Fatherhood and Prayer

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable with the part of the Lord’s Prayer where it says, “…Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” After a preamble that says a bunch of really nice stuff about how great and powerful God is, we then proceed to place a sandwich order and tell him how to do his job. While I think this describes the human condition pretty well, I have a hard time believing this is what Jesus would have intended with these words.

My youngest daughter is now two months old, and when she needs something she cries for it. I’ve just now started to notice variations in the cries, which signal that she needs different things. I know that her ability to express herself will become increasingly complex, yet even my four-year-old still has some translation issues when it comes to expressing her needs. She still instructs me to make her breakfast every morning, even though I’m going on five years of solid performance in that regard, and the more she cares about something, the more she repeats her questions and comments. 

As a father, each time my children express a need and I meet it, it validates their trust in my ability to do so in the future. It teaches them that I’m listening, it imparts my understanding of the difference between desires and true needs, and it hones their senses of both interdependence and self-sufficiency. When I listen to them, I listen only partly for explicit instructions, but reserve most of my attention for their true emotional and physical state. So even when my daughter insists that I need to stay at work until she says I can come home, she’s really telling me how sad she is that she had to come home from preschool, and she needs me to support her.

I’ve come to understand that the Lord’s Prayer is a humble expression of our needs in the best sense we can make of them with our limited perspective. The vulnerability matters more than the words, and it is acknowledgement that no one else can truly understand or meet our real needs. As a father, I fail my daughters sometimes, and my father wasn’t perfect either. But I can see that even as now that I’m an adult with my own children, he still weighs my words and actions, strives to know me and understand me, and provides what he thinks is best from his own perspective. The Lord’s Prayer is really a map to a father’s heart, and I believe it’s the ideal that fathers are called to.

Happy Father’s Day!

Mothers Remain Mothers

I remember an incident that happened during my first year working here, where I was walking down the hall with a resident, discussing some mutual garden interests. As we rounded the corner to the corridor where her apartment was, a man intercepted us and gruffly told her, “You’re late!” She ignored what he said, and instead introduced him to me as her son, using a nickname that, based on the cold, stern way he corrected it, nobody but his mother had dared to use since he was a child. I knew enough to walk away at that point, but as I did I heard him give her a nasally, three-syllable, “Mom!” that only the best adolescents could rival.

He was probably 40 years older than I was. Prior to meeting him, his mother had been talking to me, if not as her equal, then at least as an adult who had something valuable to say. It struck me then, and has remained with me since: Mothers remain mothers, and sons remain sons, no matter how old they get.

My wife and I have been blessed in the last month with the arrival of our second daughter, Meredith, and have also recently celebrated the fourth birthday of our daughter Ella. I find myself frequently getting lost in thoughts and emotions about how Ella could have grown so big so fast, and yet still be so young and small. It makes me wonder how my mother sees me. Does she see an adult, her child, a father, a professional, her grocery store buddy, a stranger, a friend, or something else? And who is she? Is she my mother, my grandparent’s baby girl, my counselor, a closet artist and musician, a green thumb, my calculus tutor, the woman my father fell in love with, a hospice volunteer, my daughter’s best friend, or a retired professional?

I think the truth is that when we see each other, we see a complex, changing mix of old memories with new experiences. When I was born, I only had one identity and simple needs. Among all of the other competing interests, identities, and needs, my mother chose to prioritize me as I became my own person with as many diverse characteristics as her own. I don’t think I’m qualified to define what the role of motherhood is or should be, but from my perspective, I think the ability to make a lifelong investment in the potential of another human being is one of the greatest acts of love and sacrifice a person can make. I am grateful and in awe of those who have done it, and continue to do it.

Happy Mother’s Day 

Spaces In Between

There are signs of spring’s arrival long before its declaration on the equinox. Chickens seem to intuit it as soon as we turn the bend with the winter solstice, waiting – out of respect for the Holidays maybe – just long enough for the start of the New Year to begin laying eggs again. Snow-dusted trees and perennials seem barren from a distance, but close-up reveal a covering of little pink and green bumps that will soon become new growth and leaves. And almost overnight, bare patches of soil are perforated with the green vertical blades of spring bulbs. 

A Speckled Sussex hen with white, brown, and electric blue-accented feathers gives a curious, sideways glance at the camera.
Chickens are excellent mileposts for the changing of seasons.

I takes me a while longer than the chickens and the flowers to catch on, but I think I’m affected in much the same way. Almost instinctively, breakfast becomes a little earlier, and supper becomes a little later to pack more activity into expanding daylight hours. And despite the outside temperature being the same as it ever was, the sunshine on my skin feels warmer than it has in a long time. I can see why so many poets, philosophers, gardeners, and other quotable quippers seem to catch on to the notion of spring representing a light at the end of a cold, dark tunnel. 

I think there’s a magic to the last days of winter that shouldn’t be ignored, though. In learning to prune apple trees with my grandfather, I once asked him why we work in the late winter, when they are dormant. He answered by telling me that we could prune them at any time, but winter is when we can see what we’re doing. Winter is our chance to guide the tree before it spends energy on new growth. 

In the last days of winter, the pruning of excesses from prior seasons is done, but new growth is paused, waiting for just the right conditions. For a brief moment, empty spaces hold more significance than those filled with existing things, and our attention turns towards the potential those spaces hold. Light shines through in places that would ordinarily be shadowed, and we can see rough topography that modest Mother Nature would prefer to keep robed in green. Our inner minds follow much the same process, and just like how a forest becomes susceptible to disease, rot, invasive species, and fire when not managed, we become susceptible to bad habits, shame, conflict, and stagnation when we don’t take the time to allow the light to shine on our hidden areas from time to time.

Greeting Cards and Genuine Love

The oldest known connection of Saint Valentine’s Day with the theme of romantic love is dated back to the 14th century, and commonly attributed to the English poet Chaucer. By the late 18th century, the tradition had become so widespread that entrepreneurs started selling pre-written poetry for inarticulate young men, with Charles Dickens later coining the phrase, “Cupid’s Manufactory,” to describe the explosive growth of the industry. Recent statistics show that the average American spends over $100 on the holiday, with over one billion Valentine’s cards exchanged in the United States annually. 

Sometimes I wonder how St. Valentino would feel about how we celebrate the anniversary of his persecution, execution, and burial. If it were me, after some disbelief and confusion I might be pleased to find out that people remember my name more than a millennia after my death, and that for the most part, the idea is that people are supposed to express that they like each other. Of course the worry is that all of the commercialization has led to the commoditization of the expression of love, but I think we understand deep down that dollars hold little value in the expression of real appreciation.

Instead, through our teachings and experiences, we learn that the real currencies of love are patience, kindness, humility, respect, and generosity. We feel love when we are protected and cherished, and we express love by sharing our hopes and giving our trust, forgiveness, and perseverance. We can’t possibly hope to fit all of these dimensions of love into a greeting card or a box of chocolates, but it’s precisely the hugeness of what it means to love and be loved that makes these gestures worthwhile. If we are to ever live up to this ideal of love in our limited human capacities, our only choice is to try to do it in little bits as often as we can.

This year, I’ll be grateful for a day that gives me the opportunity to do something special for friends and loved ones, while being mindful of the remaining 27 opportunities the month gives me to practice loving and being loved.