What does it mean to be a dad? This is a tough question to ask on a day where we celebrate fathers. I think it is a difficult question because it is not something we can say objectively. Alright, perhaps the objective answer would be that a dad is the donor of half the genetic material to create another human being, but that definition sounds cold and objective and contrary to the idea of being a parent.
I have been thinking about this question a lot. Through camping with my Field Ed placement and watching the many children run around the woods, while I, a new member of the “adult” group, stood next to their parents watching them play. The experience was much like hearing sports commentators at a football game. The actions were analyzed and predicted: “Oh no, looks like little Johnny is getting Billy wet, five minutes ‘till she starts crying.” Billy, now soaking wet begins to cry. Sometimes the predictions came out wrong: “Oh look, little Billy just hit Johnny in the face!” And, sometimes, parental intervention was deemed appropriate: Parent runs over yelling at Billy explaining Christian non-violence to a 3 year old.
How do you know when to step in and when to stay out? Couldn’t the parent have kept them from playing in the water in the first place? Where is that line between putting your child in a bubble and letting them enjoy the beauty of the dirty, germ infested world? Decisions like these, big and small scare me to death as I look at the future (the very distant future). In churches today we celebrated Fathers day, walking the tight balance between lifting up fathers as metaphors for God’s love and compassion, and realizing that for many people, their father was non-existent, abusive, or a source conflict and pain. Being a parent is a tough job. One which many have failed at, but many more have faced with courage and grace doing the best they could.
Today, I have been thinking about my dad. I was fortunate. Both of my parents were amazing. My dad was always there when I needed him (even if I did not even realize that need), he encouraged and corrected me, and pushed me in ways I did not realize. He was certainly not perfect, no dad is, but he is someone I deeply look up to and respect, even when we disagree.
One night of the camping trip, all of the children were in bed, and the parents were sitting around the embers of the campfire and the crumbs of S’mores enjoying a little peace and quiet. One of the dads was describing how he was unable to participate in as many mission trips since he had a child. But then he paused and said, “but I think that my job right now is to raise my child up, so that when he gets older he can have a heart for missions.” I think that being a parent, raising a child, passing along your values and your faith is a ministry and is a calling. I know that while my dad would often rather be out in the hunting woods than sitting in church and singing hymns, he is for me an example of Jesus’ call to love, hospitality, and generosity. And I thank him for instilling in me those values and more. Being a parent is a life long ministry and calling. But, as with any calling, God is there to equip, guide and direct. I know that when that day comes (in the very distant future) when I am called to have children of my own that I will do so with the grace of God empowering me, and my own father’s example as a guide. Happy Fathers Day!