When I was a young man in the late ‘80’s, I longed to be a father. But If the truth be known, I had no idea what that meant. When our firstborn entered this world in the summer of ’89, I soon discovered being a father meant taking the night shift. I walked the floor with a baby that had colic. My mother told me to hold him closely, because the warmth of my body would help his little tummy feel better. I don’t know if there was any truth to her counsel, but I listened. Every night from 11:00 on I held him ever so close. During the first 6 weeks of his life we walked the floor in the middle of the night. Something happened during that short period of time. I “became” a father.
I was so young then. And I was incredibly naïve. I only knew one thing. I did not want to be like my own father. That is really not an indictment of his character. His father died when he was only 2 years old. He did the best he could with virtually no experience on which to draw. My father passed away when I was 15 years old, so that left me a little lacking in the experience department as well.
In looking back over the past 28 plus years, I realize in some ways I have not been like my own father and in other ways I mirrored his very character. My father was too busy to hang out with his kids. In sharp contrast, I was engaged with my three boys to a great extent. I played in the floor with them when they were small. We built forts out of blankets and dining room chairs. I took them to the park. I took them with me to the lumber store and to every other place I was going. We camped out in the tent in the backyard. And I built a fort for them in the backyard with turrets for water guns. And when they got older, I volunteered at their schools. And I ate lunch with them in the school cafeteria. When high school rolled around, I accompanied them on school trips as a sponsor.
But there is a dark side too. As a father, I struggled to be emotionally present. I became just like my own father. I was too young and too full of pride to acknowledge such a weakness. Naturally, I have regrets. In recent years, I have viewed that challenge in a different light.
I realize now that being a father is a calling. It’s an identity thing. One of my primary roles in life is to be a father. And that means I must be willing to fully engage. I choose to give of my time and energy. But more importantly, I am also willing to give of myself emotionally too. Being a father also means letting your guard down in a spirit of openness. The fatherhood calling is not completely fulfilled until that occurs.
As I have purposed to be more open in recent years, something unexpected has occurred. Opportunities to be a father to teens and young adults continue to pop up on a very regular basis. It’s a weekly thing. I had no clue that I was surrounded by young adults that are “fatherless” for a variety of reasons. They seem drawn to me. It’s humbling. I fully realize that such doors could not possibly open as long as I remained emotionally disengaged.
My 56th birthday is next week. My hair will soon be solid gray. I am perceived as “old” by some groups. But at 56, I know that my calling as a father is as vibrant as ever. I want to be a blessing to my own children. And I hope to make up for the grievous mistakes I made in previous years. And I am eager to be a father to those that are searching for such a person in their life. I am wide open. I refuse to let pride or insecurities impede my paternal calling. They certainly did in the past. And… I know what it is to be fatherless. That reality just fuels my calling. In 2018, I long to be father. And thankfully I have a clue what that means now. I actually find myself “becoming” a father.