Friday, June 13, 2014

Fatherhood: Don't go it alone!

Have you ever bought one of those pieces of furniture that come in a box?  It looks great on the showroom floor and even though the display clearly indicates "some" assembly required you are not fazed by the challenge - until it arrives.  You open up the box and out comes about a bazillion pieces!  The instructions are in eighteen languages and printed so small that you can barely make them out.  Of course, the instructions come with helpful diagrams about as useful as some ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic accompanied by the suggestion "two people required for assembly."  Now we men read that as "two people required if you are a wimp -- a real man can do it all by himself."

When it comes to putting these things together, here's my experience from early on in my marriage.  To "you know where" with the warnings -- I would try to do it on my own.  This normally meant that I would put pieces together wrong and have to take it apart (admit it, you’ve done it too) and attempt to balance pieces perfectly so those odd looking fixtures would line up perfectly -- and they have to line up perfectly.  I would not call for help until it became absolutely necessary and then my frustrated and feeble cry would go out as I call to my wife for help.  This is one of the most humbling and dangerous calls a man can ever make.  I suggest that every engaged couple put together at least three of these contraptions before marriage - this would cut down on the divorce rate but unfortunately increase the murder rate!

Some things are just too difficult to try to do on your own, and this Father's Day let me suggest that fathering falls into that category.  Now biologically speaking we all know that you can’t become a father on your own - even the proudest man has to admit we need a woman for that!  But I see way too many men trying to raise a child all by themselves, and it can be done, but how much easier is it to work with someone who has an equal investment in putting together that child.  When we try on our own we often have to take things apart and put them back together again or we end up connecting the pieces wrong and the end product is not what the picture on the box looks like.

Here are my suggestions for all you men hoping to fathers one day.

 1) Don’t have sex until you want to be a father.  If you don’t want to be a father, don’t have sex.  It's not wrong not to be a father.  Not everyone has that desire and that's okay.  So, if you don’t want to be a father, don’t have sex.  Some men want to be fathers but need to wait.  That's okay too.  You don’t have to be a father before you're 21, or 25, or 30.  Fathering will change your life and you may want to postpone those changes for a while.  That's okay.  But if you're not ready to be a father, don’t have sex. 

The "don’t have sex" advice is considered a little ludicrous but it has been biologically proven that a man will not die if he does not have sex.  Believe it or not, there have been men who have survived.

When my 10th grade biology class got to the much anticipated unit on human reproduction our teacher made the statement that sex is necessary for the survival of the species but not for the survival of the individual.  That drew more than a few objections from the class, primarily the boys, but it is true.  No death certificate has ever listed "no sex" as a cause of death.

You don’t have to have sex and if you do then there is a possibility that you will be a father in 9 months.  Even with advances in contraceptives you are taking that risk.  Every time you have sex you are potentially placing an order for a piece of furniture that is going to be a bear to put together!

Note: If you are married and not ready to be a father talk about this with your wife.  In fact, talk about parenthood with the woman you want to marry before you get married.

2) Get married before you become a father.  Raising a child can be done alone, but it is so helpful to have a wife who will be a mother to that child and help you.  It sure is helpful to have two people committed to one another and equally committed to put all those pieces together and balance all the responsibilities that comes with raising a child.  And even then the task can be overwhelming!   Being a father has been so much more rewarding than I could have imagined, but it has also been so much more demanding!  There are some things in life that you want to do your best to get right and fathering is one of those things!

Raising a child without being married can be done, but I don’t advise it.  Being a single parent invites so many additional challenges that make something complicated even more complicated.  Besides, sharing the joys and heart-aches of parenting with my wife has been one aspect of my life that has been so rewarding.  The joys are more joyful and the heart-aches are a bit easier to bear.  Co-parenting is one of the glues of our relationship and has been and will be one of our greatest endeavors.  I absolutely love sharing this crazy thing called parenthood with her, and although child-rearing issues can be divisive they don’t have to be.  In fact, they can be just the opposite.

Guys, find a woman you want to raise a family together with, marry her, stay married to her, and love her like crazy.  This will be one of the most difficult things you will ever attempt, but it will also be the most meaningful and wonderful things.

3) Grow up before you become a father.  Warning:  Fatherhood is not for kids, and sadly there are too many 30 year-old kids pretending to be fathers!  When you’re a kid you don't have to worry about others; others worry about you.  When you become a father it is no longer about you.  You don’t get to do everything you want to do.  Your money will disappear, your calendar is filled with responsibilities, your life takes on a new focus and that focus is not you.  Fatherhood is best entered into when you are essentially ready to give up your life for someone else (this should have been thought about before step 2).  Some men are not grown up when they become fathers and either they do grow up and make great dads or refuse to grow up and usually make lousy fathers.

Giving up your life for someone else seems like the death sentence, but ask any father and he'll tell you it is the best thing in the world.  Life is best enjoyed when you invest your life in the lives of others.  I don’t know why it works that way, but it does, and that's why fatherhood is absolutely amazing.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads!  And to those thinking about fatherhood; do it right and you will be amazed at what a wonderful thing it is to be called "dad'"!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Dandelion Theology

Back when my daughters were young it would not be uncommon for them to present me with  a little creation of their own as a gift for their daddy.  A page out of their coloring book or a hastily made craft project where some of their favorites, but I'll never forget a particular gift they gave me many years ago.

We used to live on a street that dead-ended into a field that in the springtime would bloom with all sorts of weeds, some of which would be quite colorful.  Among them were dandelions.  The girls would play out in the field and one day they came in announcing they had a surprise for me.  From behind their backs they revealed a bouquet of "beautiful flowers" they had picked for me from the field and presented them to me as if they were the rarest and most beautiful flowers known to man.   And to me they were!

In actuality they had handed me a bunch of weeds that probably wouldn't last through the day, but because of their love for me and my love for them they were received as a great treasure.  Sometimes it really is the thought that counts and, if that be true, this gift was priceless.

Giving to God - whether it be time, talents, or money - can be a tricky proposition. 
What can we possibly give to the Creator of everything? 
What need does He have with me or anything I possess?
If I give more than the next guy is He more pleased with me?
If I have just a little does that mean that my gift is in some way less pleasing to Him?

Giving can be both guilt inducing and pride inflating.  I have felt both.  I have felt that God is somehow lucky to have a generous man like me on His side.  At other times I have felt my gifts inadequate especially compared to others who have more to give.  If we look at giving as a pure transaction between Creator and creature then we will fall into one of those categories.  But it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn't be.   Neither feeling is what God desires and neither feeling encourages joyful generosity.

Instead of looking at giving as a business transaction it should be seen as an expression of a personal relationship, a display of gratitude and love.  We don’t give to God to "pay Him off";  we give to God like a child who wants to express their love to their father.  Regardless of the size of the gift we give it to Him as an expression of our love and thankfulness.  And a gift given out of love is a precious gift to the recipient.

On one occasion Jesus was observing people as they came by to make their contributions to the temple in Jerusalem.  Some came by and deposited large sums of money which surely drew the admiration of bystanders and many thanks from the priests.  Jesus never says their large gifts were not welcomed and appreciated, but he does point out another gift that was made.  A widow came by and gave a small amount, a mere percentage of what the others had given.  Yet Jesus commends her saying she gave more than all the others!  What a startling statement that must have been, and still is today.  That small gift amounted to no more than a fistful of weeds, but because of the love it represented it was received as a priceless treasure.

As believers we are called to be cheerful givers, but giving will never be joyful until it is rooted in a relationship with our Father.  When we give with the pure simplicity of love both the giver and the recipient will overflow with delight.

Throughout the years my daughters have given me more expensive gifts but each one is  valuable not on the basis of the price tag, but by virtue of what the gift says.  God receives our gifts in the same way.  No matter what I give I like to see myself as that little child running into the house and surprising my father with a bouquet of weeds and then seeing a smile come across his face.  And in that image I find the joy in giving!