Whenever I speak, I love telling stories about my father, first because I adore him, and second because I am all too aware that a dad like mine is a gift that not everyone gets to enjoy. The relationship we have with our earthly father has a profound effect upon the way we view our heavenly Father. If you are one of my reader-friends who did not have the relationship you wanted and needed with your earthly father—for whatever reason—I pray that reading this gives you comfort by painting a picture of the kind of relationship God the perfect Father offers to you . . . to all of us. I also share these things because I hope they will encourage other dads (and moms!) who read them, that so often it’s the little things—the things you don’t even know you’re doing—that help your kids the most.
On summer nights in high school, Dad would catch my eye with a gleam in his and say, “You wanna go see a movie?” I’d breathe “Yes” (always, yes), sprint up the stairs to grab my shoes, and off we’d go, screeching into the theater parking lot, out of breath and laughing, five minutes late every time.
He loved my mother.
Sometimes he’d get quiet in the middle of dinner and I’d see him sitting there, hands clasped, fingertips pressed against his lips, eyes shining as he gazed at Mom, just . . . watching her talk, enjoying her laugh. And I’d know what was coming. When he found his voice he’d say, “Isn’t she wonderful?” (He still does this even now.) He showed me what forever love looked like. Even as a girl, I knew I wanted what Dad and Mom had. Nothing less would do. I was willing to wait, as long as it took, till I found someone who loved me the way my dad loved my mom.
Weird and quirky and nerdy as I was (am), he enjoyed me somehow. Laughed at my jokes. Thought I was smart. Liked the dumb things I wrote. Paid me compliments I probably didn’t deserve. Saw who I was becoming, instead of who I was. Enjoyed the journey instead of obsessing over the results.
He showed me how to love God.
He didn’t just take me to church, didn’t just tell me about God—he walked with God himself. Every morning I’d watch Dad disappear into the woods behind our house for his daily prayer walk, and come back thoughtful but happy. He prayed with me, with Mom, with the whole family, and made prayer a real and accessible part of our daily life. I’m still seeking to imitate the deep relationship with God that Dad enjoys.
He didn’t think I was crazy.
Even as a kid, there was a lot going on in my little head. Throw in there the complexities of growing up a Preacher’s Kid, trying to find my way in the world and in Christianity, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of angst. My sainted mother carried 98% of my internal drama, but Dad listened too, especially when Mom got stumped. And he somehow understood the cartwheels my brain and heart were doing, and when we were done talking, I felt understood. Normal. Hopeful. Like I might turn out okay after all.
He helped me be logical.
Mom was the ultimate sympathizer; Dad was sympathetic too, but he also helped me untangle knotted thoughts. He’d walk me through them one at a time, step by step, until things made sense. Weren’t so scary. Weren’t so weird. Were more like manageable strings to examine one by one, instead of the whole daggum king-sized afghan.
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How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard
He told me about his mistakes.
It was wonderful to know that the father I so admired wasn’t perfect. He told me story after story of his own temptations, disappointments, and failures. He gave me hope that I might turn out okay after all.
He cared about what mattered to me.
When my middle school basketball team got cheated out of a chance to compete for regionals, I was so mad I couldn’t think straight. Dad listened, and understood, and didn’t try to “fix” my feelings. Sometimes you want fixing; other times you just want somebody to show you they get it, and sit there and hurt right alongside you. Only then can you fully hear them and let them help you work through it.
He helped me pursue the things I loved.
When I decided I wanted to run track, Dad designed exercise regimens for me, which the Type A girl in me followed like they were the Ten Commandments. When I decided I wanted to run for class president, he helped me tweak my speech. When I failed miserably at being class president for the first semester, he gave me a talking-to and helped me turn it around. When I got accepted to my dream university and worked myself silly trying to find enough scholarship money to pay for it, but it still wasn’t enough, Dad figured out how to make up the difference for year one and let me go there on faith, figuring that between the four us—God and Mom and Dad and me—somehow we’d find a way to pay for years two, three, and four when we got to years two, three, and four. We found it.
He gave great hugs.
Dad liked to grab us kids as we walked past, and bury us in bear hugs. We always tried to squirm away, but then we’d settle in and absorb the affection. There was something healing about those hugs. Comforting. Pure. Confidence-building. Something that said, I am so very loved, and right here, in this quiet moment, all is right with my little world.
He wasn’t afraid to cry.
I still remember the first time I saw Dad cry: the day he told me my cat had died. We sat there on the bed and cried our eyes out together. And there were countless other times when Dad let his emotion show—tears of joy, of empathy, of loss, of memory, and—my favorite—tears of laughter.
For all this and so much more, thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. And to all the dads out there, doing the little (big) things for your kids . . . keep it up. You’re getting through. Your kids will thank you one day.
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