Monday, June 30, 2014


We come stumbling,
No matter how planned,
Into this life
And stumble throughout
Like children not watching
Where they are going,
Like teens texting
While crossing the street,
We gaze into the future,
That fabricated gonna-be,
And we walk
And we stumble
Because we cannot see
Because we are little
Because walking lessons
Were made for toddlers

We cannot avoid stumbling
But we can stumble together
We're stumblefriends -
If you friend me
I'll friend you
And we'll fall all over each other
We'll fall forward
You and me and gravity
Finding and fabricating
The most beautiful future

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father’s Day For the Rest of Us

Father’s Day doesn’t mean much to some people. Sure, everyone has a father, but there are lots and lots of people who do not have a good relationship with him. So for so many people, what we have here is a day to celebrate a man who has done little worthy of celebration.

Some people have fathers who they have never met. Others have fathers who ditched out when the going got rough. Some have fathers who traded in their mother in efforts to solve some sort of mid-life crisis. Some have fathers who abused, neglected, and otherwise mistreated them. Some have fathers who they had to parent in order to survive. Some had alcoholic, drug-addicted, workaholic, narcissistic, etc fathers who invested their energy into anything else but their own child. Yes, there are many ways fathers have found to let their children down.

So, for those of us who have a good relationship with our father, today is a good day, but for the rest of us, today is something else. It can feel like Valentine’s Day for single people, Christmas for an atheist, or Thanksgiving Days in America for recent immigrants – that’s a nice holiday if it applies to you, but it does not apply to me. 

So, what does Father’s Day mean for the person whose father has done little or nothing to deserve a day of celebration?

Here are a few ideas for how to redeem Father’s Day.

Celebrate your “back up dad.” A back up dad is a man who was not your father, but was a good man who invested something into your life. He is a good man who had a little extra time for you. Maybe he is a neighbor, an uncle, a man at your place of worship, a coach, or a teacher. He may or may not have known your father did not meet up to your needs, but it did not matter – he took a piece of himself and gave it to you. Go tell him thanks and tell him why it meant something to you.

Celebrate a father. There are a lot of good fathers out there who go about being awesome and never seek out or even expect praise for the awesomeness. At the same time, it does not mean that a genuine expression of appreciation would be meaningless. In fact, he might not even know how much it would mean to him to have someone tell him how great he is. He may not be your father or your “back up day,” but he is a father who is making a difference in the life of his children. Give him some kudos and make his day.

Forgive your father. Many people whose fathers were not there for them have already grappled with this one, but many have not. For many, there is a lingering, simmering, smoldering hatred for their father that is alive not too far under the surface. They try to manage it, but it is toxic. It is hoped that this festering wound could be contained and not spread to other relationships, beliefs they have about men, and their own beliefs about themselves, but in most cases even the best efforts at managing the hurt eventually fail. Plus, it takes a lot of psychological energy to manage such a bundle of unfinished business. Forgiving a father of his wrongs is the pathway to liberation for you and opens the door for reconciliation, at least on your end. Unforgiveness, though understandable, is allowing him power in your life that he does not deserve. Unforgiveness is not justice, it is unfinished business, it is a self-inflicted wound, and it has no redeeming value.

Be a great parent. Having a father who failed to be the kind of man you needed him to be has a powerful influence on a person. Sometimes the worst in a father is intergenerationally contagious. If you are a parent who had a poor relationship with your father, be aware of what you did not like about him trying to reproduce itself inside of you. Then be proactive to replace that with something far more life giving for your own children. The joy of redemption is knowing that intergenerational contagion ended with you. 

Be a “back up parent.” You do not have to look too far to find children whose father is not there for them. They are in your neighborhood, your place of worship, and your area schools. Finding ways to invest into children whose father is so important and can be very powerful. How? Be a good neighbor who knows your neighbors and their children. Volunteer to chaperone that youth trip for your place of worship or even local school. Get connected a the local YMCA. There are many ways to be a “back up parent.”

Father’s Day may be a difficult day for you, but it does not have to be meaningless. You do not have to endure it, ignore it, or dismiss it. You can redeem it. With effort and intentionality, you can still make this a happy Father’s Day for you and for someone else.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Before you become a father

Being a father has been one of the most important processes of my life. It is not the only way to be a man (Jesus was not a father and neither was the Apostle Paul), but it is a way of manhood.

When I was a boy and became a young man, I always knew I wanted to be a father, but I was also terrified of it. Would I be any good at it? Would I make the same mistakes of my own father or grandfathers? What was a good father anyway?

Now that I have been a father for over 16 years, I have a learned a few things about being a father. I have also learned enough to know that being a father does not end – ever. Once a father, always a father. I have also learned enough to know I have so much to learn about being a good father, but at the same time have learned enough about being a good-enough father.

Below are some things I have learned about being a father. It is uncertain how much these learnings could be grasped by a young man considering fatherhood (or terrified by it), so I offer these seeds of understanding that have the potential to grow in the hearts and souls of young men and become something much greater than the understanding itself.

Fatherhood is a process. It is not a one time moment of passion with a genetic contribution. It can start there, but it most certainly cannot end there. The word for that is not “father.” Instead, fatherhood is a developmental process of constant growth and change and investment. As your children grow as people, you grow as a father. The process ends not at genetic contribution (or adoption), not at high school graduation, not at the death of your child (God forbid that happens first), and not even at your own death. This process of fatherhood outlives you in the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Fatherhood is opportunity. There are many diverse pathways of  manhood, but there are some unique opportunities in being a father. The door is open to fathers to reproduce their own best qualities into the life of another. This is not accomplished by force, of course, but by being the best person you can be day and day out in the presence of your child. It also allows for ample opportunities for self-correction as well.  Fatherhood has a unique social context that can be an opportunity to influence another person to be a great person.

Fatherhood is presence. Being presence both physically and psychologically is at least half the the job of fatherhood. Fathers who are physically present, but psychologically absent or physically absent, but psychologically present create ambiguity for their children. Chronic ambiguity can be traumatic for children. Being present in a calm and safe way with your child has a powerful effect of preventing so much negative that can happen in this world.

Fatherhood is formational. Under the ever present eyes of a child, there is a constant context of accountability that requires self-confrontation in order to grow. Being in the presence of a child, your child, forces the question of your own growth and development as a person. The reality is that a father’s growth trajectory is experienced by the child as a highly influential lesson on how to be a person. It does not determine the life course of the child, but it is what the child sees most.

Fatherhood is earned. Engaging in the process of fatherhood  as a way of living creates the accumulated credibility that the label “father” is a legitimate label. We used to use the term “illegitimate child” to refer to children who were born outside of marriage. What we really had was wide spread “illegitimate fathers” who did not raise the children they helped create. It is earned by being present, being calm, being kind, being attentive, being patient, being honest, being forgiving, being forgivable. You do not have to be the best father; instead, you do have to show up and be good.

Fatherhood is exposing. Just about every flaw, imperfection, and failure you have or will ever do is exposed when being a father. This is probably terrifying to some young men and may make them run for the hills, but it is one of the great mercies of being a father. So many times when I have felt like a failure as a father, it has prompted some corrective effort. In short, fatherhood is like an early detection mechanism for poor choices and inadequacies that, left unchecked, could have become way worse and hurt a lot of people, or resulted in self-destruction.

Fatherhood is redemptive. Although fatherhood has a constant social context that exposes shortcomings, it also provides a social context for making things right. It is a context for apologies and forgiveness, for humility and clean slates – it is a context for constant redemptions little and big.

Fatherhood is vulnerable.  Being a father is a vulnerable position to be in. The responsibility is huge and the stakes are high. Your reputation and name is carried around by children who have free will. But that is the easy part. Each day a father must make the choice to let the forming and vulnerable heart of a child into his own heart or to put up walls and not let the child in. It is a vulnerable feeling to let someone into a place where they could hurt you, but it is also one of the most amazing things in life. Being vulnerable with a child is the context the child needs to grow.

Fatherhood is power. The power a father has in the life of the child is essentially impossible to calculate. What the father does is the reality in which the child lives. Father create reality! That is power. And yet power and vulnerability are two sides to the same coin. Fathers cannot not create reality for their children. The question is: what kind of reality will the father create? Even the absent father has created a reality for his child – the reality that fathers leave. The resent father who leans toward virtue creates a reality that makes it easy for his children to lean the same way.

There is so much more to fatherhood than this scratching of the surface. These a just a few things I have learned and am learning. May these seeds of understanding land and grow somewhere.