In God’s good providence, a Father’s Day sermon by Chuck Swindoll was re-aired today on my dad’s 73rd birthday. I share it with two purposes. One is to enter into, but minutely, the complexities of what it means to be a man and father in our day and to applaud the men and fathers in my life – what a job, what a responsibility! What would we do without you?
The second purpose is to personalize Swindoll’s message a bit and to thank my dad, Ray, for being the man and father his family needed. As Swindoll says, we didn’t (and don’t) expect you to be perfect. We couldn’t live with you if you were, because, as you may have noticed, we are not perfect ourselves.
Swindoll begins with the musings of Ohio journalist, D. L Stewart on Why Fathers Hide Their Feelings. Stewart relives a conversation he had with his 14 year old son from the back seat of the car as they drove home from a speaking engagement that Stewart had just given and which concluded with generous applause. His son said, “I really admire you, Dad… to get up there and give a speech like that. You always know what to say to people. You always seem to know what you’re doing.”
Stewart explains to the reader that he didn’t know what to say. He blushed, he thanked his son, he told him someday he’d feel comfortable speaking to an audience, etc. “But what I really wanted to say to my son was that his father was not all that he appeared to be, and that being a man is frequently a façade.” Stewart writes:
It’s different for fathers than it is for mothers.
Motherhood is honest, close to the surface.
Mothers don’t have to hide what they feel.
They don’t have to pretend.
When there are sounds downstairs in the middle of the night, a mother is allowed to pull the covers over her head and hope that they will go away. A father is supposed to put on his slippers and robe and march boldly down the stairs, even if he’s pretty sure it’s the Manson family in the kitchen waiting for him.
When the road signs are confusing and the scenery is looking awfully unfamiliar, It’s perfectly o.k. for the mother to pull over to the side of the road and ask directions from the first person who comes along. A father is supposed to know exactly where he’s going, even if he has to drive 200 miles out of the way to prove it.
[At this point, Swindoll couldn’t help but embellish: Isn’t that funny? Mothers always have the right to stop and ask, but fathers…”oh no, I know where I’m going.” He’ll drive right into the Pacific Ocean – “I planned this! I wanted us to see this part of the beach,” he’ll say.]
When the electricity goes out, no one questions a mother who simply lights a few candles and waits for a repairman. But everyone wonders about a father who doesn’t pick up a screwdriver and head for the basement, even if he doesn’t know his fuse box from a sump pump.
Mothers can admit to the real estate agent they don’t know a thing about fixed-rate interest and balloon payments and second mortgages. Fathers, however, are supposed to nod their heads and pretend it all makes perfect sense.
Mothers can bang the lid of a new jar of peanut butter on the floor until the lid is loose enough to open. Fathers are supposed to twist the lid off with their bare hands without getting red in the face.
Mothers who lose their jobs are unfortunate. Fathers who lose their jobs are failures.
When a mother gets hurt, she may want to swear, but she’s only allowed to cry. When a father gets hurt, he may want to cry, but he’s only allowed to swear.
I should have told my boy, that the reason his father, like a lot of fathers, doesn’t admit his weaknesses, is because he’s afraid someone will think he’s not a real man. More important, what I should have said to my 14 year old in the car that night, is that someday when he’s a father, he’ll feel fear and self-doubt, and pain… and that it’s alright.
But my father never told me, and I haven’t told my son.
“And so, Dads, it’s alright. I have several jars at home I still can’t get open and it is frightening when I lift the hood of my car… to do anything but say, ‘My, that is interesting.’
“But, hats off, today, to all the men who have endured childbirth without anesthesia. And to all the men who have stayed awake throughout a piano recital – hats off. And hats off to all the men who have placed the keys into the hands of a child with a brand new driver’s license and then raced upstairs and plunged to your knees in prayer that somehow they will find their way back.
“This is a day to say (if you have him on Earth), ‘Thank you, Dad.’ But if you don’t have him, to look up and say, ‘Thank you, Father.’ Thank you for a man who wasn’t perfect, but he did invest some things in my life for which I am a better person.”
Here, allow me to personalize the good pastor a bit:
“Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6).
In my father, there is that sense of a thumbprint… that character glory. There is that indelible mark, Dad, that you’ve left on your children, that mothers cannot leave. I can’t explain why, but there is something about the glory that passes from father to child that is different than between mother and child.
Oh, how valuable is the bonding in the young years, how important that there by flexibility in the growing years, how invaluable that there by credibility and integrity in the later years. Throughout the process, your children have learned: “Our father is the glory of our lives! He’s the one who taught us, modeled for us, lived with us through x, y, and z!”
Certainly, it is true…
The glory of your children, Ray, is their father.
Thank you, Dad… and hats off.