The Presence of Fatherhood
Written March 1, 2017:
One night about five months ago I lay in bed with my head spinning. It had been spinning all day. I had slacked on my normal routine of a morning and afternoon walk and staying inwardly relaxed, instead letting myself get caught up in peoples’ excited attitudes at work. I don’t feed on excitement like some people do; I need periods of calm. Now I wasn’t relaxed and it was hard to stop thinking of work. When I get into this state I’m not even thinking cohesive thoughts. I just have fragments of memories, observations, and work-related ideas streaming through my head.
Thankfully, though, I didn’t allow the background distraction of my mind to dominate. I let it be, since I couldn’t get rid of it, and tried to play with the baby in Chloe’s tummy. The little one had been getting bigger and stronger. Also, within the preceding weeks the baby’s nervous system had undergone some big developments. Like other times before, that night I gently poked, squeezed, and shook my wife’s tummy. For the first time, the baby responded noticeably. Chloe and I could both feel the little one moving and kicking in response to my movements. It was the first time I played with my child and I can’t describe how that made me feel. It moved something very deep and strong in my heart and reminded me of the love and affection I have for the little one.
Fathers Image God the Father
No father is perfect. I think each of us has felt the disappointment of not having our fathers’ attention and approval. Perhaps we are learning to ride a bike, peddle for a whole ten feet, and look up in exuberation for approval, only to find that dad wasn’t watching! Perhaps we draw something, or make something, or tell papa a story, only to find that his attention is only half-focused on us. There are also those who grow up with the ache of having no father or father-figure or, what I presume is worse, an abusive man in the house.
In a way different than mothers, fathers are meant to show us God’s love. I’ve even heard it said that the view we have of our father tends to be the same as the view we have of God. If you grow up feeling like you are fighting for your father’s attention and approval, odds are you won’t expect God to be particularly interested in you. Why is this not as true for mothers? Well, after going through pregnancy and birth with Chloe, I think that mothers tend to be more naturally connected to, intimate with, and loving towards their children. The father doesn’t have the same natural connection; he has to work at it more. I think a mother’s love is meant to reflect God’s total devotion to us, but a father’s love is meant to reflect that God doesn’t have to love us, but He choses to. This means a father’s choice to love has an enormous impact on the children! A father’s love is paramount in forming his childrens’ view of God as a loving, trustworthy person, as well as their self-confidence and inner strength.
Fathers need to be Present to their Families
Back to that night after my hectic, undisciplined day… Like many people I’m sure, I struggle to really be with my family. My biggest distraction is work. Including my commute, I spend almost half my waking time invested in work. I put so much into it that it’s easy to fall into the habit of strategizing for work when I’m at home. This is something I need to be very careful about. I spend so much time and energy on something outside of the home; the time spent with family is vital. It’s paramount I have enough self-discipline to be able to give my children my full focus, without half my mind somewhere else. It’s paramount I take time to watch them; they shouldn’t have to fight me for my attention.
Our culture is in a crisis of fatherhood. In the Bible, God calls Himself “father” to communicate that He is loving, trustworthy, and always there for His children. How many people have a different experience of fatherhood? Some fathers are abusive, many have simply abandoned their families. Perhaps even more pervasive are the men who, while often with the best of intentions and a strong devotion to their families, have fallen into a subtle trap. They get caught up in one thing or another and aren’t really present to their kids. It’s not enough to “do” things with one’s children, your mind must be with them too and you must think of them throughout the day, trying to keep before you what they are going through. It really harms a child to grow up not feeling of the utmost importance to his/her father.
Perfection Isn’t the Goal (Priority Is)
I’m quite imperfect. What gives me comfort is the knowledge I don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t matter if I come home exhausted, frazzled, or excited about work. It’s okay if I have fragments of thoughts running through my mind. As long as I put priority on my children, give them attention and affection, in short, just be with them, aware of what they are thinking and feeling, then I’ve won. In a small way, in my little corner of the world, I can instill in my kids that they are loved and worth respecting, and I can try to exemplify for them the love and devotion God the Father has for each of His children.
None of this is to downplay the role of the mother. Believe me, I could talk with admiration for hours about the ways my wife loves our baby. I was reflecting on the important and different calling that fatherhood is.