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