Without wanting to get anyone’s hands too dirty, I think it can be said without controversy that fathers suffer a bruised reputation these days. I will give you evidence – my favorite coffee shop, Caribou Coffee, has offered “BOGO” drinks on Mother’s Day, but had to be petitioned to offer them again (the following year) on Father’s Day. BOGO, of course, stands for “buy one, get one (free)”.
I mostly wanted free coffee, and would readily admit that mothers deserve the honor before fathers do. I think it’s proper that Mother’s Day should arrive first each year.
A funny thing happens to fathers who venture out with their children and without their mother. After a stranger, approaching in admiration, comments to me, “You’ve really got your hands full!” – four kids and their Papa, walking around the farmers market in good order and with pleasant dispositions – the next thing she/he says is, “You’re done now, right?”
If you are not the parent of multiple children, the intimation may not be obvious. What the stranger means is, you’re done having children, since four is plenty, right?
I think I’m quite within my rational rights to be upset about such a comment, but of course I’m not. After all, though I enjoy talking with most people, I also realize it does not take long to get to the first of their many active hypocrisies. Many of these people, after all, are older, and many of those come from families larger than 6.
And why be upset? Though they may not imagine it as such, I am blessed four times over. More than that, truth be told.
Just think of it – four people, under my care and deeply woven into my life. And the metaphor goes on – it’s actually a seamless experience, for me. I don’t compartmentalize my fatherhood, any more than I do my manhood. Rather, I am a father, at every hour of the day, no matter what I am doing. At any moment, I may be compelled by duty (and love) to wipe a nose, discipline against a bad behavior, teach a bit of logic or knowledge, wipe a butt, carry a little person bodily for her/his comfort, evoke a laugh or enjoy one, tell a story, sing a song, change a diaper (a lot of wiping going on), research information and gifts, consider opportunities, affirm my love, tickle a little person to tears…
And it’s more than that, it really is.
(In a bit of serendipity, I was just told by an old-ish friend that I remind her of Atticus, played by Gregory Peck. She flattered me enough to think that I might look like he did in To Kill a Mockingbird in 15 years or so, and said that as she came to know me, she thought I’d also be an Atticus type of father. She didn’t know this, but I consider Atticus one of my role models as a father, and regularly consider what he’d do in a given situation. I have also joked that my children could call me “Papa” or “Atticus.”)
Perhaps I am only aloof, but I consider myself unbruised by the contemporary opinion of fatherhood. I am bruised by other things, but not by things so mistaken. What the contemporary person opines does not even scratch the surface, not even as an insult (as so much mockery does scratch and claw at our sincere beliefs); I am blessed too deeply for that.
You could not sling any taunt which would make me regret being a father. There is nothing that you could add to me, except virtue, which would enrich me further.
I get to watch people grow from practical invisibility to (God willing) adulthood. I get to hear some of their first heartbeats.
Moreover, I am privileged with a key role, like a lung the child breathes from, which is both a pressing of my essential qualities (like oil from olives) and an extraordinary opportunity to become better than I was, by leaps and bounds.
And what privilege, what blessing is greatest of all? No – what terror, what insurmountable difficulty is greater?
By the simple fact that I am “father,” all that I am and all that I do is bound up inextricably in my children’s experience of God, the Father. I am the lens, the set of constraints, the point of reference – at least for now, but perhaps for life – which shapes their expectations for God. I pray He will supervene and do greater things than I can do (as He has for me, despite giving me a tremendous father).
And what a thing, I think, that I can nevertheless look to my father and reflect on his depth of character and selflessness, and see in them a pattern from God. If the least thing can be said of me in this way, I will be happy.