When I first started out writing children’s books, my intention, maybe misguided, was not to teach lessons, or discuss in children’s terms, eternal truths, or give examples of fairness. No, my intention was just to give joy. Joy to both the child listening and the parent or guardian reading the books. If a child sees his mother laughing and enjoying the book, it will hopefully add so much more to the experience. They will want to read these adventures again and again just for the sheer joy of it.
Joy is boundless, free, unifying, full of life and beauty and jest. Joy is as hard to explain as is beauty. The old adage; “I might not be able to explain beauty, but I know it when I see it.” This applies to joy as well. Joy is internal, and as C S Lewis stated in his marvelous book, surprising. And the world has almost stomped it out unless you are very young. Children, when encountering something joyful, are bound to say with glee; “Do it again!’ and “again.” I think God, in his infinite wisdom, sees the sun rise, and says with joy; “Do it again!”. Thank God. A sense of joy and wonder can keep us all very young.
Max and his friends found joy in racing down a hill, in eating left over ice cream, in flying on mystical butterflies, in being in an adventurous life. Joy is like laughter, it is contagious, and children are so sensitive to joy. It is part of their spiritual DNA.
Joy occasionally breaks out into the world, such as it did in 1824 when Ludwig van Beethoven finished the final movement in the most famous symphony ever produced, his 9th. And the final movement was called “Ode to Joy” of course. The premier of the symphony took place in Vienna. The audience went ecstatic even though the symphony was barely rehearsed.
The lyrics of “Ode to Joy” are a modified version of the poem by Fredrich von Schiller.
The poem begins:
O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs.
More songs full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity
Fatherhood and a Changing Life
I have two grown children and cannot imagine myself not being a father. Fatherhood benefits children in unimaginable ways but it also changes the man. When someone asked me, “How did your life change when you had children” I said: “My life didn’t change believe me. One life ended and fatherhood began.” It was then that real maturity took hold. Night feedings, potting training, crying fits, watching them get their first vaccine shots and knowing you cannot do anything to take away their pain and knowing they depend on you every day for their lives and happiness. It is almost indescribable. Fatherhood should be like a Rock of Gibraltar to the family, giving strength, stability, and protection and it is one of the most beautiful things on the planet. And truly a gift from God.
Fatherhood and a Son’s Independence
I guess, other than looking after these precious gifts from God, I stepped up fatherhood when my son was 3 or 4. I would not let him do something for some reason or another and he stomped his foot he said in a frustrated voice, “Aww Dad! Come on!” You are not always going to be popular, but you will always be dad. It was then I learned that children need some independence. Fatherhood also means teaching children to be responsible, a voice of reason and show them their authentic and true value. It was also at this time that Fathers and Mothers were no longer a just tag team. It is your night to get up and feed the baby or dress them for church. A father needs to get heavy and sink into his role as the anchor of the family and be a deep sanctuary of faith. My son still sucked his thumb and sat on my lap as we watched one dinosaur cartoon after another. And it was then that I also learned the most prominent word “No” can be either an adverb, an adjective, and or noun and was sometimes all three at the same time. Also, the second most dominant word “Why” is just around the corner.
Fatherhood and the World
Along this line, one other thing I was ill prepared for was when my daughter went into first grade. I brought her to the classroom and the teacher very ceremoniously shut the door in my face. My darling child on one side and me on the other. I then realized that she was no longer just mine but also belonged to the world. Cried a bit and thought ‘how can I protect my little girl now?” Fathers are the teachers of courage and responsible for the mental health of the family. Fathers need to know when to give take a mature and reverent route and when it was time for a big water balloon fight. End the end of the day, water drenched, the children need to know that, at whatever their age, a father will always be there for them. Kind of like poem about the invisible thread. The invisible thread is always with you and you just have turn around and pick it up and it will lead you home to dad.
Much later, my daughter received a scholarship to play rugby at a university; a sport I still haven’t a clue about the rules. She always looked up in the stands before the match to find me and wave. She knew instinctively I was her greatest fan. One tip about daughters playing rugby. At her high school graduation, she wore a sleeveless dress, She had a big rugby tournament the week before and was bruised quite profoundly on her arms. I honestly thought when she walked on the stage to get here diploma, I was going to be arrested for child abuse. So my suggestion, no sleeveless dresses in public after rugby matches.
Fatherhood and Faith
Fathers are the holders and defenders of faith and must lead by example. A father who doesn’t go with his family to worship will almost guarantee that his children will fall away from the faith before long. My family normally sat in the first row at church service. I would give the collection envelope to my daughter when she was about 6 to put in the collection basket. The congregation thought she was the cutest thing in the world. One Sunday, I forgot the envelope and my daughter was emphatic and kept asking me for it. I only had one dollar in my wallet and gave it to her to put into the basket. She looked at the dollar, looked incredulously at me stood on the pew and said, waving the dollar, “Dad! Is this all you are giving to God?” Needless to say, the congregation broke into laughter. But the point was well taken. Even at 6, children are inherently spiritual beings and have an innate sense of fairness that a father must nurture. Fathers prepare their daughters and sons to pick the right partner and to teach what really faith means.
Fatherhood and Humility
And as rewarding as being a father can be, it is also very humbling. When my son was about 12 or 13, I was his hero. I was so brave, so strong, so funny, in his eyes. Then, on the turn of a dime I went from being my son’s hero figure to the village idiot in about two weeks. I could not even tie my shoes correctly according to him. That separation of father and son is a healthy thing but a very humbling mountain to pass. My son still needed me. Maybe more than ever. He was changing, thinking about more than games and potty language. He will start watching how you treat his mother. How much he can push you and how fair you are. Another thing I learned about humility three years later, was when I taught him to drive. Sitting in the passenger seat, as he mixed up the accelerator with the brake, a specific but familiar state of mind came over me. I thought when have I had this feeling before? Then I remembered. The last time I had that feeling was when I was shot at in the navy. So, in my experience, the mind cannot tell the difference between being shot at and teaching your son to drive. Hiring an expert driving instructor here is well worth the money.
Father’s day is approaching so let us pray and appreciate role of fatherhood. This blessed role is not easy but is the most rewarding thing you can reflect on as your children grow up and your son becomes a father.
Fatherhood and Estrangement
Fathers can become estranged from their children which is tragic and deflating. Losing trust and value in yourself as a man and shame and loneliness can overcome that father. You can’t change the past and can only apologize so many times. Remorse is a teacher but not a healthy long-term friend. You must live your life with a renewed sense of integrity and acceptance. Find others you can love and appreciate. On this Father’s Day, being estranged doesn’t clear the fact that you are their father. Will always be their father and there is still that invisible thread. All they have to do is to turn around pick it up, and it will lead your sons and daughters back to you.