It’s daunting for me to even begin writing about Fathers’ Day … I’ve often said that fatherhood is probably the most meaningful experience in my life, and my debt to and love for my father goes beyond words so fast that it’s hard to know where to begin, and even harder to know where to stop.
So approaching this Fathers’ Day, I’d like to mention three simple things that I’ve experienced both with my dad and as a dad.
First, my dad exemplified “joie de vivre” — and this was one of his greatest gifts to me. He loved to work (he was a gifted and caring doctor until his retirement); he loved to learn (he was always reading medical texts and listening to cassettes of conferences he wasn’t able to attend); he loved to sing (I remember lying in bed as a boy hearing him crooning out hymns as he shaved — and you could tell where he was in the shaving process by the way the lyrics were stretched); and he loved to play (earning him the title “uncle picnic” from my cousins). Several years ago, in his late 70s, he showed up with a motor-scooter he had rented — something he had never done before — ostensibly because he wanted to take his grandkids for a ride (which they still talk about), but I know the real reason was that even in his 70s, his thirst for adventure wasn’t near quenched. (A couple years ago, I noticed a bike was missing from the garage where we were vacationing, and sure enough, Dad — now in his 80s — had gone out for a spin.)
My dad brought the same joie de vivre to his spiritual life — he approached God, the Bible, prayer, and Christian service not with the dour intensity of a furrow-browed fundamentalist, but with the joyful interest of a lifelong amateur (thinking of the root of “amateur” — amar, to love). Dad loved (and loves) God … and that love is inextricably integrated with his love for life. That helps explain why even in his 80s, he’s still “fully carbonated” when it comes to worship, prayer, fellowship, and witness.
Second, my dad made family his great priority. One way he showed it was by making family vacations a big deal. On vacation it was just us … camping, sightseeing, swimming, hiking, canoeing, visiting lighthouses and historic sites (special interests of his). Something about those vacations cemented us as a family and enriched our lives the other 50 weeks of the year. I know that many of my friends can’t begin to imagine this, but I have never had even a moment’s uncertainty about whether I was loved, whether I was believed in, whether I was supported, whether I belonged … and that’s to the credit of my dad (and mom and brother too). At this moment, I’m vacationing at a place where my dad took our family on vacation, and my enjoyment of this place today is an extension of his enjoyment of his family in this place, and his enjoyment of this place with his family over many years.
Third, my dad learned from his kids. The truth is (speaking as a father) — the influence children have on their parents is widely underrated. I’ve watched my dad change in his thinking and beliefs through his sons, and I know that I’m continuing to learn and change through my kids every day. I think parents spend 20 years raising their kids, and about half-way through that process, the kids start raising their parents as well. In the end, everyone is better off. The older generation passes on its wisdom to the young, and the younger generation prevents “hardening of the categories” in the old … as long as both generations keep listening — something my dad has done.
On my best days as a dad, I approached my father’s excellence in these areas. But now, with four kids in their 20s and even grandchildren running around, I keep feeling that although I gave my kids my very, very best … my kids deserved better. So here I am … with a better dad than I deserved and better kids than I deserve. I’m surrounded by grace. I’m blessed indeed!
Brian McLaren is an author and speaker who’s new book is Naked Spirituality: A Life With God in 12 Simple Words