One of my favorite parts of the liturgy that I am privileged to preside over comes amid the eucharistic prayer: “It is indeed right, our duty and our delight, at all times and in all places to give thanks to you, O God.”
Duty and delight! That is life lived in the presence of a gracious and holy God. That is, for me specifically, fathering: duty and delight.
Fatherhood isn’t for the faint of heart or the self-absorbed. You must rustle yourself to respond to a crying baby at 3 a.m., even though getting out of bed is the last thing you want to do. You are called to place work and career in some kind of perspective that makes possible helping with child care, meals and homework, as well as being present at amazingly boring T-ball games and phenomenally hard-on-the-ears middle school orchestra concerts.
Fatherhood is duty. It’s a duty that recognizes the invitation to live in the heroic, even though deep down you realize that, truthfully, you are far from what you think a hero is.
But our children need tall cedars, to borrow an image from the prophet Ezekiel. They need tall and noble cedars under which every kind of bird can live and in which every winged creature can nest. They need our stability and strength. They need us to check our rampant desires and inclinations because someone young might be watching us.
‘Yes’ and ‘no’
Fathering not only limits the demands of the self, but also limits the demands of the self that is emerging within the child or children we are helping parent. As dads, we say not only “yes” but “no.”
Children need their parents to set limits, to refuse to give in to the cultural call to provide them with everything. We may even miss a T-ball game because other demands require it. Part of our duty is to make it quite clear to the child that life is not about him or her. That can be some of the hardest work of parenting.
It’s hard because our job, in a way, is to not only provide stability but instability. Fathers especially, if you listen to the Jungian psychologists, assume the role of kicking the child out of the nest, sending him or her into the world, away from the confines of the comfort of home. No matter how you look at it, such sending is unsettling.
As fathers, we nudge our children to risk, to leave behind the familiar and, in some ways, turn their backs on us — a process that ultimately is for the sake of the family. I wonder if Jesus had this in mind when he sent off his disciples into the world with challenging words about loving him more than loving mother or father.
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