I remember the very moment I was changed into a Dad. None of the experiences of my wife’s pregnancy triggered it. Certainly not the ultrasound, which to me was more like a series of inkblot tests. All the fun little belly kicks were only signs of things to come. Instead, the moment when I felt the mantle of fatherhood upon my shoulders was when a nurse placed my daughter into my arms for the first time. The weight of that little burrito-bundle was like a conversion experience. Moms have months to sense the burden easing onto them, to feel the responsibility of motherhood literally upon them. Dads must abide a little longer; but then (to paraphrase Graham Greene) the door opens and the future comes rushing in. Having spent a lot of time working with kids, I thought fatherhood would be easy for me. I thought my fame as a dad would be meteoric. What I have discovered is two-fold:
First, it is hard; and Second, I often make it harder.
We receive children with open hands, but every day we face the temptation to tighten up. Many dads try to wring-out good behavior and grades and performance. Instead, fatherhood, like a golf swing requires a sure but gentle grip. Pros say you should hold a golf club like you would a small bird. Not a bad image for the hands of a father. I am learning to loosen my grip again.
A dad’s influence is huge, but not instant. It must run a marathon, not a sprint. Fathers should be looking for signs of flourishing along the way, but the real legacy of fatherhood for good or ill, comes through “a long obedience in the same direction.”
As I look back, I recognize the best thing my Dad ever did for me. It was not a particular event, rite of passage, or word of encouragement, though all those were important. It was not something that required superdad powers—leaping tall expectations in a single bound. It was something he did over the course of decades. The best thing my Dad ever did for me was to love my mom.
Pressure’s off, young dad. Be available and love well.
Father’s Day began in 1910 when Sonora Smart Dodd sought to honor her father, William Smart, a widower who helped care for her six children during the civil war. She won the support of Calvin Coolidge, but it was not until 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation making the 3rd Sunday of June a national day of recognition, called Father’s Day, signed into law by Nixon in 1972.
By the numbers:
70.1 million fathers in the U.S.
46% of fathers are divorced.
30% never married.
6% are widowers.
15% of single parents are male.