Reflecting on Fatherhood around Father's Day

Reflecting on Fatherhood around Father's Day

Gabe & sonsFather’s day is that once-a-year that I get to focus on one of my favorite people: Me. Not me specifically, but my whole crew; My highly trained team of corny-joke-cracking, mess-making, fix-it-myself-or-die-trying guys who wouldn’t trade that soiled diaper for all the cash in the world. Fatherhood: It’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it. To truly appreciate the scope of this job and all it entails, you have to start at the beginning…

It was a comfortable spring evening.  My wife, Deborah, and I had settled down on the couch to watch The Mentalist for what was to be the last time without children in the house. We had been married for seven years and had thoroughly enjoyed our habit of avoiding channels like Sprout or PBS Kids.

But as this episode played, Deborah started squirming uncomfortably, adding in the occasional groan. Given that she was carrying our one-week-overdue first child, I realized the gravity of the situation. So I did what any loving husband would do: I asked her if we needed to go to the hospital now or if we could finish the show first. In that moment, my continuous streak of 7+ years of perfect husband-ness died a fiery death.

Fast forward to the hospital about 20 hours later (which, in my defense, would have been plenty of time to finish my TV show). Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that childbirth is a miracle. Au contraire mon frère. This is no miracle. It’s inspiration for horror movies. In the 70’s, audiences were terrified at the creature-bursts-from-stomach scene in the movie Alien. As near as I can tell, it was actually an accurate depiction of childbirth. I just hoped that my family would have a better outcome than the characters in the movie. In space, no one can hear you scream.

Thoughts like this helped keep my mind occupied, and settled my stomach while I watched the attending doctor attach what appeared to be a medical-grade toilet plunger to the top of the baby’s head and start pulling. At that point, I longed for simpler times. Preferably the 1950s. Back then, new fathers were expected to wait in the lobby with a pocket full of cigars proclaiming, “It’s a boy!” Then after some time, a nurse would present a fresh and clean baby through the safety of a glass window.

Suddenly a voice brought my attention back to the events at hand. It was the nurse asking, “Dad, would you like to come see the baby’s head?” In a sheer panic I said the first thing that came to my mind: “No, thanks.” Clearly, that perfect husband streak wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon.

With one last push by my wife and a final tug on the plumbing supplies by the doctor, it was done. A team of what appeared to be pink and blue ninjas whisked the baby to a tiny table where they each took turns trying to make him cry. My guess is whoever made him cry the loudest was the winner, because every time one of them was successful, they’d congratulate themselves with statements like, “Listen to those lungs!” and “Wow, he’s loud!”

Then one of the ninjas fixed her sinister, masked gaze on me. Since I happened to be the only available parent who wasn’t currently being reassembled by a doctor, she threatened to hand him to me! I was terrified while they packaged him up in tiny blankets. The ninja must have sensed my unease, because she said something to me that immediately quelled all my fears.

You’re probably thinking that she had profound words of insight or some sage nursely wisdom. It was nothing so deep. She wrapped baby Jude up in just such a way and handed him to me with these words: “Here is your baby burrito.” That was all I needed to hear. I had no more fear. I’m a 220-pound man with the appetite to match. If there’s one thing I know in this world, it’s how to take care of a burrito…

Every so often the evening news tries to mix it up a little bit by taking a break from reporting on the dire state of humanity and reporting a heroic deed instead. Maybe they saved a bunch of passengers by getting them off of a bus while never letting it drop below 50 miles per hour. Then suddenly the hero finds himself looking sheepishly into TV cameras. It’s painfully obvious that they’d rather be saving a kitten from an erupting volcano than enduring this spotlight. So many times their statement is elegantly simple: “I was just doing my job.”

I never fully understood that response until after there was a child in my life.  From the moment that nurse handed me my new burrito, I was in love. I didn’t even understand my capacity for love until Jude arrived. It would be months or years before he could reciprocate that love in some way, but I didn’t care. I’d only known him for 5 minutes and I was already head over heels.

I think that’s part of what the biblical story of the Prodigal Son is about. For anyone who may not be familiar with it, here’s the short version: A son demands his inheritance from his father, and then goes out and blows it all in every irresponsible way you can imagine. After a while, he finds himself destitute and homeless with no other choice but to come crawling back to daddy. The father sees him coming down the road and runs to greet him with open arms. He immediately throws the son a welcome home party. Cue the happily ever after.

But wait… enter: the older brother. He gets mad at dad because he’s Super Son, but dad never threw him a party. Yet here dad is throwing a glorious shindig for a complete mess of a little brother. The dad simply tells him this: “‘My son…you are always with me, and everything I have is yours’” (Luke 11:31).

I’m sure I’ve been that prodigal son to my dad.  I’ve definitely been that son to God. There have been times where I’ve been given everything I needed for success and I’ve blown it—simply squandered it all away. And yet when I come crawling back, I don’t find condemnation; I find the warm arms of a father who just wants to hug his baby boy.

I’ve been the older brother, too.  Sometimes it burns me up to see grace lavished on someone who I don’t think deserves it. I throw my tantrum only to have God tell me, “Dude. Don’t be jealous. What I’m giving to your brother you’ve had the whole time.” In my personal theology, God uses the word “dude” a lot.

But fatherhood; It’s seriously the coolest thing I’ve ever done. It has been a chance for me to play the good part of the Prodigal Son story; the dad. I get to lavish grace on my kids.

Jude is 6 now, but he’s pretty sure he’s 30. He’s got opinions and ways of handling things that he will not easily be dissuaded from. In his short tenure on this planet, he has angered me, frustrated me and been the source of sleep deprivation. Every time, the thing I look forward to most is when I get to open up my arms and let him know that he is my son no matter what. When we are celebrating something about his baby brother, Aaron, Jude needn’t be jealous. All that I have is already his. With that reassurance, we can get back the parts of life that truly matter, like playing Plants vs. Zombies or watching Phineas and Ferb.

Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way that he should go. Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Best. Job. Ever. What other job is 2 parts fun, 1 part snuggling and 3 parts teaching wisdom gained over 40 years of experience? The only one I can think of is motherhood, but they have their own holiday. We play, we laugh, sometimes we fight. This job is simultaneously rewarding and frustrating. Stressful and joyful. Fun and irritating. But no matter what’s happening, whether it’s good or bad, I’m having the time of my life. It’s the only job that the thought of the long path ahead actually excites me.

Father’s day is right around the corner. It’s a day set aside to celebrate the dads in all of our lives. What an honor and a privilege to not only be a dad, but to have a day where the whole nation takes time to be grateful for our “dad jokes,” “dad bods,” and everything else that’s part of the gig. To all those who are taking a moment to appreciate what dads do: thank you so much. It is truly wonderful to be appreciated.

But don’t be surprised if a couple of us seem just a bit sheepish in the midst of the attention.  I bet if you ask your dad, “How’s it feel to be such a great dad?” he’ll have an elegantly simple response: “I was just doing my job.”