What is this? There was a study done that researched and characterized the negative consequences of missing fathers that culminated in a book Life Without Father. Sadly, too many fathers are missing in action due to divorce, custody battles, or they never married the mother of their child. My father has been an epic impact on me in many ways, mostly delightful, some adverse. Far and away the most significant gift my father has given me is his determination to try to be involved and invested in my life. When my parents divorced, Tuesday was “visitation night”. At the time, my father lived an hour away but he was at our doorstep almost every week to take my two sisters and I out to the YMCA, pizza, movie, mall, didn’t matter. Dads (like moms) are called upon to be lawgivers, guides, cheerleaders, providers, comedians, coaches, confidants, and drivers. These days I serve often as the “driver”. For Mark, he insists on sitting in the back so I feel like the chauffeur. For Caroline, I am more like “The Transporter” (Jason Stratham character) because we must hurry, hustle, and hasten not to be late while this chirpy future driver chides me for my driving and eating habits. Being a parent isn’t so much about sharing expertise as experience-sharing. While we must prod our children to grow, reassure them of our love, do our duty to provide, our call requires we must also do our best to be plugged into what is going on. My father, at age 83, continues to grow as a father.
What does this mean? For my seminary internship, I lived and learned about ministry in Singapore for one year. It was a time of personal exploration and evolution, that was also immensely lonely. My father arrived to find many of the stories I’d shared via letter (I wrote 400 aerograms that year) were not stories. There was a big rat roaming in the apartment yard (“King Rat”), geckos in my apartment, and the oppressive heat. But, also extraordinary food, the Christian faith on fire, and a fascinating microcosm of an interfaith, multicultural, and multilingual mix in this city-state. This wasn’t exactly his thing, but he was there with me. Every morning he’d find the Denny’s nearby to read the newspaper. When dinner approached he’d say, “Why don’t you find us a steak place?”. I made the mistake of promising my Singaporean friends that my successful father would gladly buy EVERYONE dinner. My father wasn’t about to do that. Mid-visit, he saw an advertisement for a getaway to Bataam, an Indonesian island not far away. So we made an overnight trip to what we designated as “Fantasy Island” (this was 1992) to escape King Rat and my sweltering apartment. My father’s visit was an unforgettable and refreshing oasis for me.
What is the takeaway? Now if my two sisters read this blog (Sue and Sara, are you out there!?), no doubt, they’d remember things differently. Certainly, there have been times when I felt disappointed, disturbed, and like it was just so difficult to communicate. In high school and college, there was a low point as my father was more harsh than helpful when it came to sports and dating. But, then he’d surprise me, like when, in keeping a deathbed promise to his mother, he agreed to pay my way to seminary. As I try to be a father to two very different middle schoolers, it feels like I’m losing credibility by the day. Recently, I told Mark I loved him and he replied, “I don’t care”. Last week, I was the proud father as Caroline received the prestigious “Falcon Award”, for being the ultimate teammate on the track team. Twenty-four hours later, Elizabeth and I were informed “you guys suck”. In response, I’ve doubled-down in my prayers for our family, told myself this is an imprecise project, and remember my own struggles with my father. As parents and children, we all need lots of grace. The beauty of baptism is ultimately the child is God’s responsibility. As hard as it is to do, fathers and mothers need to balance the gravity and limitations of our parental responsibilities. We are certainly significant, no matter what our children may say in a given moment, parents always matter. At the same time, we cannot believe in Jesus for them, program behave, or ultimately control our children. In fact, our final goal is to guide them to a place where we can let them go into the world, as ready as we can get them. What are fathers for? To bless, to buy $tuff, to battle, to oblige, and to be there, for Jesus’ sake.