Congratulations and Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers. This greeting and wish extends to all those who serve father-like roles, whether they are biological dads or not.
I have been a father now for almost 32 years. Like many things we experience in life, I didn’t fully appreciate what fatherhood meant prior to becoming one. I recently heard a statement that I think comes close to accurately summarizing parenthood. It went something like this: “Becoming a parent is the instant in time when you realize you are no longer the most important person in your life.” When you introduce new life into the world, that child becomes the priority, and should be. And while the miracle of birth remains clearly one of God’s greatest gifts, it brings with it tremendous responsibility.
Over the years, I’ve met and talked with many parents and observed a wide range of parenting styles. In addition to my own children, I’ve helped teach other children either through youth programs such as scouts, or church-related activities such as Sunday school, youth groups and mission trips. And I remain fascinated at how unique each child is. Even identical twins develop their own unique likes and dislikes, and respond very differently to similar situations or stimuli.
Because each of them is a unique creation, the techniques needed to mentor each child are also different — something it took me some time to figure out. And I’ve concluded that God takes tremendous pleasure and joy in diversity. Think of the many varieties of plants, animals, fish, birds and even human beings. What a magnificent and diverse creation we live in. And from the very first verses of Genesis we learn that we were created — women and men alike — in God’s own image. Each of us is a valuable creation of God, designed with intention, and placed in this time to serve God’s purpose. A big part of my purpose as a father, and now as a grandfather, is to instruct my children, to guide them with words and actions, to help them grow and learn about God and discover their own purpose in the world. And here’s the wonderful part: God, our creator, has allowed us a glimpse, through parenthood, into how much he loves each of us.
The first letter of John to the early churches describes us as “children of God,” and as such, we are to love one another. In 1 John (4:7-8), the author writes “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” As human beings, we are incapable of knowing the depth of God’s love for us, but God has allowed us to know, at least partly, what that love looks like in the love we have for our children. And I think the converse is also true — we experience in part the joy God feels when our children return our love.
It’s common knowledge that children grow, learn and mature to their greatest potential when they have loving parents and adults in their lives. That means having parents that are engaged and willing to spend quality time with them. When I think back over the years, I remember with regret those times when I was “too busy” to spend time with my children. Those are the times I wish I could have back now that I’m older. Because of all the many things we give to our children, our time is the most precious gift of all. So yes, Father’s Day is perhaps a time to “receive” a little appreciation for the part we’ve played or are playing in our children’s lives, but let’s not waste it. Let’s use the gift of Father’s Day to actually be better fathers, and spend some time with our children while we can.
David Downer is pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Centre Hall. He can be reached at email@example.com.