story Part 17: Fatherhood

Sometimes even if I can’t recall all the details of a dream, I can remember the way the dream made me feel. And years ago I had a dream in which I had a little boy, a son–I was a father! I don’t remember much else, whether in the dream I was also married or even whether I had adopted him or was his biological dad. But I woke up that day with a deep sense of joy and longing. Like I had experienced something wonderful but that was now slipping away.

When I had that dream, I was single. I could only imagine experiencing fatherhood. It felt a world away. But it was only a few years later when I was standing in a delivery room as my wife was giving birth to our firstborn, our daughter. That moment is etched in my memory. It was October 7, 2004, 11:42pm. Our little girl emerged into the world eyes wide open, curious and beautiful, changing our lives forever.

That was more than 16 years ago now. Less than 5 years after her arrival, our twin sons came along; and ever since our family life has been filled with ups, downs, unexpected twists and turns, tears and laughter.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s truly amazing is how different our kids are from one another. Each has their own beautiful uniqueness that has stamped itself on our hearts. Watching them grow, learn, deal with life, and learning as parents how to navigate it with them, is indeed the highest calling I have ever had. Not that I always do this well or am a fount of wisdom in every moment. Even they have seen me make mistakes. But what a joy and privilege it continues to be to have these young souls in my life.

Yet, even though I am their father, their Dad, Papa, Daddy, I can’t control them or determine how their lives will go in the years ahead. Not that I want to do this. But don’t all parents want to help their kids avoid pitfalls and struggles, to ensure their greatest possible happiness in this life? Yet, they will have to make choices, sometimes hard ones. Our kids will make poor choices. And we will have to watch. They will have to take what we’ve been able to give them as parents and figure out how to navigate the waters they find themselves sailing.

No wonder parenting is a bittersweet joy, one tinged with sadness and unfulfilled longing. Because even now I can look back and wish some things had been different for them. I wish my daughter never had to deal with mental health issues. I wish all of them still had both of their grandmothers around. I wish that one of our sons and our daughter didn’t have some of the difficulties they do in getting along more consistently. I wish they didn’t have to experience disappointment, rejection, fear, and pain.

Of course, now is the time when I ponder the parallels between me being a Dad and what it must be like for our heavenly Father. He sees our individual uniqueness and beauty. He sees our failings and brokenness. Seeing all of this, his love for us exceeds every conceivable boundary. And he longs for us to know this love, to rest in this love, to find in his love peace, solace, comfort, and joy. When we fall short, he remains there. His love for us is undeterred by our straying hearts and lives. He waits to embrace us once again. We are always welcome home.

I want to be this kind of father for my children.

Not having had a father growing up, not having known father love during my most formative years, I repeatedly, frequently, insistently, and annoyingly tell each of my kids I love them. All. The. Time. I want my love for them to be bedrock in a world where there’s so little upon which they can rely. And I want, more than anything, for my love to point them, to open their hearts and lives up, to the love of their heavenly Father. Where I fail them, he will not. When I cannot protect them, he can be their refuge and strength. And when I am no longer a part of their lives because I have gone on to my eternal rest, he will still be with them. There’s nothing I want more for them than to know this love, to receive it, and to live and die being held by it.

Much like in that dream years ago, being a father brings me great joy. There are moments when I almost can’t believe how blessed I am. I look at my kids and I feel wonder. Indeed, what strange, wondrous creatures they are! Surely, this is an imperfect joy, one which includes its measure of sadness and longing, but for all that fills me with a gladness I thought I would never know.

Except perhaps in a dream.

Wonder

I have three children; a daughter who is 9 and twin boys who are 5. Having kids is an incredible gift, and I can’t imagine life without them. The laughter alone that they bring into our lives creates the kind of joy we can experience even when life isn’t going well. I can’t even describe how their laughter makes me feel other than to say it lightens the load of life, puts a smile on my face, and gives me a little glimpse of eternity.

Being a parent is possibly the hardest job on the planet. Maybe so. Certainly it involves frustrations, heartaches, and exhaustion. It’s a 24/7 calling, and doesn’t end, from what I hear, even once your kids have grown. The responsibility of parenting is enormous. Even the most resilient adult will have their energy, patience, priorities, and wisdom continually tested.

Yet, one of the amazing things about being a parent is the experience of wonder. By this I mean the amazement and delight of watching your kids. Watching them grow, learn, laugh, play, and, to put it simply, be kids, is one of the most profound joys I have come to know.

Children are easily ignored in our culture, often because we regard childhood as a stage on the way to adulthood. In themselves, we think, they have nothing to offer or contribute. In fact, children are very nearly sheer need. Our job is to take care of them until they are independent or, in our minds, completely human. But childhood in itself is insignificant.

If that’s true, then I hardly think I’d experience such joy when just watching my twin boys playing together. Or while playing a game with my daughter. What I love about watching them play is how utterly useless such time is — neither they nor I are accomplishing anything remotely practical. And that’s ok. Not everything we do has to be about completing a task. It can be only about that moment, a moment which is all about relationship, the deepening of intimate connections.

And when it comes to kids, at least in my experience, those moments are also about recognizing the gift of life, and that we needn’t take it all so seriously. Lord help us, we’re often too serious for our own good. That’s why I am grateful for my kids who, when they’re climbing all over me, graciously free me to enjoy them for who they are. They free me for wonder.