I had not really thought about doing a post on father’s day until late Sunday afternoon. I had returned from walking the dog with two of my three young children. (The third was at a birthday party.) As I was looking in my pocket for the house key, I found a piece of a candy bar wrapper, four small screws, my phone, and a bag for picking up dog poop. I thought to myself, “this is what it means being a father: never knowing what you will find in your pocket.”
The candy bar wrapper was from when we had to stop at the gas station for gas. We were driving back from a park, they had all had good behavior, and we were on the precipice of total child meltdown if they did not get snacks. We unbuckled, held hands across the parking lot, and fought over what to get until we cut a bargain in the store, “if you have candy now, there is no dessert tonight”.
It was me bending to their wants, the park, and their needs, the food. This is much the same reason why we have a dog and why I had a bag for dog poop in my pocket. I was not very interested in getting a dog. It seemed like just one more responsibility. The pound got a litter of fox hounds however, and, right after Thanksgiving last year, we had a puppy. The kids loved it, even when it ate their toys. Their friends loved the dog. My wife loved the dog. Nine months later I love the dog (even though it still seems like a lot of work). I would not have chosen this, I would probably rather just rest and watch television, but it is a good thing.
Yet the contents of my pocket were not just about me placing the desires and demands of children and family above my own. The screws were left over from replacing a downspout on the side of my house. It was work that needed to be done, and whatever the kids might want had to wait. My youngest, the four year old, was the only one to come and watch me (actually he came to watch the drill). The other two, I am not sure what they did but nothing was broken in the house when I came back inside.
Finally, on my phone, I get my email from work and keep track of the various tasks I have to do as chair of the theology department. The kids will ask me to do something when I am checking in, and I usually explain to them what I am doing and why they need to wait. It helps them, I hope, to understand something of the larger world around them. (To be honest, this is the way I apply Julie Rubio’s idea of the “dual vocation of parents” to my life.)
In the papers on Sunday there was a number of reflections on fatherhood. Many of them focused on the active role fathers now take in raising their children. Fathers now spend three times as much time with their children than those in 1965. I thought that my pockets revealed something of this new active role. Everyday I was balancing the needs and wants of my children with showing them that there is work and responsibilities beyond their own horizons.
That was my first thought. My second thought was, this is not distinctive of fatherhood. This is what all parent’s do, mothers and fathers. In fact, these characteristics are not even just about parents but are also about the life of discipleship. We are often called to put the needs and wants of others before our own but also to be faithful to who we are, to the person God created. Fatherhood, parenting, and discipleship require sacrifice but this is not their essence. Rather they are all about trying to incarnate what is good and true and beautiful. My children need to have food and clothes, to play at the park with their friends, and to know that there is more to life than these goods.
My final thought was to wonder what was left of fatherhood. Was it just a way of being a disciple? In a way, yes. Discipleship is about learning to love your neighbor, strangers you meet, and your enemies. It is about learning to love not in an abstract fashion but in the midst of where you are and who you are with. Fatherhood struck me not as some category that sets me apart or above or in opposition to others. Fatherhood was something more descriptive. It was about my relationships, specifically my relationships with my children, my spouse, and my God. It is a way to learn to love, the way I (and many others) have been called.