The Dad Dilemma

This may say more about me than I would really like, but this is what comes to mind when I hear people start talking about what it means to be a man.

We're men! Men in tights! Yes!

We’re men! Men in tights! Yes!

That odd reference aside, the idea of being a father and being a man have changed in the past few years. And from what I’ve heard, one day that men cringe at over others (at least when it comes to sermon topics and speeches) is Father’s Day. Ah, the grand day when men are told to “get off your duff and go be a dad.”

Often times, when I hear these speeches from presidential podium, pulpit, Senate floor, or otherwise, the phrase, “go be a dad” is often shouted, but the “how?” question is rarely answered. How many men have been shown how to be a dad by the time their own kids enter the world?

The bygone days when a son would take his father’s occupation upon himself are mostly gone, so the apprenticeship model isn’t there to fall back on anymore. More than ever, men are expected to work long hours because competition for jobs is fierce and the corporate world can often be cutthroat. We’ve all seen the portrayals of the hard-worked father having to choose between keeping his job and providing for a family and attending some sporting or artistic event.

In fact, the whole concept of what it means to be a man is different now than it used to be. A man is no longer defined primarily by his position, occupation, and station in life. Ask any two people what being a man means, and you’ll more than likely get different answers.

So, the answer to “how do I do this dad/man thing?” ends up pretty open-ended. So here’s what I learned from my dad, and maybe it’ll help.

Being a dad/man means…

following Jesus and standing up for what’s right.

respecting others, caring for the hurting, and seeking out justice for those not receiving it.

caring for the earth, sometimes with dirty hands, and sometimes simply separating the recycling.

having curiosity and seeking out answers to deep question, and trying new things.

using your skills and talents to benefit others and looking out for their best interest over your own.

really, being like Jesus.

Being a man doesn’t take proficiency with weapons, driving a stick, owning the most camo or even having the widest swagger. Interested, hobbies, and particular skills have nothing to do with it. And being a dad is similar, from what I’ve seen in my own father.

Be like Jesus. Play. Laugh. Love. Cry. Wrestle. Discuss. Encourage.

I can’t think of a single better compliment to a dad than to hear their child say, “My dad shows me Jesus.”

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Weird Families Make Good Teachers

I have a weird family. I’m sure you do, too. As I’ve grown older, I have come to the conclusion that every family is weird, in its own unique way.

I only mention this because of something that happened the other day. I was sitting in a funeral parlor next to my grandfather. He looked down and commented on the fact that I had my hat in my hands. I responded with, “It’s not going to be on my head in here. I seem to remember someone teaching me that.” He smiled, hopefully knowing that I meant him. See, my cousin and I would often spend our Saturdays with my grandfather, we call him “Bear,” working, having adventures, or simply “being.” In many ways, Bear helped teach me to enjoy life. He always told young, excitable me, “Why don’t we just enjoy right now?” Wise words and I have come to embody those words. He showed me the joys of baseball, of small grocers tucked away who had the best cheese, and trying new things (especially food) whenever I had the chance. He prodded me to walk tall, to respect others, and to look people in the eye when I spoke with them.

My Grandmother, Memom, is never without a story. Between her and my mom, I have a deep love of stories of all kinds, and especially the ones found in the Bible. She is also one of the most generous people I know, and is completely genuine about it. I don’t know that I have ever known her to refuse someone who was truly in need.

From my other grandmother, Memother (and yes, when I talk about them, most people give me a look of “aren’t those names awfully similar?”), I learned about laughter. Her laugh is strong and can carry over a conversation, and always brings a smile to my face. Even as an introvert, I can enjoy that side of the family’s joyful, exuberant conversations because of the laughter and sincerity there.

Grandpa, my other grandfather, was a jack-of-all-trades. From him, I guess you’d say I learned that with a little (or a lot) of effort, trial and error, and asking the right questions, most anything is possible.

One of the most lasting lessons I learned from my parents was how to have a great marriage. As much as I gagged and protested when I was younger whenever my parents kissed, held hands, or showed affection for one another, it gave me a great example to follow. It’s hard to find marriages that are so filled with affection shown so openly. They might have disagreed at times, but I never saw a divided decision. If they made one, it was together. I learned so many other things, too, like a love of cooking and curiosity from my father. I got my love of comedy, reading, and giving gifts from my mom. I also got great life lessons like, “walk it off” and “get back on that horse” (though, there was never a horse involved.) They also gave me something everyone should have: the drive to do my best, and then the wisdom to let it go and not worry about it. I have a hard time with the last part of that one, but maybe I’ll get there someday.

I could keep writing like this for days, probably. I guess what I really want to get across is, be aware. Your kids are always watching you, and you never know what they’ll remember. They’ll remember what seemed like flippant conversations in the car, hearing the Canadian national anthem for the first time at a baseball game in Florida, and trips to the Huntsville Space Center.

Kids are always learning, from the “official” lessons to the “off the record” ones. Every moment is a lesson in disguise: Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

When will I finally know everything?

So, as I approach the age of thirty, I have been asking myself a simple question: is that when everything’s going to finally make sense? So far, as I’ve interviewed people who have reached thirty and lived to tell the tale, the answer was “no.” So I reached farther and asked people at forty and fifty… and they didn’t feel like they had finally “made it” either.

That leaves me standing here with a ton of unanswered questions feeling inadequate because I can’t answer every question nor can I state with confidence that I “have it all together.” I show up on Sunday as the ordained, degreed minister and look into the eyes of children and wonder, “How do I possibly teach these impressionable young humans and help them experience God’s amazing love?” (Answer: humbly, by modeling love and grace in how I act)

Interestingly, Job helps me out on this one. Near the end of the book named after a long-suffering man, God begins grilling him, asking questions like, “Where you there when I created all of this stuff? Did you make creatures that can move? Can you understand the deep mysteries of life?” And, like Job, I sit silently shaking my head in awe.

I hear about survey after survey about parents who are unsure about how to talk about faith topics at home. I get it, it can be nerve-wracking. And, yet, it doesn’t have to be. As a parent, you don’t have to know everything when you dive into the Bible with your children. You can uncover and explore right along with your children! Is there a question you can’t answer? Look into it together. Go ask someone, or read up on the many resources available online or at your local church.

When dealing with children, we’re not expected to have all of the answers. Instead, let’s focus on being present and humble enough to pray, discover, and worship together.

Have you ever felt ill-equipped to talk about faith at home? What did you do? What are some ways you and your family can explore the Bible and faith together?