The Influence of a Daddy

February 10, 2014

Richard face-timed us tonight from California. His smile was wide and the palm trees swayed gently in the background, but his eyes were only looking for the face of his child, young and round and unsure of the wonders of technology. This is the very first time in our entire marriage that Richard has travelled for the work week. It is usually my work that takes me away. So the roles are reversed and it’s weird and wonderful and weird all over again all in the same minute. I admire those parents who do the single parenting thing full time, or for months at a time while their loved one is out of the country.

I suppose it’s all part of growing up. Along with the way Richard’s hair is starting to grey on the sides and his smile lines show now even when he’s not smiling. 

There was a time when he didn’t smile. When all you would see as evidence of past joy were the lines by the eyes and the mouth. When he was so caught in the darkness of loss and fear and anger. All those experiences I knew well too, and yet during that time, we couldn’t talk about it. We couldn’t enter into each other’s pain because it was too hard. And so we simply plodded along in silence. And I wondered if I would ever see his smile again. Would he see mine?

He’s had his own journey with God- a wrestling and a fighting, facing his own demons and finding his true identity, a cold shoulder and a disgust, a questioning and a learning to accept silence- his own walking in the wonder of what life means now. Not an easy journey. Never easy. But the path we had to travel.

I remember Richard when our son was born. He had sat or stood or walked or waited beside me for a whole day, 24 hours, willing with each tick of the clock for our son to arrive. He watched the monitors and silently shared messages with his eyes to our doula and doctor. Protecting me from the concerns that labor was happening for so long, too long, and yet protecting the vision of our son’s birth that was so foremost in my mind. His first iPhone photo of our son matched the last ultrasound picture we had gotten just short week earlier. And I cherish our photographer’s capturing of a tiny hand grasping tight his daddy’s finger, our son’s first secure place after leaving the only home he had known and not yet returned to my arms.

Richard is a phenomenal father. Gentle and kind, cherishing his son’s life at each instant, attentive to the moments that string together into years. I know who he is thinking about when I see a softness in his eyes- a look reserved only for this child. And I don’t know what it is like to be a father, but I imagine that if it is even a small bit of the bond between a mother and child, it must knock him off his feet every single day.

Recently, I read an article that was written to highlight a book (Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, Oxford Press) about how faith is passed down from generation to generation. In the data, part of what this book showed was the relationship a child has with his or her father influences their faith. So often, in evangelicalism, we are taught that having a father who is “leader,” “a pillar of the church,” “a faithful man” is all that matters. But the research in this book shows that all that “exemplar living” matters very little without the warmth and bonding a child desires. That kindness matters more than power. That sincere and constant interest in a child’s life matters more than memorizing scripture. That warmth and love matters more than instilling commands. That character means more to a child than reputation. That love instills more in a moment than weeks of worship and Sunday school. It’s not that worship and scripture and good living doesn’t matter. It’s just that they are not the only things that matter. Without a heart of gentleness and passion and hope and love, kids struggle to grasp the theology and doctrine and to then let it become something more- something alive- in their lives.

In our culture, we often discuss the pressure girls encounter to fit into particular looks, stereotypes, actions, dress, etc. And since I am a female, I know this personally. It happens and it’s true. Women face immense pressure. But boys do too. In this world, boys too are pressed into a mold and told what they can and cannot be, how to respond or not respond, what makes a man and what doesn’t. We alienate them from particular feelings, from particular experiences, from settling into their identity. We teach boys strength without softness. Sex without intimacy. Power without self-control. Anger without love. Even in the Church, we have done both men and women a disservice by alienating them from the very things that make them created and blessed as a human being under the care of a good God.

No wonder, this recent study that prompted this book speaks of a father making a difference in instilling faith. Because it’s there that children get to see exactly what it looks like to love Jesus and love others well. Not because a father follows all the rules, but because he is not afraid of intimacy and not afraid to show affection… for both his God and his kids (and hopefully the mother of his kids). I believe that mothers have influence too. That teachers and leaders and grandparents and others who care influence as well. But to have a dad who exudes a childlike love for God and a passionate affection for his kids matters. A lot.

And I’m glad to know my son gets that. That as he watches his father love him well, he also watches Richard receive love from the Heavenly Father. That as he learns of his father’s struggles with trusting God, he learns that it is okay to search and doubt and question and seek. As our son walks in the footsteps of his dad, he gets to see Richard learn to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. As our son witnesses his dad’s passion and grace for him, he gets a small taste of what it is like to be loved by God.

I’m also glad that I get to see that face I married- older than it was and a bit more haggard- smile again, laugh again, eyes dance with delight again. And to watch him learn to walk with God in newer and newer ways, without all the answers and sometimes in silence, learning with me what it means to trust the I AM.

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