Father’s Day is just around the corner so it seems appropriate to say something about being a father. Most sentiments on this day are presented from the perspective of the child. In fact, I could write an entire book with nothing but positive things about my father. However, this time I want to view the holiday from the perspective of a father.
The experience of becoming a father is securely fastened in my memory; unless you ask Sharon, and she can clarify some of my mistaken memories. I was a seminary student at the time, living in meager student housing. The best thing I can say about our apartment is that the rent was affordable.
I was returning from class for lunch when I saw Sharon walking toward me as I was passing the library. She had been to the doctor so she greeted me with the news that we were going to be parents – I was going to be a father.
To say I was excited would be an understatement, even though I typically don’t show excitement outwardly. However, the euphoria was quickly swallowed by thoughts of what do we do now. Seminary took every penny we had, and at the time, Sharon was our only source of income. She was doing social work on a government contract for a magnificent sum of $600 per month, more than enough for us to live on. If she had to stop working, or if the contract was not renewed, we would be in trouble.
However, I’ve always been a problem solver so the worry didn’t last long. The nine months went by quickly. We took the natural birth classes, all the rage at the time, and her pregnancy was uneventful.
When the morning arrived that the baby was ready to meet the world, I called our friend Bobby and asked him to take us to the hospital before class. We didn’t anticipate any issues. But things didn’t go as planned. Circumstances were that Sharon needed a cesarean, which we were unprepared to face.
That was back in the day when they were smart enough to keep the new father out of the delivery room, so they prepped her, and wheeled her off to surgery. I stood in the hallway, in a city a thousand miles away from any family, with not even a friend nearby. As tears rolled down my cheeks, a woman walked by, gave me a hug and said, “Everything’s going to be fine.”I have no idea who she was, but her words of assurance carried me for the next few hours, waiting to become a father.
The wait was definitely worthwhile. A seven pound, eleven ounce boy became the center of my universe, and I began to learn some things that were not attainable to me before that moment. In fact, I have learned many lessons because I am a father. I plan to share some of those lessons with you now.
I am not the center of the universe
In the summer of 1968, I spent several weeks in the hospital in a full body cast that was used to straighten my curved spine. When it reached a certain point (basically when I said, “I’ve had enough”), Dr. Matchett was planning to chisel some bone chips from my thigh, stick them next to my spine, and then wait for it to all grow together.
One day when the doctor came into my hospital room, my father was visiting. He and my father always got along well because they shared the common experience of World War II. After the small talk about my progress, Dr. Matchett raised a concern he had about the operation. He indicated there was not enough bone in my small, underdeveloped thighs to do the spinal fusion.
My first reaction was confusion and despair. How could he put me through this long ordeal and then not be able to do the operation? It seemed like a waste of the summer and a loss of meaning for all the suffering.
However, my father was not so quick to give up hope. Without any hesitation, he turned to Dr. Matchett and asked, “Can you take the bone from my leg?
It was a fascinating suggestion, and seemed to catch both me and the doctor by surprise. In order to understand the magnitude of his offer, you must realize that my father only has one leg. His right leg was amputated because of shrapnel wounds in the war. In essence, this was a one-legged man offering to have that one leg incapacitated for a time, in order to help his son.
Dr. Matchett seemed a little puzzled by the offer, and said that he did not know of any reason why it could not work, although he had never performed such an operation. We later learned that it was a very rare procedure at that time to take bone chips from one person and put them into another.
On top of the long ordeal of the summer, the spinal operation was really a simple process for me. It was not painful. On the other hand, my father’s surgery was very painful for him. He spent several sleepless nights and experienced a rather difficult few weeks of recovery. Because of the pain in his only leg, mobility became a major problem. I was told that he had to preach while leaning on crutches for several weeks.
From the moment of birth, all of us are convinced we are the center of the universe; the world revolves around us. When we are very young, we notice how people wait on us and respond to our every need. As we grow older, people go out of their way to make us feel special; birthday parties, gifts, trips to the zoo, big hugs, etc. Even into early adulthood it is hard to shake the notion that it is all about me. Then we get married.
Suddenly we are confronted with the new reality that there is now someone who is just as important as me. We want to give them everything, do everything for them, make them feel special. It is no longer just about me, but to be honest, it is now about “us.”
But, you see, it is still “us.” “Us” consists of me and someone else, but there is no “us” without “me.” Even though now I am sharing the center of the universe with someone else, I’m still there, and the world still revolves around me.
All of that changes when you become a father. Now your world revolves around someone else; someone who can’t help you, do anything for you, can’t even survive without you. Becoming a father is a seismic shift in identity.
My world no longer revolves around me. The center of my universe not only includes my three sons, but it also contains their wives and children. To be honest, many of the decisions I made as a father were actually harmful to me (financially, emotionally, physically) but they were beneficial to others.
I can honestly say that being a father has taught me that it is not about me at all.
How I live is more important than I thought
Many years ago, there was a television ad that featured a father and his young son. The boy followed his dad around all day, mimicking his every move. Finally, they sat down next to a tree, and the father lit up a cigarette. The voice then said, “Remember, someone is watching everything you do.”
It was a powerful anti-smoking campaign, presented by a true concept that every parent should know.
Pre-fatherhood, I lived most of my life making decisions on how that decision affected me. It was fine to be lazy sometimes, perhaps even to take shortcuts, or to change course directions. I felt much more free to enjoy the moment, get all I could out of life.
To give you an idea of how powerful this was for me, just a few days after my first son was born, I was working at a crappy job, not making much money, but it was the only income we had at the time. One afternoon at work, I began to think about Sharon and my new son being at home, having a great time without me. I got up from my desk, found the company owner, and quit. No notice or warning or anything, I just wanted to be at home.
But, after a short time of fatherhood, I realized that someone is watching me very closely to learn how to live. I didn’t want to have irresponsible kids so I had to quit being irresponsible. I think that was probably the last job I ever quit without having a better option.
As I watch my boys now, and they are all grown and have families of their own, I often see them doing many of the things they saw me do. They learned to respect their wife because they saw I respected their mother. They learned how to laugh with each and not laugh at each other because laughter is a big part of my life. They learned how to work hard because they saw me work hard. They are able to say, “I love you” to their kids because they heard me say it often to them.
What you believe is more important than how you believe it
When I was a young man, I was just like every other young person—I thought I knew everything that needed to be known in order to get life correct. Not only was I raised by strong, committed Christian parents, I was studious myself. I researched the basic doctrines, which confirmed many of the basic truths I had been taught all my life. I certainly was far from perfect, but I knew where to draw the line when it came to religious belief and practice.
Then I watched my boys grow up. I taught them the things I had been taught. Sharon and I worked hard to be consistent between our beliefs and actions. I anticipated that not only would they believe what I believed, but they would also act out those beliefs in the same way I lived. Boy, was I in for a shock.
I watched them develop their beliefs, and I am very pleased since they are similar to my own beliefs. However, they have often chosen different ways to live out those beliefs. As a consequence, I have learned that how you live your life is more important than what you say you believe. Who would have thought there is more than one way to do some things right?
When I graduated from seminary, I anticipated returning to Colorado where I was raised and pastor a church. My father was in a position to make it happen, so he asked if I was interested. He then sent me a questionnaire that he sent to all prospective pastors. I filled it out honestly, knowing there might be one or two things he would want clarified.
Sure enough! He called me and asked if I could change two of my answers. I told him I could not do so without being dishonest. He understood, but then he said, “I can’t help you get a church.”
The amazing thing about that experience is that it was never an issue in our relationship. He had taught me to love the church, and the truth is that I do love the church, but not in the same way he did. He also taught me to be honest, and this experience gave both of us an opportunity to practice that value. I couldn’t lie about my beliefs and he couldn’t ignore his beliefs just to help his son. We were both fine with that.
I never served a church in Colorado, but Daddy was very proud of my ministry and service to churches in Texas. In fact, whenever I had a question about how to do church, he was the only one I ever called for advice.
There have been a few times when the choices made by my sons stretched my thinking, but I’m ok with that. I feel comfortable saying that my boys have taught me as much about a life of faith as did my parents. My faith is much stronger than it was before I became a father when I thought I already knew the answers. They are followers of Jesus and I’m proud of each of them and the route they have taken. It wasn’t my path, but it is good, and it is their own. I’m good with that because what they believe is much more important than how they believe it.
For many years, I have said my goal in life is to be half the man my father was, and for my sons to be twice the man I am. I’m sorry to say my father is gone now, and I’m not sure I achieved the first part of that goal. But, it is exciting to see my sons excel. They are well on their way to turning the second part of my goal into reality.
I don’t really need a Sunday in June for me to remember to have a happy Father’s Day. I’m a happy father every day, and have been for the past thirty-nine years.