Monday, June 16, 2014

On Being A Father

Yesterday was Father's Day and it's a day I enjoy far more than my birthday and not just because it doesn't mean I've added another year to my age. I love being a father. I remember the first time I held each of my sons: one when he was born and the other when he was eight. In both cases, a strong bond of connection was made and I had the very same thought, "This child is mine."

Being a father means more than being a provider. To be a father means to be a teacher and a role model, which is not an easy task. Their eyes are always watching you and they pay far more attention to your actions than they do your words. In my head, I am Atticus Finch and Bill Cosby all rolled into one full of humor and deep insights, but, most likely, I'm neither but find myself faking it as I go along, hoping less to share my mind as I am to not losing it. Sometimes I think the boys are playing tag team to see who can push me over the crazy cliff. There are times I am not the calm voice of wisdom, but the one who yells, often in frustration or I am the one who threatens punishment like some Old Testament prophet warning that the end is near.

So, when I find myself on the ragged-end of irritation and quickly approaching bursting into bombastic threats of punishment and doom, I have to do what I often tell the boys to do, walk away, take deep breaths and count. If that doesn't work, pray. Parenting requires a lot of prayer. And it requires them seeing me pray. Often I feel like my prayer life swings between either "help me, help me, help me" or "thank you, thank you, thank you," but it needs to be so much fuller and richer than that. Prayers need to focus on more than my immediate needs and the kids need to see that. They need to see me praying for the needs of others, including their needs. And I do pray for them and I pray with them every day.

Fatherhood means you'll blow it sometimes. And you will have to go to your children and say, "I'm sorry."

Not easy words, but necessary ones. This requires being honest with them.

Just like there are times they have questions, not easy questions but often questions that cannot be answered by popping off whatever happens to pass through my head, but taking the time to reflect on what they're asking, considering and really thinking out my answer before replying in a way that they can understand, depending on their level of maturity (though I never talk down to either of them) or, sometimes, admitting quite frankly, "I don't know the answer to that question." This can often lead to open discussions with my kids where we both learn something about each other.

I love talking and listening to both of my sons. We laugh together and, there are times, we cry together. Both are equally important. I love being with them and spending time with them. They can be a delight and a joy. There are times when all I do is thank God for them. And, on the flip side, there are other times I just pray that a band of gypsies will pass by.

Sometimes being a father is overwhelming and I feel unqualified for the task, but it's in this sense of inner helplessness that I pray and I strive to become qualified to be the man these boys see as "Papa."

Being a father is not a job, but a privilege.

Not that being a father to two boys isn't work, but it's work with a purpose.  One of the greatest investments in my life has nothing to do with stocks and bonds, but in a much greater future: Benjamin and Cava's.

As we were walking through Target, Cava grabbed me in a hug and said, "I love you, Papa."

"I love you, too, Cava," I smiled and paused before asking, "Why do you love me?"

"Because you're my teacher," he replied.

This answer not only melted my heart, but it got to the heart of what my role as a father is. And the funny thing is, while I'm teaching them, I'm teaching myself, and they are teaching me, and, ultimately, God is teaching me. I am learning patience, humility, humor, to not always plan but to allow life to happen because it can be so much more amazing that way, that I cannot solve every problem they have and to let them make mistakes on their own because that helps to shape who they will become, to stop and enjoy the moment because those moments will be gone in all but memory and I want to have those memories, to be playful, to shower them with affection, and to encourage them in their endeavors as they strive to decide who they want to become. As I'm teaching them, I am becoming a better parent and a better person.

Every night, I go into each of their rooms while they are sleeping, kiss them on the head, and silently thank God that I am a father.

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