Reflections on Fatherhood
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts
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A Tribute to My Father
Posted at 10:00 p.m. on Friday, April 30, 2004
Today is my father’s birthday. If he were alive, he’d be 72 years old today. But, I’m sad to say, my dad died of liver cancer almost 18 years ago. I hope they get to celebrate birthdays in heaven!
This tribute to my father could go on and on. But I’ve chosen to focus on one quality I deeply admire in him: his honesty. I can truly say that I have no memory of my dad ever telling a lie, even a little white one. Sometimes his honesty was almost embarrassing, because my dad would tell the truth when others lacked the courage to do so.
|Consistent with my father’s own commitment to truthfulness was his inability to accept anything less from me. I remember many times when he demanded that I tell the real truth, no matter how tough it was for me to do so. When I got my first speeding ticket as a teenage driver, I tried to blame circumstances, the slope of the hill I was driving down, and anything other than myself. My dad would have none of it. “Admit you were wrong,” he said emphatically. And then, when I did, he offered grace. I learned from my dad that if I told the truth, I wouldn’t be clobbered by the results.
It’s probably no accident that my latest book, Dare to be True, is a call to truthfulness. You could see this book simply as an outgrowth of the way I was raised. I dedicated this book to my mother, who also told me to honest and practiced what she preached. But I could just as well have dedicated this book to my father. I only wish my dad were around to see Dare to Be True and to realize the wider scope of his influence upon my life.
Often these days I wish my dad were still here on earth. I thought this often during March Madness. My father loved college basketball. In fact, while he was in college he was the manager of the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team. How I wish my dad had been here for this year’s NCAA championships! (If you don’t follow college basketball, let me add that both the men’s and the women’s teams from the University of Connecticut won national championships this year – an unprecedented accomplishment from my dad’s alma mater.)
Also, as I’m blogging away, I sometimes think how much my dad would have loved the Internet. He got into computers in the mid-1950’s, when a computer far less powerful than my laptop filled an entire room. Professionally, my father was a computer programmer, and then a computer systems analyst. In the early 1970’s we had a computer terminal in our home with a modem connection to a mainframe miles away – almost unheard of in that day. If my dad were alive today, I know he’d be thrilled about the power of the microchip. Who knows? My own dad might have his own blog!
I miss my father when I think about NCAA basketball and the thrills of the Internet, but mostly I miss his company. I can still remember what his voice sounded like, but just barely. I wish I could talk with my dad about the challenges I face in midlife. I wish he could know my children and that they could know their grandfather. I wish I could ask my dad the hundreds of questions I’ve thought of since he died. I wish I could tell him just how much his honesty means to me now. And, above all, I wish I could hug him and tell him I love him.
Begging Your Indulgence
Posted for Saturday, June 18, 2005
I wish to beg your indulgence today. You see, as I write this post, I'm not so much a blogger with lots of words to write, or a pastor with a mini-sermon, or a New Testament scholar with some biblical insights. Tonight I'm a father, a father who's trying to deal with the fact that his son is growing up . . . very, very fast.
The facts are simple. My son, Nathan, is getting ready to graduate from sixth grade, which in Irvine means that he's leaving elementary school for junior high school. Now the graduation itself isn't a terribly big deal to me because: 1) I've always been certain that Nathan would graduate from elementary school, and 2) I'm actually hopeful that this will be only the first of several graduations. Rather, the "big deal" part for me has to do with the realization that my "little boy" is about to leave "little boyhood" forever. And about this I have very mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I am sad. It's seems like only yesterday I would strap Nathan into the seat on the back of my bike so we could go explore the play equipment of some nearby park. Yet that yesterday is long gone. It lives on only in cherished memories. There is a part of me, I confess, that would love to jump back twelve years and do it all over again. Yes, even the late night crying and the diapers.
On the other hand, I love the man Nathan is becoming, and I love the opportunity to have a man-to-man friendship with him. For example, last night Nathan and I went to Batman Begins together. Not only did we enjoy a couple of hours of parallel play while watching the movie, but also we got to talk about it afterwards. Our conversation was the kind that I would have had with any of my close friends. It was a blast to talk with Nathan as if he and I were buddies who had just enjoyed a fine film together.
So I don't know whether to be sad or happy. In truth, I suppose I get to be both at once.
I'm well aware that I can't turn back the clock. There's really no point pining away after days long gone. But the memory of such times, and the feeling of sadness in their passing, reminds me to cherish the moment . . . this moment, this precious time. And this is a reminder I need. I find it so easy to forget about now and to focus on tomorrow, if not yesterday. So as I'm sitting in the movie theatre sharing a giant bucket of popcorn with my son, I need to step back and delight in the moment, to say to myself, "I'm sitting in this theatre, eating popcorn with my son, and enjoying Batman Begins with him. I am the most blessed of men!" Of course other dads can say the same thing. And mom's too. Here's where a bit of hyperbole is just fine.
All of these feelings were stirred up tonight because I attended the first of what I hope to be many graduation and promotion ceremonies for Nathan. Tonight's affair was at church. We who gathered celebrated the twenty or so sixth graders who were leaving elementary school to move on to junior high. Part of this celebration involved a slide show. Parents of the students had turned in a few pictures of their children, from infancy through the present time. These were gathered together for a seventeen-minute presentation. I expect many parents in the room had to choke back a few tears as we remembered what our children were look not too long ago, and as we realized that those times are gone forever.
I thought I'd share with you seven pictures from tonight's presentation. Four of them include my son. The other three are baby pictures that are priceless, even though I'm not related to the person pictured.
| Nathan (2nd from left) and his friends "thinking" at Legoland
Nathan (left) and a couple of buddies a few years ago
Nathan and me on our first backpacking trip together.
| Yes, this is my son.
One of Nathan's friends, many years ago. Don't you think this picture could be on the cover of some magazine?
One cute kid!
Don't you love the hat?
Thanks for indulging me a bit. I hope these pictures helped you to smile, or even to treasure for a moment the blessedness of life.
Cherish Your Children
Post for Father's Day, Sunday, June 19, 2005
Yes, I know that Father's Day is usually a day for children to honor fathers. But I want to break with tradition this year and encourage fathers in their relationship with their children.
When my son Nathan was a baby, I loved him dearly, right from the start. But fatherhood required much more adjustment in life than I had expected. I had to learn to get by with less sleep, to have much less time with my wife than I had been accustomed to, and to put up with lots of crying, especially in the late evening when I was tired and wanted to take care of, well, myself. So, though I was thrilled to be a father, I was also a bit resentful of all the inconveniences.
I was sharing my struggles with a group of men at church when a friend of mine named Mike overheard my griping. After I had finished he took me aside and said ever so gently but ever so firmly, "Mark, whatever you do, cherish your children. Cherish every moment you have with them. These are the best times of life."
Now that's good advice coming from anyone. But Mike wasn't anyone. He was a dear friend, and one who knew more about cherishing children than just about anyone. Let me tell you why.
Not too long after Mike got married, he and his wife Sara had a baby boy. But their happiness was soon confused by the knowledge that he had multiple birth defects. They loved him tenderly throughout his short life, but he managed to live only for a few months.
After their baby died, Mike and Sara went through all measure of genetic testing to see if it would be okay for them to have another child. When everything checked out, they had a baby girl, Jenny. Then, a couple of years later, they were blessed with a second baby girl, Katie. These were glorious years for Mike and Sara. No doubt the loss of their first baby helped them to cherish their girls.
But then, one day, for no apparent reason, Jenny became seriously ill. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, but there was nothing the doctors could do to save her life. She died of unknown causes. The grief Mike and Sara felt was felt was overwhelming. To have lost one child was profoundly tragic. To have lost a second was almost unbearable.
Naturally, Mike and Sara made sure that Katie went through lots of medical tests to guarantee her health. Everything about her seemed completely fine. But one terrible day, four years after Jenny died, Katie began to experience the same sort of physical symptoms that Jenny suffered before her death. And, once again, there was nothing the doctors could do to keep Katie alive.
It was about two years after Katie's death when Mike heard my kvetching about the trials of fatherhood. His gentle, kind, but passionate admonishment to cherish my children pierced my heart like the sharpest scalpel. And, like a surgeon, Mike helped to cut out some of the cancer of ingratitude and insensitivity that had been growing inside of me. In its place he transplanted a reminder that would stay with me forever: "Whatever you do, cherish your children. Cherish every moment you have with them."
I'll admit that there have been times I haven't followed Mike's advice, times of parental frustration, exhaustion, or just plain dullness of heart. But I have remembered Mike's words to me probably five hundred times throughout the last twelve years. They have empowered me to break out of my cocoon of selfishness and indifference. They have challenged me to step back in the good times and savor the blessing of being a father. Of all the gifts I have ever received as a father, Mike's is truly one of the most precious, because he has enriched my experience of fathering more than I can explain.
The very first time I ever held both of my children at once, in the hospital on the day Kara was born.
One of my favorite pictures of Kara and me. Mutual cherishing at the Wilderness Walk in Hayward, Wisconsin.
Nathan and me in the High Sierra above Bishop, California.
So how can we fathers cherish our children? This involves more than simply loving them. Cherishing is attentive love. It's intentional love. It's stepping back from our experience enough to see and value what's happening. It's seeing our children as unique, precious human beings. It's feeling joy in our times with them, even the times that are hard.
A couple of weeks ago my son, Nathan, and I were having an argument. It had to do with a homework assignment he was working on. Nathan had figured out a really quick way to get it done, one that required little effort and produced little learning. I was telling him to do the assignment in a way that would require more time, but that would help him to learn. As we argued, I found myself getting angry.
But then, by God's grace, I managed to step back a bit and watch what was going on as if I were an observer, not a participant. I saw my son growing up and learning to use his mind in a new way. Though his arguments weren't watertight, they were clever and showed a good measure of logic and creativity. I also saw my son trying to be his own person, even at the risk of standing up to his dad. He wasn't being disrespectful to me. But he was showing more gumption in challenging my ideas than I had seen in him before. As I stood back and watched what was happening, I found myself admiring Nathan's attempt to grow up right in front of my eyes. I even managed to cherish that moment.
And, just so they'll be no confusion, I won the argument, both with logic and with parental authority. After all, I'm still the dad, and I still have a bit more educational development than my son. But I also caught of glimpse of what's to come, of the day when Nathan will win our arguments, of the time when he'll be his own man who will have the legal and moral right to determine for himself how he does his homework, and everything else for that matter. That time will come, all too soon. So for now I'm going to cherish my son (and daughter!), to delight in the times we have together, and to thank God for the sheer privilege of being a dad.
To my friend Mike I say: Thanks for helping me to get my head on straight and my heart in gear. Thanks for your gentleness and directness. Thanks for letting your life experience, both the wonderful times and the tragic times, enrich my own. Thanks for helping me cherish my children, even as you still cherish yours.
So to all fathers out there, Happy Father's Day! Cherish your children! Cherish every moment you have with them! These are the best times of life.