Fatherhood is a great and glorious mystery
By Phil Wagler
I love when my two-year-old sits on my lap with a book. I love seeing his eyes light up when he sees me walk in the door. I love the way he cries. I love the way he laughs and the way I smirk as he mispronounces words in ways I never want him to outgrow. He hangs sentences together hilariously—like underwear, ripped work clothes and name-brand golf shirts dangling mismatched on a wash-line.
He reminds me of how much fun it is to be a father.
Then there’s my pre-teen (or almost teen), whatever you want to call him. There are days I think of other things to describe him—things that ought not be penned; things my parents probably uttered about me in my most tortured adolescent moments. And when I look at my two girls I wonder how I will ever figure them out. Young females are their own planet; or at least make me feel like I’m on a different one.
Sometimes I feel that being a father, it seems, is mostly about being perplexed. Then I call this to mind: my toddler won’t always toddle, my pre-teen won’t always pretend and my girls won’t always speak Klingon. Change is guaranteed. I am now beginning to understand that my role as a father is to be a change agent.
I must accept change, celebrate change and foster change.
I must accept that my two-year-old cannot always speak like a child, but must put childish ways behind him. I must accept that my adolescent’s changes are mostly normal and expected in that season of life when discovering your own identity is the destination. I must accept that my girls will change me. They will change how I perceive my own manhood and awaken a fighter in me for their honour in new ways.
I celebrate these morphing realities and in doing so I begin to accept my own changing place and, to a certain degree, my own redundancy.
And therein lays a disconcerting thought. Not only must I accept and celebrate change, I must foster it. And, if I’m any good at it, I will actually put myself out of work. My toddler will become responsible for his own messes. My pre-teen will become a man who can correct himself. My girls will walk out of my arms and find their most important strength in the embrace of another, hopefully better, man.
If I do all this right I will have become increasingly unnecessary. Fatherhood means accepting, celebrating and fostering changes that take me out of the center and paint me into the background of the picture.
This isn’t a particularly encouraging notion, but if I lose myself in this way I will win. In a small but important way, fatherhood is a journey toward understanding the unchanging heart of God.
The story of Christmas is of God sending his Son into the world. The birth was announced by angels and declared in the heavens by a star beaming its rays earthward like the glowing end of a proud father’s cigar.
But the story of Easter shows God turning from his Son. The Son cries out to be saved, but this cannot happen. Has something changed in the relationship? Has God now become a bully?
No, this is the essence of undying, uncompromising, unchanging love. The Father knows what must be done and that the ultimate act of love required his own apparent demise. God accepts change, celebrates change with the power of resurrection and thereby fosters change in me and, I pray, in my kids.
The truth is that God’s unchanging nature challenges everything I want left unchanged—and that is our great hope. “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed,” declares the prophet Malachi.
However, those comforting words in Malachi 3 are preceded by an unsettling challenge: He will come as a refiner among his children and as a prosecuting lawyer call out everything in us that needs modification.
He will foster change. He will expect it. And, he will accomplish this by being unrelenting, unchanging and pure in his love to the point where he will even appear to lose the battle of Good Friday only to overcome in order that we might be changed and not destroyed.
Lose to win. Change by unchanging. Love by long-suffering. This fatherhood thing is a great and glorious mystery.
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