Sunday, June 19, 2011

Of Fathers: Past, Present and Future

Daddy and I at Port Credit, Mississauga, 2010
      As I write this, I think of my Dad, currently in the middle of some afternoon backyard gardening, as he tends to his little vegetable patch and Mummy looks after her flowers at their house in Toronto. Today is Father's Day, and though it may seem unrelated, much of what I write is tied to the thoughts of my post of two weeks ago, "The Struggle To Grow Up." I've been given much cause since then to start thinking more carefully about the significant and serious issues of life that I've reflected on previously - maturity; life; death; love; relationships; romance and marriage; faith; responsibility; manhood; adulthood. I don't think I've thought extensively about fatherhood, except in the poem that described my fathering by God - "My Father's Son." Today gave me occasion to think some more about the matter. Though neither earth-shattering or profoundly revelatory, I write this more for my own sake and reinforcement in my mind than anyone else, though I hope others will find something helpful too.

    I'm deeply proud of my father. And his father before him. It is true that they have made their share of mistakes. It is also true that I might have differences with some of their views or approaches to life. But it is also true that I love them nonetheless. I'm deeply grateful for the legacy and example that they have left me - of hard work that has educated and elevated a family out of impoverishment; of endurance through trial and hardship; of taking a stand for truth in difficult circumstances; of character over superficiality; of the sacrifice of the temporal in light of the eternal and most of all, the supreme value of knowing Christ, without which everything else totters on shaky ground.

    Being a father is not easy. I have understood that fact of serious admonition from the life of my own parent. I wish I could say that I have been a model son, but I cannot, because I have not. There is much that I have done over the years to make his life more difficult than it needed to be, and supplied him with more grief than he needed to have. Too often has Christ had occasion through His Spirit to admonish me with the words, "A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother" (Proverbs 10:1). And much to my own sorrow on those occasions have I been convicted, of knowing that I have been the "foolish son" in those verses. I have been indolent, disobedient, rude, arrogant, boastful, self-centred, selfish, un-reachable, un-teachable, un-willing, un-wise, un-emotional, un-exceptional, un-lovable. But he has loved me anyway. "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers", says Proverbs 17:6. As much as my father is my glory, I sometimes find myself wondering if I have been his in turn - and I know that on many occasions, I have not. I say this only with sorrow.

    Being a father is not easy, because it is more than about sperm donation. This simple truth was rammed home more than 10 years ago through one of the most abject stories I have ever read, in an interview given by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who starred in "Buffy The Vampire Slayer". Reluctant to discuss her father, her perspective of him was quite matter-of-fact:

    "I might have been an immaculate conception. You never know. My father, you can just say, is not in the picture. I'm not being deliberately evasive about him, it's just that there's so little to say. He is not a person who exists in my life. Just because you donate sperm does not make you a father. I don't have a father. I would never give him the credit to acknowledge him as my father." [1]

    It was as sad to read this then, as it is now. Some reflect with sorrow and regret because of the grief they have dealt their parents; others like her reflect on the grief that their parents have dealt them. I don't know which is more tragic, though ultimately it is God who has been violated through it all. It is equally sad to know that there are millions more, those who have begotten progeny and then checked out of their lives, as well as those who have been begotten and checked out of the lives of their parents. Being a father is not easy, because it is more than about contributing half of one's DNA; sperm, egg and DNA alone do not contain the lessons that will chart the course of the life that comes to being.

    Being a father is not easy, because it also implies that there is a wife and mother. A speaker an event on love, courtship and dating that I attended recently summed it up very neatly - one does not simply create children out of the blue, as if having slipped and fallen down the stairs. "Is there anyone among you who has a complete reproductive system?", he asked. The implication was clear - it takes a man and a woman together to have children. And men who will be married one day will have to acknowledge the fact that as much as their children have a father, they have a mother too. And as much as the culture would have us believe that it is wrong to have heavy expectations placed upon us that must be lived up to, the fact remains that a father has expectations placed upon him by a mother - to be there; to lead; to love; to care; to discipline; to provide; to die, if necessary, that their children might live. Being a father requires bearing the weight of responsibility - and that weight is heavy.

    Being a father is not easy, because it will mean facing the pain of sin - both his own and those of his children. Sinning against another and being sinned against hurts; but the hurt dealt by one's own flesh and blood carries a sting unlike any other. "This hurts me more than it will ever hurt you", said my Dad on the numerous occasions that he has had to discipline me while growing up - and those occasions were numerous indeed. So was the hurt that he felt on account of my sin. My Dad would tell me in later years that through fathering me, he learned much of God's own love for him. I only regret that it was done with much hurt and sorrow that he felt because of my various transgressions against God and himself.

    Being a father is not easy, because it means being God's man, not Man's man. In their book "Every Man's Battle - Winning The War On Sexual Temptation One Victory At A Time", Fred Stoeker and Steve Arterburn wrote the following few paragraphs introducing a section titled "Man's Man or God's Man?":

    "When it comes down to it, God's definition of real manhood is pretty simple: It means hearing His word and doing it. That's God's only definition of manhood - a doer of the Word. And God's definition of a sissy is someone who hears the Word of God and doesn't do it.
    Have you ever known a guy whose beard is so heavy he uses two blades to shave in the morning - one for each side of his face? By late afternoon, his four o'clock shadow is so thick he has to shave again. Four blades in one day! For those of us who are "smooth men," we hold this tough guy in awe.
    But God cares nothing about that. When God looks around, He's not looking for a man's man but for "God's man." His definition of a man - someone wheo hears His Word and acts upon it - is tough, but at least it's clear.
    Meanwhile, the results of failing to be a man according to God's definition are always tragic. The fact is, as Galatians 6:7-8 tells us, God is not mocked: You do reap what you sow, both to the good and to the bad."

    As I think of all this, I look at myself and those around me, who I hope will one day be married to wonderful women and have to become fathers ourselves. How will we do? Will we be any good? Will I be any good? I think of my roomate, Paulman, out in the living room. I believe God is doing much to prepare him to be both a good husband and father one day; there is much that I have learned from him during the time that we have been roommates. I will be very happy for him when that day comes.  

    I did not buy my Dad a card or present for Father's Day - a tie, a book, or an expensive car. I did not take him to dinner, though I look forward to the occasion when I will be able to. I did not get to spend some face-to-face time with him, save a phone call that I anticipate in a little while when he will be free. But I do give him something that means much to me - a promise. A promise to remember his lessons clearly; to contemplate our legacy carefully; and to follow our God faithfully. I believe it is the most surpassingly meaningful thing I can do as his son. Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

- The Wisdom Seeker


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Struggle To Grow Up

    Something is happening to me. 

    It's difficult to articulate what exactly that is, except that I know I'm changing on a very fundamental level. There's been a sensation of increasing uneasiness over the last four months, a growing tension that I've noted in both heart and mind, struggling to assert itself. At times, it feels like a silent, faraway whisper; at others, it is a shout in my mind, even as everything else around me seems silent and peaceful. But it is always there, a nagging frustration. In and effort to make sense of things, I thought I'd write a bit about it here - for the sake of finding clarity for myself and others who find themselves in the same perplexing state of affairs.

    I'm pretty sure the major shift began after the death of my friend Yeswanth that I wrote about in in "Death Came Calling....and Took My Friend", and the subsequent posts. It definitely began to accelerate after I started working at the end of January. I suppose it would be logical to attribute this to the experiences of my first job out of university, first paycheck, first car, first experience of serious buying power, etc. to contribute to the shift in attitude and perspective. But this would be scratching the surface of the proverbial iceberg at the best, and a myopic mis-diagnosis at the worst. The truth is that although much seems to be progressing well on life's various fronts (and there is no denying that I feel both blessed and most appreciative of what I have been given), I also find myself irritated at times.

    A major part of this has been due to my vexation at areas of immaturity that I find myself constantly struggling with trying to grow out of. It seems so hard to deal with them - no sooner have I felt that I've experienced growth and enforced discipline in one area of my life or personality that an other rears its ugly head. It's been so often that I've found myself feeling guilty at having wasted my time in frivolous and pointless pursuits that don't seem to be helping me grow and change faster; to become the kind of person who can take up the task that I feel called to, inspite of all that keeps tripping me up. And that brings me to one of the things about myself that so irritates me: 

I think in some respects, I've been too soft-hearted for far too long.

    I hate that, now that I've articulated it clearly - succumbing under self-consciousness to being a people-pleaser and 'yes' man. It feels as if sometimes I'm so easily moved and made to feel guilty, easily cornered and made to feel as if I need to justify and explain everything I do and say to everyone who comes along and demands an explanation - how did you...? when? where? what? with who? why? which? I hate the tension and fear of conflict that arises inside in those scenarios. And I dislike even more what I've sometimes done as a result - become passive, unwilling to open my mouth and articulate what I want; gone along with things that I don't really want to do; wasted time in frivolous and superficial pursuits as a result; chastised myself and wallowed in regret for my spinelessness at the end of it all.

I hate this. This has to stop. It can't go on any longer, or it'll cripple me.

    But if the irritation at my immaturity is one face of the coin, then the perplexing consternation that comes with the repercussions of change is the other. Because I am undoubtedly changing, and change has inevitable consequences, which make me wonder if I should feel apprehensive about the results. Things that once enamoured me before seem inconsequentially mundane now - I've found myself giving away a lot of "stuff" that once seemed so fascinating, and anticipate giving even more away as the change increasingly sets in. But that's not worrisome; I'm happier for it. It's the gradual distance that I find occuring between myself and people I know - a divergence of humour, interests, goals, priorities, thoughts, topics of conversation, and lots more. I'm surprised sometimes to find myself unmoved, uninterested, bored even, in the midst of events that send visible ripples of excitement through people around me. As I write this, I'm reflecting on the strange feeling over the last few days - as if I'm in a little kayak, partly floating, partly paddling away from the giant ocean liner that those around me are on, heading in the direction of an unexplainable call from somewhere deep in my heart.

What is this feeling? What is happening? I wonder if I should be inspired or worried about this.

    In any case, there is only One Person I know who has the answers I need. I'm reminded of two examples of His promises to those who have put their trust in Him:

    "'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:11-13, ESV)

    "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 

     What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:28-35,37-39, ESV)

Papa, I know that you can hear me. I need to change, I need to think, and I need answers. Help.
- The Wisdom Seeker