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June 18, 2007

Remembering the fourth commandment


Yesterday, Father’s Day, we honored our congregation’s fathers after worship. Under trees in our outdoor gathering space, several women served ice cream cones for all. Children ran in and out of the crowd, weaving a cheerful tapestry of familial connection. Several dads complained good-heartedly about expanding waistlines, but then got double scoops, I noticed.

“Mmmm, this is good,” said our son, Evan. And it was. We sat on the edge of a low, stone wall, watching my husband talk to members after worship, seeing him succumb to the butter pecan cone he’d first declined. “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!” Evan yelled.

All of the dads wore special “Holy Family Lutheran Church - Men of Truth” hats -- a gift from our congregation. Men of truth, truthful men, I thought, turning the phrase over in my mind.

One truth is that although my husband grew up seeing his father very infrequently, he’s deeply involved in the daily lives of our children. Another truth is that it’s not easy to be an involved dad—a parent who honors their children. It takes work. And it’s scary—kind of like Bible study if you’ve never cracked open a Bible. I’ve heard men say they learned how to be a dad from fathers and other men who took the time to nurture a relationship. But others have said they could’ve used more role models in how to raise sons and daughters. I was moved to tears to hear my husband once say in a sermon that he’d learned a lot about being a parent from his mom, his pastor, his dad and ... me.

Growing up, most of my girlfriends had absent or silent fathers, who cared but didn’t know what to say or avoided difficult issues. We, their daughters, were going through puberty and sudden bodily changes; wondering about sex, friendships and purpose; and encountering serious social pressure to be thin, sexy and define/align ourselves thusly.

I had it pretty good, even though I complained about my dad being strict or working long hours. No matter what I’d asked Dad would be honest. If he was embarassed, he overcame it well. He didn’t panic or say, “Go ask your mother.” (I’d already asked her, too, of course!) He seemed unafraid that I’d do something crazy with all of this information and stop following their rules, because he expected those rules to be respected. It was what I needed: to be told the truth and honored as someone with power to make decisions—even sometimes, the wrong ones.

Now I see my husband doing the same thing with Evan, giving him boundaries, truth and an acknowledgement of the profound personal power wrapped up in a three-year-old body.

Telling the truth, honoring your children, is one of the most important things any dad, any parent, can do.

Thanks, Dad. And thanks to you, too, honey.

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