I am thankful even to my own earthly father who abandoned me as a young child because he gave me the resolve never to leave. I realized as the years went by how easy that would be, to leave and to give up. There were certainly moments of lust and adulterous thoughts that could easily have led me to other women and the destruction of my marriage. Much of my tenacity in staying was simply being loved by a great woman, the attraction she continues to hold for me in her own personal beauty, and her patience and forgiveness in putting up with my failures.
My pride, my ability to fall into self-pity, my ability to be resentful and to hold a grudge, these were big threats to my faithfulness. It was the grace of God that led me out of the labyrinth of those dark moments, usually after some argument or conflict. Repentance, humility, the plea for mercy were the steps to reconciliation. For me these things weren't easy, they were impossible, without the grace of God and the love of my wife.
It was in the context of holding on to my marriage that gave me the place to be a Dad. I didn't have to love my children on the week-ends, I didn't have to pay someone else child support, I didn't have to suffer being bashed by my spouse to my children. She supported my role, my authority, and voice, my decisions, my discipline, and my love. We were able to keep restraint on the other's temper, the other's laxity and permissiveness. We kept each other from killing the children.
Though my fear is that through my failures I have in part ruined them. Certainly these wonderful children God gave me, one through adoption and the other three through natural birth, have seen some of my sin, some of my spiritual failure. They have experienced my harshness and fierce anger, my bellowing menace. They have suffered from my absence and neglect. They have not enjoyed as much patience, tenderness, gentle instruction, affectionate encouragement and positive reinforcement as they needed and deserved. I am amazed that they turned out so well.
I knew always that they needed more than me. If God was not their Heavenly Father they would not and could not have what they needed to face life, to endure hardship, to deal with their fallen-ness, their own depravity. They would not have the One they needed to fall back on when even their earthly parents failed them, as we surely have, and do.
As a pastor, as an Army Chaplain, I stole from them to give to others. I was not always there, I missed games, birthdays, celebrations, important and historic events. I made them go without because I chose to live a lifestyle, accept a salary, to do a ministry that deprived them of certain material things. I made them sacrifice with me, I made them live my values. I am honored that I have never heard them damn me for it, I am proud that they seem to have lived their lives unashamed of me or my calling. I am so incredibly grateful for their love.
I rejoice in the memories of every hug and falling asleep on my chest moment when they were babes. I still am thrilled as I remember their jogging with me, climbing a mountain with me, wrestling with me, laying on my back as I did push-ups. The moments when my grown daughter lies her head on my shoulder when we sit next to each other are exquisite. To hear them laugh, have a sense of humor, to be insightful, discerning, critical and even sarcastic at political hypocrisy and pretense makes me admire them. For them to be sincere in their faith, in their prayers, in their love for God and their passion to see the church be what God calls it be makes me not only proud, but impressed with them as saints. I am thrilled to have my family for a posse of people committed to justice.
I hope and I pray that I have not damaged them too badly, that they will not repeat my failures, that my modeling of parenting would make them want to be better than me. In their adult years I don't want to fail them as their friend, the giver of sage advice, the listener, someone who can make their heart relieved and proud when the see the smile of approval on my face, or a look of forgiveness if they need it. I hope I will succeed as a grandfather to their children.
So as we come to Father's Day, let me be the one to say thank you to my children. You gave me a chance to be something great, to hold in my arms something of the future, and great potential for the world. You gave and give me joy, and whether you are near or far in place, you are never far from mind and heart. You have helped define me and give me meaning, and if you ever do anything great (and I expect that you will), or even just pretty good, then all glory to God!