Father's Day is today in the US, a day when dads get sloppy kisses and neckties and handmade cards from their little ones. It's a beautiful day, usually, and is a day off for many of us from housework and discipline. A great day to overeat and enjoy the beach, catch a movie or just relax.
My brother gave a beautiful talk about fatherhood at Mass yesterday. He's a younger father, with 3 boys ranging from 6 to 12. My guys are 15 and 18, and I am a different person from my brother. What I would have talked about had I been asked to speak?
What I would have said is that on aspect of fatherhood for me has been the way it eats away at the fantasy that some people have about having children. I suspect that all of us imagine the happy Kodak moments that will fill or lives. But fairly frequently, those moments do not appear in our loves. Our kids may not be as expressive as we'd like them to be; they might not bring home the grades we'd like or be as popular as we imagined they'd be. They might not be into sports (or music or drama or academics) as we imagined, or they might be much more interested than we would like. They might not give us the respect or admiration or attention we'd like.
What is common about these fantasies is that all revolved around us as fathers. Our children seem hell-bent on reminding us that they are not our clones. They are human beings in their own right, with drives and desires and interests all their own. Sure, they might share our interests to some degree, but that's a bonus more than a guarantee. Fatherhood teaches us that it's not about us as fathers, but about creating an environment of love and support that lets our kids be whatever they are intended to be.
To be a dad is a most noble occupation -- it's the 2nd job that we sign onto when we vow "for better and for worse." It's exhilarating and exhausting; fulfilling and maddening. And its success is measured not be our own sense of satisfaction, but by the happiness, maturity and ability of our children to make it in their world.
I am reminded of Christ's dictum that "the one who saves his life loses it; the one who loses his life saves it." Fatherhood at its best is not an inward-focused activity, but an outward-focused one. The goal of being a writer (or car mechanic, or football player) is to have people acknowledge you for your work; the goal of being a good father is that people admirer not you, but your children.
I once heard a childless woman talk about her idea of great parenthood: having one perfect child. While horrified at her immature assessment of parenthood, I confess that I shared a bit of her outlook. But I have learned that parents don't get perfect children, who fulfill their parents' personal desires. What we do get are human children, full of personal desires that can contradict our own. And just as much as we seek to mold our children, they mold us by forcing us to interact with hem as living reflections of God, rather than as mirrors of our own vanities and illusions.
And that is what I reflect on this Father's Day.
Image from http://www.kitt.net/blog/dad/archive/2005_02_01_index.html