Saturday, June 20, 2009


Fathers' Day

Today's Word:
Job 38:1-11 (God addresses Job after his long series of trials, tribulations, and temptations)
Psalm 107:23-31 (God's power in nature is evident in a storm at sea)
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 (Whoever is in Christ is a new creation)
Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calms the storm at sea)

(It's interesting to note that the passage from 2 Corinthians was featured last week at Cornerstone; and this week's passage from Mark's Gospel crosses my denominational fence - it's featured in both the Catholic and Methodist services. This post, however, may not have a connection with any of the readings or the pastoral themes which accompany them.)

Even though I'm a father, and have been one for over seventeen years, writing about fatherhood is not a simple thing for me.

President Obama has gone on record during his election campaign (and reiterated this last week) that more fathers need to get the message that their role in parenting is not minimal. I agree.

Mr. Obama's ideology in this regard comes from his background - his father abandoned him and his mother. I can't identify with that experience; my dad's been in my life as long as I've lived. Still, I can name other moms and kids who are growing up without the influence of a father. My dad lived without a father in his life from the time he was nine years old; his father died at that time in his life. And I also know others who live without the presence of a dad because they chose for some reason, to live for themselves rather than take on the sacrifices fatherhood demands.

I can't say my father and I are close. He couldn't make it to every last thing I was doing as a kid; he was working hard to support a family of six. He got involved in Boy Scouts as my brothers and I came of age - but he tended to take a back seat to all of what went on rather than one-on-one interaction. When I got into trouble, even though it was accidental, I got the interminal three-minute lecture about doing the right thing.

But even though I've had trouble seeing it, I know he's been there.

When I was ordained, he filmed the entire Mass and offered to make copies of the tape for my colleagues. When tragedy struck my wife and I, it was my dad who said I had "great faith." When our son was born, he was the first to arrive at the hospital to see his latest grandchild.

It's difficult for me to properly thank him, to demonstrate how I genuinely appreciate all he has done and continues doing. Words seem so hollow and empty, unable to express how deeply such feelings truly run. Would you like to know why?

We come to believe in God in a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Forget those sacred places of worship for a minute; forget all those ministers of the Church you refer to as "Father".  When you're growing up, and you're lucky enough to have a father's influence throughout your childhood, your father doesn't just represent God; let's face it, in those tender years your father is God. Then you reach some incomplete conclusions of what kind of work comes with the territory, and that the person you thought could withstand everything is vulnerable. And he's pushing you further toward adulthood and independence, even though it's too soon and not what either of you might want. And on top of all of it, he wants to remain in your life but doesn't - and can't - demand it of you.

My father taught me in his own way of example the basics to get me started in whatever path of life I wished to take. At first, like Luke's prodigal son, I went down paths that weren't so secure. But when love finally turned my life around, those basics were put to use.

It's not easy being a dad. Moms have this natural ability to nurture and bond with their children; dads have to cultivate this in their own way. We spend a lot of time wondering if our sons and daughters look up to us - and then have to do damage control when they realize you aren't God and can't give them their every desire (especially that video game or the Hannah Montana concert tickets they want more than anything else at the moment).

Make no mistake; even the best of us have wandering thoughts. But the 'real' man will not entertain such thoughts for more than a nanosecond. He will set all that aside. He will not force any agenda unless it is truly needed.

I posted back around Mothers' Day about the many sacrifices they make. Dads have to make sacrifices too; less obvious and made with little fanfare. Dads must work in concert and union with Moms who bear the brunt of raising the children. They must be ready to step in and do anything - even things in which they've had little practical experience - to build a strong sense of unity. Even if blessed with the 'traditional' role of 'the man of the house', he must listen closely to what his wife and children tell him, and at all times, strive to maintain a sense of compassion in all things.

To all of you dads out there, whether you know me or are just passing by, I hope you have acquired the stuff it takes to be devoted to this important vocation (or are in the process of acquiring it). I don't know anybody in real life who subscribes to the Homer Simpson model of fatherhood and is successful. Rather, it seems that the successful model requires a man of faith and prayer, especially when all seems most uncertain. He must be a rock of refuge and yet tender and compassionate at the same time. He must constantly work at looking at not only his own vision, but to see and accept that same vision in the eyes of his wife and children.

After seventeen years, I am far from an expert on fatherhood and parenting - and I am challenged by things many fathers will never experience. But I have experienced what it's like to be a dad. I wouldn't trade my life for anything. Thank you, Dad, for this blessed experience and for your love. It's that cultivated sense of love I am doing my best to share with my wife and pass on to my son.

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