This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Mature Living.
It was after 2:00 a.m., and my wife, Janet, had drifted off to sleep. Not even the excitement of holding our newborn son, Cameron, could keep her awake. Ten hours of labor was followed by a delivery-room decision that a C-section was necessary for her safety and the baby’s. It had taken its toll.
So I sat there in the dimmed light, staring down at this tiny person sleeping in my arms, wondering how something so small could bring forth so much emotion in so short a time. Trying to take it all in, I heard the words of my own dad coming back to my mind. He said I’d never understand what fatherhood was like until I saw and held my own child for the first time and when I did, my life would change forever.
He was right. Cameron had been in the world less than four hours, yet I knew my life would never be the same. And four years later, it would change again with the birth of Shelby. Having this delightful daughter changed my whole outlook on the world. Years later came a daughter-in-law, Carly, and my definition of fatherhood would expand. Whatever else I might do and wherever life might take me, I now had a job I would keep for the rest of my life. I was a father.
I wasn’t prepared for this, of course. Most men aren’t. Even in good Christian homes, we don’t seem to raise boys to be fathers. Boys grow up thinking we’re going to be athletes or rock stars or spies or astronauts or something. We’ll go here and do this and drive that. We’ll get married in there somewhere. Naturally, she’ll be pretty. Kids? Huh? Oh, yeah. Sure. The truth is, boys grow up thinking mostly about themselves. And fatherhood is the opposite of thinking about yourself.
I quickly learned there was no manual for this. Not that men read the manual anyway. So I read Proverbs, trying to figure out the things I should do. I read 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, finding lots of examples of things I shouldn’t do. I prayed … a lot. I asked God to help me do the right things, but even more, that I wouldn’t do the wrong things.
I prayed God would use me to teach my children, and hopefully, there’s a thing or two they’ve carried into adulthood that’s been useful. But the truth is, God used the gift of fatherhood to teach me so much more than I could have ever taught my kids. I knew I would need to be a good father to my children, even if I was still trying to figure out exactly what that meant. However, I had no idea how badly I needed the lessons God would teach me through that journey.
I learned to balance my own ambitions with the need to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically available to my children. That one wasn’t easy. He taught me how to draw close to others, and He taught the power of my words to hurt or help, to encourage or discourage. He gave me a daughter, as well as a son, so I could see the world through an entirely different lens. He taught me what an amazing woman I had in my wife, Janet, to walk by my side and show me what sacrificial love really means. Though I’d been a Christian since age 13, for the first time, I really understood what it meant to live for something — or rather, someone — beyond myself. And while I may never fully comprehend it, I learned a deeper appreciation for how very much God must love us, for the Father to offer up His Son. Because when I close my eyes and see my own children’s faces on that cross, well …
And He taught me to love and appreciate my own parents more, especially my father. It’s easy for a son to love his mother. The relationship is all about nurture and support. Fathers and sons are different. And while my father was neither a perfect man nor a perfect dad, I never once doubted his love for me. He showed it every day, and unlike many men of his generation, he never struggled to say it either.
As a father, “Pop” was fair and kind. He was generous and compassionate. He sacrificed for us. I drew from the best of him to help make the best of me, and every day, I see his imprint on my life. I miss him.
I also learned how hard it is when you don’t grow up with that — a father’s love. I came to find out I was one of the blessed ones.
Throughout my life, in small groups and Bible studies and retreats, I’ve heard men share painfully — and sometimes tearfully — how hard it is for them to relate to the notion of a loving “God the Father” because of the brokenness and pain caused by their own earthly dads. More than one Christian author speculates that this may be why God reveals Himself as a loving Father — because He knows so many earthly fathers fail so badly. We need a true Father to turn to.
It’s another essay for another day to explore all the reasons so many men struggle to be the loving husbands and fathers God intended us to be — and that we so desperately need to be for our families and ourselves. Suffice it to say in the vernacular of the day, “it’s complicated.” And because of that, it can make Father’s Day complicated too.
It’s why, on a day that can elicit anything from celebration and thanksgiving to remorse and regret, we turn to the words of the true Father. “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children — and we are!” (1 John 3:1).
I was wrong, you see. There is a manual for fatherhood. The Bible is one long story of a Father so in love with His children that He spared no expense to reclaim them, even though it was the children who went astray. This Father’s Day, let’s not forget to give thanks for and to the true Father who calls us His own.
KERRY NATIONS is a marketing and communications professional living in Kennesaw, Georgia. He enjoys cooking, reading, motorcycling, and traveling with his wife, Janet. Their son, Cameron, is a minister in Mountain Brook, Alabama, married to Carly, an English teacher. Their daughter, Shelby, is a marketing content manager in Nashville, Tennessee.