Thursday, October 20, 2005

Being A Dad: Trade Secrets

I always wanted to be a dad. Part of the reason for this is that I had two dads.

There was my father-father, the patronymic, the progenitor, the original source. Although he and my mom split up shortly after I was born, he was not an absentee father. He lived near my brother and I, and shared responsibilities for us with my mom. He really loved us. When he was dying of cancer it probably ripped his heart out to know he was leaving his two boys.

My father-father was always there for us. He was present at all the family events. He was our soccer coach and cub-scout leader. He read the Tolkien books to us and told us all kinds of stories from his childhood in Indiana He taught us how to swim down at Sanders’ Lake, and taught us how to shoot with a BB gun in the woods behind his cabin.

Then there is my dad, who married my mom when I was twelve and raised my brother and I the rest of the way. He is a straight shooter who taught by example. He is an engineer and a scientist, impressive as they come but hardly aware of it. He is a stoic man, the type who declines the pain killer when he visits the dentist.

So I lucked out and had two very good examples of how to be a dad. I realized how important it was to others to do a good job as a dad. So that is something I wanted to be, and this desire became stronger and more clear as I grew up.

There were other examples of fatherhood that I ran into along the way, good ones and bad ones. The ones that really stick in my head were the sons of failed fathers who were determined to be good fathers to their own children. What struck me about these guys is how evident the importance of fatherhood is even for these men who were scarred and disfigured by what they had experienced. For them it was the best revenge. They had suffered things that no child deserves to go through, and to get back at the world for it, they were going to be the fathers that their own fathers were not.

So by some miracle I met Rebecca. We were married and after a year and a half I got my chance at fatherhood. It has been almost eight years now and we have four children. I think I am finally starting to get the hang of it. Two things, really, seem to be the trade secret to being a good dad. The first is simple: be there. I cannot articulate it more than that. Just be there. You do not have to take them all kinds of places. You don’t have to be a super hero. You don’t have to have lots of extra money. They just want you. They just want you to listen. They just want you to be happy to see them when you get home from work. All they need you to do is read a book to them or throw a ball around with them in the back yard. As much of your time and energy as possible needs to be reserved for these small things. Because in the life and mind of a small child, they are bigger than Mount Everest.

The other trade secret is holiness, and that really feeds back into the first secret. If you allow God to lead your life, the way becomes clear. All the worries and misguided priorities are wiped away form the places in your mind they were cluttering up. And that allows you to see clearly how infinitely more precious the small things are. It allows you to appreciate the magnitude they really possess.

I think a lot about my father, both of them, and what it was that made them such great men to me. Part of it is that I think they realized in their own way these two trade secrets of being a dad.