We fail a lot in our roles as fathers. Just as the line of demarcation for an average hitter to be considered a great hitter is .300, somewhere in the great scorebook for fathers there is a number or statistic that helps to determine success or failure. Since our failures are often many I suspect the threshold is a lower number. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself and dads everywhere. A lot of our success can be attributed to simply being there and being supportive. Being a good dad does not always require the grand gesture; often it is enough to be there and present “in the moment”. It’s a shame that so many don’t get it and seem to have bought into the idea that the word “Father” is an F-bomb or similar four letter word.
And so we fail, which is another four letter word. But every great risk and great venture involves failure. No less so does being a dad. The old axiom about “great risk equals great reward” is never more true than in the realm of fatherhood. In a Father’s Day address delivered in 1986, President Ronald Reagan said
Fatherhood can sometimes be walking the floor at midnight with a baby that can’t sleep. More likely, fatherhood is repairing a bicycle wheel for the umpteenth time, knowing that it won’t last the afternoon. Fatherhood is guiding a youth through the wilderness of adolescence toward adulthood. Fatherhood is holding tight when all seems to be falling apart; and it’s letting go when it is time to part. Fatherhood is long hours at the blast furnace or in the fields, behind the wheel or in front of a computer screen, working a 12-hour shift or doing a 6-month tour of duty. It’s giving one’s all, from the break of day to its end, on the job, in the house, but most of all in the heart.
In the 2005 U2 hit song “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” Bono sings of his relationship with his father who died of cancer in 2001. Near the heart of the song’s bridge Bono’s vocals soar as he cries out “You’re the reason why the opera is in me.” It gave me chills the first time I heard it as it has hundreds of times since then. Whatever form our “opera” takes there’s a good chance “it” was placed there by our dads. A week ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a terrific link titled 50 Rules for Dads of Daughters. I love each and every one of the fifty. I’ve done more than a few of them already. I risked and the following rewards came.
This weekend I spent the weekend in Overland Park, Kansas, with my middle son and his baseball team. They were entered in a tournament so we spent the weekend in a hotel with the rest of the team and parents. We had watched his big brother play a double-header in Omaha Friday afternoon and drove down I-29 afterwards. He was awake and alert the entire 3+ hour drive, listening to the Eagles CD I was playing, and couldn’t wait to check in once we arrived at the hotel. I hastily took the photo to the right with my phone to try to capture what I knew was a “moment” in his life.
As I said my oldest son was playing in Omaha with his high school team all weekend. My wife and daughter stayed home because Sophie’s first softball game was Sunday. And at approximately 2:20pm on Sunday I was watching one son pitch in the semi-finals in Kansas while my oldest son was pitching in Omaha and my daughter was “pitching” (they play t-ball at her age but she was positioned defensively where the pitcher would be). Modern technology allowed me to know all of this as my wife texted me from the softball game and a fellow baseball dad sent me updates from Omaha.
Recently Jonah wrote me a note on the back of letter of encouragement I had given him.
I love you so much. You are a good daddy. Thank you for chearing me on. And sometime we can play catch with a baseball.
When he and I returned late last night from our weekend Sophie had stayed up to greet us. She followed me around the house as I brought things in from the car with a piece of paper in hand. When my hands were finally empty she leaped into them and handed me this note:
Those are my rewards.
While at the moment I am succeeding overall with my younger children (amongst some failures) I am below whatever that magical batting average is with my oldest. At best our relationship is currently strained as he asserts his independence and desires to set out on a path I am not necessarily against, but I do not fully endorse without having a Plan B in place. Words exchanged by both parties. Words unable to be taken back.
Sometimes there are no notes on pieces of paper and a father’s heart bleeds. The note may come in the future. Never close the door. Heed the example of the prodigal son’s father, who when his son was yet at a distance “saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) Never stop scanning the horizon. Never cease a father’s watch. Lord knows my own dad has done the same for me on many an occasion.
I do encourage you to read 50 Rules for Dads of Daughters. There are similar lists out there for fathers of sons. Seek them out. Live them. Give them.
Give of yourself. Put the opera inside them whatever form it takes.
Exchange risk for reward. In this way you will be associated with the greatest four letter word of all.