Thursday June 17, 2021
It’s Father’s Day this weekend.
My daughter, a single parent, is trying to be both a mother and a father to her children. She asked me, the other day, “What does it mean to be a father?”
There are only two things I can say for sure.
One is that being a father is not limited to being male.
The second is that supplying sperm does not make one a father. Indeed, any male who later claims that merely having provided an aggressive sperm gives him a right to control a child’s life should be run out of town on a rail.
I learned about being a father from – who else – my own father.
Sixty or so years ago, when I learned I would be a father, I sought my parents’ advice. Dad was sitting at our dining room table, marking term papers; Ma was polishing silver.
“Be like your father,” Ma advised. “You’ll do fine if you’re as consistent as he has been.”
I was watching my father as she spoke. At her first words, he swelled momentarily with pleasure. Then he deflated. I suspect he was expecting a more flattering adjective. Perhaps “loving” or “devoted” rather than “consistent.”
My father was the most open-minded, level-headed, even-tempered person I have known. If I wanted advice, he always listened first. He never made me feel stupid or unworthy.
Even though he strongly opposed gambling, he helped me run off raffle tickets on his office mimeograph (a primitive forerunner of the copying machine).
But his life as a principal, professor, and pastor kept him busy. Sadly, he often just wasn’t there.
I resolved to be different. In some ways I was. I spent far more time with my children than he did with me. We went camping, hiking, cycling. We were active in Scouts and Guides. We worked on community projects.
I got to know various deep-frozen hockey rinks very early in the mornings, and very late at night.
But when I look back with the clarity of hindsight, I think the adjective that would apply to me would be “resentful,” rather than “consistent.”
To some extent, my fathering was defined for me by our son’s diagnosis of cystic fibrosis – hereditary, genetic, incurable, and terminal. My wife and I shared two hours of physiotherapy every single day, just to keep him breathing.
I resented that time. I couldn’t use it to advance my own career as a writer and editor.
My daughter, I regret to say, got whatever time was left over.
“Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” the King James Bible admonishes. No, I wasn’t perfect. No father is.
Under the circumstances…
A line from a vintage ABBA song seems more relevant: “Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best we can do.”
What my father and I have in common, I think, I hope, is that we did the best we could do, in our lives and situations.
I’m still not a perfect father. But I no longer have career aspirations getting in the way of being a better parent. An old piece of folk wisdom says that children are what help their parents grow up. So I keep trying.
Knowing me, it’s the best I can do.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I neglected an important line that I should have included in last week’s column – the reason I was in quarantine. My daughter contracted Covid-19. I had no symptoms, wasn’t sick, but I had been in contact with her. So, two weeks isolation.
Thanks to all those who offered encouragement in finding straying coffee cups. My almost-brother Ralph Milton was glad to know that someone else leaves coffee cups inside the microwave, and doesn’t find them until it’s time to warm up the next cup.
Thanks also to all those who wrote feeling glad that we seniors can laugh at ourselves occasionally.
Sandy Warren doesn’t lose coffee cups, “but oh those glasses!” Sandy added, “I loved the Psalm 20 paraphrase.”
Ruth Buzzard hasn’t been in formal quarantine, but the effects are much the same: “I have taken up investing on the stock market to keep my brain active and make pots of money (hopefully). I wake up at 5 or 6 a.m. on weekdays to tune into the stock market channel. Make my first cup of coffee and get out my computer to check opening prices and expert reviews. Read, read, read. Market opening at 6:30 a.m., check prices of shares I own, think about buying or selling, decide to do nothing, fall asleep till 9 a.m., check shares again, get up and start day. Check closing prices on my watchlist at 1:00 p.m. and mark them down. Think about what I will trade or not trade tomorrow. Read, read, read.
“So far, so good, financially. Exciting, and an excellent pastime for an elderly lady, and sure beats card games and knitting.”
Bob Rollwagen hasn’t gotten out much either: “We don’t have cable TV here, so no CNN. Peace and quiet! Daily walks and lots of little insignificant projects that are long overdue. The gardens have never looked so good.”
For this paraphrase of Psalm 9, I used the metaphor of God sitting in the lifeguard’s chair at a beach, although I would more likely expect God to be in the water with us.
9 God watches over the beach of life
from the lifeguard’s chair;
we feel safe venturing into the water.
10 Lifeguards have taken training.
They know how to watch out for trouble --
for sharks in the water,
and sharks among the sunbathers on the sands.
They will not be distracted from their duty.
11 Thank God for lifeguards.
Thank God for playground supervisors, and crossing guards,
and counsellors who keep us from destroying ourselves.
12 They may have their own troubles, but they do not
let those troubles interfere with their care for us.
15 Sharks will turn on themselves, eventually.
They had all the aces, but they played their hands wrong.
They wanted a windfall, so they bought Bre-X and Enron.
Gutted by their own greed, they will sink to the bottom.
16 This is how the Lord of the universe works.
The Lord does not need bolts of lightning or colliding continents
to execute judgement.
The sharks who slither among us
define their own downfall.
17 They become a footnote to history.
18 But the poor and the weak,
the oppressed and the marginalized –
they carry on. They will not be forgotten.
Hope, like the sun, rises new every day.
19 Rise, O Hope of the world.
Do not let the sharks take over the beach.
20 Scatter them; break up their alliances and consortiums.
Let them know that order reigns over chaos.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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