Sunday is Father’s Day, and I have been thinking a lot about fathers lately. Like Mother’s Day, this holiday often raises a flood of mixed feelings. One friend of mine is mourning the recent loss of her very precious dad. He was probably, next to her husband, her best friend. Others mourn the father they always wished they’d had—or the one they never really got to know. Still others find themselves wishing that their children had a father in their lives—or a different father, one who really cared about his children and let them know it.
Yet many of us have been blessed to have wonderful fathers. And blessed to be married to men who are fabulous dads. The two dads I’ve known best—my own father and then Woody, the father of my children—have both been wonderful fathers. And as I celebrate them in my heart this Father’s Day, I am struck by what very different personalities fathers can have and yet be great fathers.
What is it, actually, that children need most in a dad? Put in the simplest words, I think kids need to know two things: That Dad loves God, and that Dad loves them. Fathers may communicate these things in a host of different ways.
When I think of my own father, whose birthday was this past week and who went to be with Jesus nearly five years ago, three pictures immediately spring to mind: a living room chair, a dining room table, and an open door in a study at the top of the stairs. Some of my earliest memories involve mornings when I would get up early and tip-toe into our tiny living room. There, on his knees at a worn chair in the corner, would be my dad, beginning his morning with his God. It was the way each day started. And we knew how important his God was to him. I never knew just what he talked to God about. But I bet my brother and I figured into the conversation.
A second memory is the lively conversations that occurred around our dining room table in another house when I was in my early teens. My brother and I both tended to have lots of questions about all kinds of things—and strong opinions as well. I particularly remember one time when I had listened to a teacher who seemed to know all about the end times, and could explain everything with pictures and charts as well. As I was enlightening my family on this mysterious subject, my dad, who was a Bible scholar, an ordained minister, a professor, and a highly educated man, listened respectfully for a really long time before he began to ask me questions. Of course I couldn’t answer them, and the dangers of oversimplifying were rapidly revealed. But Dad never rejected our questions. He listened, he asked questions of his own, and he loved us with a no-matter-what love through it all.
In a third house where we lived in my older teen years, I remember Dad’s study at the top of the stairs. The door was always open. You could tell that no matter what he was doing, he was just hoping that my brother and I would pop in on our way up the stairs and flop into the chair opposite from him and tell him about our day. He always seemed so interested in what we were doing, so proud of us, cheering us on through any and every thing that came along. Clearly, my dad loved God deeply. But I wonder how much of that love he would have passed along to us if he had not so clearly loved and cared about us.
My own children are fortunate to have a dad who loves God with all his heart and who loves them, his children and their spouses and his grandchildren, passionately. Yet Woody’s ways of expressing this have been completely different.
Instead of being on his knees at a “prayer chair” in the morning, he has been in the hospital making rounds. But before he leaves, he always makes his own rounds through their rooms (in the past, patting their sleeping bodies; now, patting the stuffed animals representing them in the rooms they sometimes visit), praying for each of them and their families. And he prays for them on the way to work, often Jesus’ “John 17 prayer”—that they will learn to live well “in the world but not of it.”
Woody was not often home at dinner time, either, when the kids were young. Nor was he sitting at a desk in a study when they came home from school. But he was there for them in the deepest sense of the word—and they knew it. They have memories of his showing up at nearly every game they ever played—not usually at the beginning, but as soon as he could possibly get away from his office full of patients. They have memories of Saturday morning trips (several a month, usually, the ones not on call) to the rocks off the coast of Gloucester to make imaginary villages in the tide. To the Concord River to throw pebbles or branches as far as they could into the current. To the sledding hill to attempt “death defying” descents (almost literally, in one case with Lars) no matter how icy the slopes. Daddy was fun! Daddy was a little dangerous at times (What mother would take her kids up on the roof one fine Saturday?!) But above all, Dad loved God. And Dad loved them. And they knew it!
My father and my children’s father: Two very different men. But in completely different ways, they gave their children the same message: I love God, and I want you to. And I love you—always and forever.
Which brings me to the really good news about Father’s Day. Whatever dad you—or your children—do or do not have, you (and they!) have a Father who will love them always and forever. Perhaps the verse Woody often typed and laminated for our kids when they were in college, on mission trips, or moving into a new venture sums it up: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for he shields [them] all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12)
Sounds like a Father to me!