Monday, January 11, 2010

Thoughts About My Father - Part 1

Last night, I went to bed a little bit on the early side, but I wasn't feeling sleepy yet. Somehow, while lying there, I started thinking about masculinity, and about how I've grown as a man in the past two years of my life. After thinking about the various ways I've growed and matured, I suddenly felt an urge to read a chapter of The Way of the Wild Heart, a brilliant book on masculinity, written by John Eldredge. Three years ago was the first time that I read both Wild at Heart and The Way of the Wild Heart. While I didn't fully grasp the entirety of what John Eldredge was trying to convey, I certainly knew that what he wrote resonated deeply with me. He writes a lot about masculinity, about the masculine journey, about how a boy becomes a man and about how a man comes to know deep down that he is a man. He writes about the plight of modern America due to the lack of strong fathers who lead their sons and teach them how to be men. His words resonated with me then, even though what he wrote about seemed new and unfamiliar to me.

As I picked up the book and began to read, this section really stood out to me:
A boy has a lot to learn in his journey to become a man, and he becomes a man only through the active intervention of his father and the fellowship of men. It cannot happen any other way. To become a man--and to know that he has become a man--a boy must have a guide, a father who will show him how to fix a bike and cast a fishing rod and call a girl and land the job and all the many things a boy will encounter in his journey to become a man. This we must understand: masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he's made of from men (or a company of men). This can't be learned from the world of women...

When I was young, my father would take me fishing early on a Saturday morning. We'd spend hours together out there, on a lake or a river, trying to catch fish. But the fish were never really the issue. What I longed for was his presence, his attention, and his delight in me. I longed for him to teach me how, show me the way. This is where to drop that line. This is how you set the hook. If you can get a group of men talking about their fathers, you'll hear this core longing of a man's heart. "My father used to take me with him out in the field." "My father taught me how to play hockey, out in the street." "I learned to frame a house from my dad." Whatever the deatils might be, when a man speaks of the greatest gift his father gave him--if his father gave him anything at all worth remembering--it is always the passing on of masculinity.
Reading that passage got me thinking about my father. What memories do I have of him, that I really cherish? What were the most meaningful times I spent with him? In what ways did my father teach me how to be a man? I pondered this question a bit, and had quite a few thoughts. The truth is, my father is not a very good father. By that, I don't mean that he's bad or evil--I just mean that he is very bad at being a father. He had no idea how to lead well, how to connect well with his wife and his children, and how to teach us about life. He was, and still is, an unfinished man, who never fully grew up into being a man. While he is very competent in several areas of life, he lacks the strength and confidence that he needs to be a fully relational man. Because of that, I have very few significant memories of my father at all. Probably all of the most defining moments I had with my father, positive and negative, number less than ten. Yet, there are at least two memories that I have of my father that really instill me with respect for him.

The first memory isn't a single memory--it is a series of memories. I don't remember precisely when it began. I know that at least from 1994 onwards, there was something my father did almost every morning.

During the week, he would come into our bedrooms just a little bit before 6 every morning, and rouse us from our sleep. Only half-awake, my younger siblings and I would grab our comforters, climb out of our bunk beds and slowly shuffle down our long hallway towards the "Big Room." In the Big Room, we had an old upright piano, two couches, one loveseat and a long, dark-brown coffee table in the middle of the room. Seating was available on a first-come, first-serve basis and so whoever actually arrived in the Big Room could always take the most desirable seat. This always mattered somewhat, since there were a good number of us (I have ten siblings). But in the winter, this was a much more pertinent fact, since we had a centralized furnace, which had two floor vents that pumped warm air into the room. As nice it feels to sit on a couch with a comforter, it feels even more amazing to sit right next to the heater vent and enjoy fifteen minutes of wondrous warmth. Since there were only two of them, in the winter it almost became a race to get the furnace seating. The instant father woke any of us up, we would leap out of bed and fly down the hallway in hopes of getting one of the two furnace seats on the floor. While in the winter people would come quite swiftly, it wasn't always like that the rest of the year. Sometimes it would take up to fifteen minutes for my father to get us all awake enough to actually arrive in the Big Room. Often there would be one or two stragglers who had fallen back to sleep or who were having troubles bringing their blankets down the long hallway.

After all of us were situated in the Big Room, father would pass around a stack of Bibles and then sit down on one of the couches with his own Bible. The Bible that he had was larger than any of ours, and it had a well-worn black cover, with his name engraved on it. My father would say a word of prayer, and then open up God's Word and read whatever chapter we were currently up to. Typically, we would systematically read through a book of the Bible. Whenever we finished reading any book of the Bible, my father would choose a new one for us to read. His favorite book to read was Proverbs. He liked it because it had precisely 31 chapters, and because it was filled with practical wisdom. He always read slowly, clearly and deliberately. Every few verses, he would stop to ask a question or two. His purpose in asking questions was twofold. First of all, he wanted us to be actively listening and actually learning from whatever passage he was reading. Secondly, asking questions was a great way to help keep us from falling asleep. When it's 6 in the morning and you're sitting on a comfortable couch with a warm blanket, it's quite easy to drift off to sleep. Sometimes, rather than ask a question, he would stop reading and explain a little historical background on whatever verse we had just read. With the Proverbs, he would sometimes stop and share a short personal story or anecdote to illustrate the usefulness of a particular proverb. I especially remember how vividly he warned us about surety and debt. This morning ritual we always referred to as "Bible Time." It was a family tradition for years.

For some reason, that is one of the memories of my father that I most treasure. There are several things that I really appreciated about having Bible Time every morning. First, father always wanted to read the Bible to us because it was something that he himself loved. I never had the feeling that this was just for our good. He awoke us every morning to read the Bible with him because he enjoyed reading the Bible, and he wanted to share something that he loved with all of his children. He never did it out of duty, because he had to. He just wanted to. He loved reading the Bible, and he loved reading it to us. I felt included in his life for those 30-45 minutes every morning. Second, I really enjoyed it whenever he would stop reading a passage and explain to us what made those verses so important or meaningful. Whenever he shared a personal story, it not only helped the passage to make more sense, but it also gave us a brief glimpse of what sort of person he was. Third, not only was Bible Time one of the few times when I felt that I was part of my father's world, but Bible Time also was one of the main ways he provided direction and guidance for us. He read the Bible to us not just because he enjoyed it, but also because he wanted us to learn God's ways and to live in accordance with the teachings of the Bible. Regardless of how much direction he directly provided to us through other interactions, we always knew that he wanted us to follow God. He showed us the path that we should walk in.

That is one of my most cherished memories of my father from my childhood. I really admire him because he shared that part of himself with us, his children. I respect his dedication to teaching us truth, and showing us the path that we should walk in.


  1. That is a touching, and inspiring, story. Thank you for sharing.

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