The Fall of Fatherhood
I sure do enjoy seasons. I like to think that they're all good in their own way. Now, whether it be human nature to look forward to something new or my impressive adaptability, I specifically enjoy the transitions. Spring breaks forth with the smell of fresh-cut grass. Summer brings the sun and freedom for school kids and pale legs. Fall sneaks in with scents and flavors that make us feel cozy, and Winter introduces a chill warmed only by sweaters (the best of shirt options) and family meals.
There is one particular season that I am especially fond of. I love Fall. Well, it would be more accurate to say that I love the idea of Fall. I believe that my relationship with Autumn is best summed up by my good friend, Justin Bieber (Real human, imaginary friendship), when he asks the question, "Am I in love with you, or am I in love with the feeling?" I say this because, for those of us who live in Southeast Texas, the season following Summer and paving the way for Winter doesn't quite exist. My dear friend, Matt Weatherly (Real human, real friendship) recently reminded me of something wise I said long ago: Fall takes a while to catch around here.
For the readers who may be outside of the US, Autumn is a season which officially begins in the last weeks of September and runs through the middle of December. It is, generally, cold and comes with change in foliage. Ours does not. Green leaves remain on trees and slowly wither until, without warning, they disappear leaving only dead things. We don't let it stop us, though, as we adorn our homes with pumpkins, our coffee with pumpkin, our shoes with boots, our bodies with sweaters, and our cities with Fall Festivals. It's as if our entire region masquerades as "somewhere nicer" for Halloween each year.
Seasons are wonderful, usually, because they give us clear checkpoints. It's nice to have Spring come each year and proverbially nod at you from across the room as if to say, "Good going kid. You made it through another tough winter." They help us to set goals, to grow, and to prepare. I've learned that life is much the same way. Seasons can bring joy, excitement, new opportunities, and, with them, new questions. Seasons of life have a way of even helping us with challenges, though, because they set us up for unexpected mentorship.
When we graduate, all of the adults come with their advice. We go to college and advisers guide us through decisions. We get engaged and receive Encyclopedias of unsolicited advice about marriage from people with varying success in the area. We, then, become pregnant and these wonderful ladies (such as my amazing wife, Abigail) become subjects for every repressed emotion and story every other woman on the planet ever experienced. For dads, the experience is much nicer.
As Abigail and I began to plan for Oliver, the thing I heard the most from other dads was the same thing I'd heard throughout my life from dads who loved Jesus: "You think you understand the love of God now. Wait until Oliver gets here. All of a sudden you get it. You understand how much He loves us." I had always looked forward to being a dad and I could not wait for this amazing, supernatural, revelation moment. Here's the interesting part: I'm still waiting on that moment!
Doesn't that sound awful? Please don't misquote me, I dearly love my son and I'm having the time of my life. There is, quite literally, nothing in the world I'd want to do for the rest of my life more than be a dad. The issue is that I was hoping for this intense, sacred, momentous, "I"m a dad" moment. It didn't happen. Abby was pregnant for 39 weeks, we took multiple classes, I read at least one book, we were fully prepared, and yet, still, fatherhood just began as the winter does here in Texas - suddenly. I remember when I first met Oliver. There was no time to process. I just knew he was mine and that I got to keep him. I assumed he'd need to be cared for.
As we loved him, cared for him, laughed with him, trained him and watched him grow, I waited for that "I understand how the Father God feels" moment. Nothing. If anything, I was learning how unlike the Father's love my love was. I was actually learning more about how amazing His love was for me than mine was for my son, as He forgave me for the frustrating thoughts and moments I had with this gift He'd given me. I've continued looking for that moment throughout the past 8 months, and I think I might be on to something. I think that there's a part of the Father's heart I have possibly tapped in to.
I so enjoy Oliver. He's a champion. I'll believe in him forever. This guy is the funniest person I've ever met. He's kind. He is amazingly intelligent. I am already so proud. I look forward to training him and watching him grow, and I really do believe that I'll be able to launch him into the world and let him fly one day. I am already learning that I can't be the center of his world for the next 5 years, let alone his entire life.
Every once in a while, though, while we're playing or cuddling or laughing, his eyes lock onto mine. Those big blue eyes couldn't fit another thing in them because he's pulled in so close to my face. He smiles his big smile and just holds it there. To be honest, I get bashful because of the eye contact. If I could bottle these moments they'd sell for millions. There is nothing I will experience in this life like that. I'd give anything to keep him there. I don't want him to move. I finally get it.
Intimacy. We're close just to be close. We're just looking at each other. It's like he's literally peering into my soul and it's all I want from him. He doesn't need to do anything. I just want him with me. It's my favorite part of being a dad, and it's so shown me the love my Father God has for me, but do you want to know the sad part? I think I'd been avoiding the connection that God was trying to make because I'd been avoiding intimacy with Him. I didn't want to admit this joy, because it would mean owning up to withholding it from my heavenly Father.
As I look back on these eye-to-eye moments with Oliver, I recall asking God to show me something about His love. I remember now the Father whispering to me that these moments were His favorite part, but disregarding it because it was elementary. Might I surmise for us all, friends, that it is in fact that simple? All He wants and all that we need is time with Him.
Jesus made it plain in John 17. "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." LIFE IS KNOWING HIM! How simple. How profound. Are you angry and hurting? Spend time with Him. Are you addicted? Spend time with Him. Are you worn out? Spend time with Him. Are you a miserable minister? Spend time with Him. Be open, be vulnerable and BE WITH your Father. No self-help needed. Books are nice, but there will always be books (Ecc. 12:12). People can help, but they can't heal those places.
Give Him the honor and do yourself the favor of spending time in His presence. No agenda is necessary. Just be. Especially to my men: be tender, be vulnerable, and be open to Father God. This morning, as I was sitting with my community of believers at church, listening to a message from my pastor, I began to weep. I wasn't even sure why, but I was so glad. It had been a long time since I'd experienced that tenderness. I felt the warmth of the Father's smile on me in that moment. He was smiling because I had opened my heart to Him. It's all He wants from you. I see that now. Maybe I'm not too bad at this Fatherhood stuff, it just takes a while to catch around here.