Last Sunday was Father’s Day in the United States. A day we set aside to recognize the male half of the combination that helped bring us to life. This day means a lot of different things for different people. For me, it’s a pretty significant day. Last year my wife and I were blessed with our first child in January and I got to celebrate my first Father’s Day. It was an amazing year where I experienced life in a whole new way. Most parents will tell you there is nothing like holding your newborn child for this first time and realizing from that moment on, your life will be blessed and challenged in ways you never imagined possible. You will do all sorts of things you had never thought or considered doing. I had the immense honor to reflect on my new fatherhood by giving this message to my church family at the time. Now, one year after that Father’s Day message and having survived one year as a father, I thought it might be good to revisit my ideas in that message. Over the next few weeks I’ll highlight the points from my message and share with you how I feel my planned “manifesto” for fatherhood has stood up after one year. I would encourage you to take some time and listen to the message too. While my family is probably a little biased, they tell me it’s one of the best messages I’ve ever given. Also, I cry a lot so…there is that.
For my goals as a father, I began at the beginning. Literally. The framework for my message was based in the initial verses of Genesis where we are given an account of God creating the world by bringing the natural forces in order and creating a space for life to thrive. Even in my early days as a father, I realized that bringing a child into the world was a unique opportunity humans are given to create and tend life along with God. When we reach out and pick up our child for the first time, we accept an invitation to step alongside God in tending for this new life. God did not just create the world and let it go. God did not just place Adam and Eve in the Garden and wish them luck. God daily walked through his creation and with his people. Being a parent, we get to walk with God in a similar process and relationship.
One of the most obvious things God does in the creation story that gave me a clue to what it would mean to be a father is that God speaks. God speaking in Creation is how things come to be, how they find their form, function and purpose. Fatherhood also brings with it the potential to speak LOTS of words. In speaking those words, I lay the groundwork for how my daughter will understand herself and experience the world. Every day I have the opportunity to speak to my daughter in many ways. Here’s three sets of words that I hope will make up the majority of what I say to my daughter.
Calling Her by Name – This is the most basic, yet probably most profoundly influential words I can speak to her. My wife and I spent a lot of time deciding what we were going to name our daughter. By naming her, we also take responsibility for her as we work with God for her well being. Her name identifies her as a unique person but also welcomes her into our family and our care. Every time I call my daughter by her name I acknowledge her as a person, a unique creation of God and enter into an intimate relationship with her. Calling her by name lets my daughter know that I, as her father, know her and want to have a relationship with her. Along with that comes the understanding that the relationship is a two way street. Since I first came up with these points, she has already started calling me “Dada”. She knows that I’m the go-to person to pick her up, take her outside, read her a book, find her shoes and get her milk. I know that when I call her by name, she *generally* comes running with a happy smile. Even before she can put together full sentences, we’ve already begun our relationship. By knowing each others’ names, we are not strangers to be avoided, but members of a family working for the others benefit.
Words of Direction & Forgiveness – Almost as powerful as calling her by name will be the words of direction I will give. A wise mentor once taught me the difference between punishment and discipline and I’ve carried that knowledge into my developing role as a father. If I choose to punish I attempt to make her feel “puny”, smaller and less powerful. Punishment establishes control through fear, power and even humiliation. This is the authority method used by most despots and dictators throughout history. Conversely, when we choose to discipline we make the other person into a disciple. Discipline seeks to bring the other person up, allowing them to believe they can be just like the person offering discipline. Authority is not derived from fear, but comes from making the most sense and demonstrating how we live. It’s interesting to see the power of setting an example versus just saying “no” or exercising some (seemingly limited at this stage) authority by telling her what to do. I’ve often had to tell her not stand or walk on the couch. My repeated instruction generally goes unheeded accompanied by a sly smile. This will then end in a couple different ways. Either I give up and she eventually moves on to something else ignoring all instruction or she stumbles and falls and learns on her own how bad an idea it all was. My perceived authority was ultimately trumped by her perseverance, my probable lack of sounding forceful enough and natural consequences of falling. However, just by watching my wife and I cook (something we love doing), our daughter loves playing in her mini-kitchen. She’ll pull pots down, stir and cook with wooden spoons, sprinkle in imaginary spices and pour pretend sauces and oils. When she’s done she’ll walk around offering us all tastes of her imaginary but totally gourmet meal. Just from watching us cook and our encouragement to play in her kitchen she has picked up things that she could never grasp at this age if we tried to sit her down and tell her what not to do. Discipline leads by setting an example, encouraging growth and developing maturity.
Deeply tied to an understanding of discipline is the expectation that I will also have to ask for forgiveness. I know I will hurt my daughter and let her down from time to time. Heck, I know I’ve done this already. She’s pretty quick and still pretty small. So far I’ve managed to accidentally bite her finger as she was pretending to feed me, I’ve kneed her in the head when I didn’t see her standing by me and I’ve put her on a slide that was a little to big and she was afraid to go down. Thankfully at this early stage she’s already forgotten those things and they won’t develop into deep emotional wounds. However, I still find myself needing to apologize for hurting her in ways I never intended to. Hopefully this is training me to be better for asking forgiveness when it may really matter and when she will not so easily forget. Both discipline and forgiveness go hand in had
This week was a lot about my part as a Father in her life. Next week I’ll discuss what it means for me to “see” her as a creation of God.