Note: I wrote this over a year ago (though it hasn’t been previously published). That’s why the ages are all wrong and I’m even balder now. Why haven’t I published it till now? Well, it’s more intimate and self-revelatory than I’m usually very comfortable with. (I am, as that one man once said, a man.) But, here goes. –Sam
Tonight, I made tacos with the kids. My poor wife is experiencing morning-afternoon-and-night sickness with our fourth child, so I have some extra opportunities to be with the other three. Our oldest is eight and she is a beauty. She grated cheese and the boys, five and two, cleaned up, got the table ready, and made sure Mommy had everything she needed. It was time together for us and, in some ways, it almost doesn’t matter what we’re doing. We’re together and I have a hard time not loving it. We’re all right.
It’s a gift. We might study the Bible, read The Hobbit, sword-fight, play Mario-Kart, play soccer, watch America’s Funniest Home Videos, or “fly around” on Google Earth. We make food and clean the house. We live. All together, now.
As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a father. It’s one of those rare areas of life where I feel absolutely certain of my calling. I feel so happy to have received it and yet still overwhelmed by the task. Though it can be overwhelming, it’s been overwhelmingly wonderful. Nothing has humbled and exulted me so much.
I love being a father.
My two-year old son is just what you want in a baby: a snuggler. We took a nap together today after church, as we often do. He lays down beside me and reaches out his hand to rub my arms, my back, to squeeze and caress. He loves to “suggle” and “touch you ahmms.” He is a very loving little guy, which suits me fine. I’m a hugger. My kids get lots of hugs all day long, not just because they need it, but because I do.
When the snuggly two year-old is going to bed, or I’m leaving for work, I’ll take him in my arms and squeeze him. I tell him, “I need a kiss right here,” pointing to my cheek. He kisses there and so I turn the other cheek and say, “another one right there,” and he kisses that side. I keep going back and forth until he says, “Dat ‘nuff, dat ‘nuff.” It’s become a little game, him attempting to wiggle away when he deems I’ve had enough kisses and hugs. “That’s enough, Daddy.”
I’m a time-traveler. I’m one of those imaginative worriers who can feel the weight of potential loss, or future loss, really deeply, way before it even arrives. I don’t recommend it, but it creeps up on me sometimes. I may worry through a possible conversation I have to have later, feeling in advance the sadness and pain as if it were already happening. It’s an old habit of worry that has improved over time, but hasn’t been eradicated.
This is usually a simple lack of trust, a refusal to believe the promise of the Father and the direct command of Jesus to let tomorrow worry about itself. I really do struggle against it.
Sometimes this problem is attached to the future of my family. One particular future suffering that comes at me again and again is the eventual day of our kids leaving home. Even now, just writing that sentence makes my throat tighten, my eyes moisten, and a physical sorrow descend.
I hate that day, this day which has not come. I weep for it, this eventual sadness. I wish it were on a down-payment system. I wish I could lay up tears for that day and decrease my future sadness. But really, I don’t want that either. I want that day to feel as it ought, terrible with the weight of love. I can’t take the sting from that day, any more than I can take away the love I have for them now. It feels like the same thing.
Like all young parents, I hear the calls from older parents, parents whose children have grown and gone. “Enjoy this time. They’re gone before you know it.” I used to joke with them that my daughter and I had a deal, that she would stay three forever. But she’s eight and every mention that they’ll be gone soon feels like a stab.
She’s broken the deal. She’s eight. In ten years she’ll be…
The hair on my head is falling out and I saw the first gray hair in my beard this week. Wrinkles emerge around my eyes. Signs of the times –of the advance of time. But these are only warning shots fired across my bow. They are as nothing. When the children leave, it will be a direct hit. You sunk my battleship.
I don’t know how I’ll cope with it then. I can barely cope with it now and it’s years away. And this says nothing of the possibility of tragedy, terrible illness, of almost-unthinkable events that happen every day to some parents somewhere in the world. To ones I know and love.
I know I can rest in future grace. He’s got the whole wide world…in his hands. He’s got you and me, sister…in his hands. He’s got all the little children…
Oh God, grace for today and grace for tomorrow. Please. Help us to live now in the awareness that suffering of all kinds may be ahead and yet in spite of this –and because of this– let us live by faith in the promise of your future grace. Let us draw always from the endless well of your mercy. For what seems like it should be only natural, small concerns –like children leaving home– to greater sadnesses that we can’t keep them, or ourselves, from. We need mercy.
And thank you, Father. Thank you for giving us children and this intense and wonderful ache that is the unmistakeable wake of love. Thank you for opening our hearts to a thousand hurts by these beautiful, unbreakable, unseen links to our children. There is potential –inevitable– pain for everyone who loves. We would rather love and receive it as a gift. We hate loss and the broken heart of the fallen world. We long for the day when Jesus, with kingly authority, will say, “All right,” and, “All together now.”
When I leave for work tomorrow and point to my cheek, saying, “I need a kiss right here,” I’ll treasure every one. And when he says, after two, or three, “Dat ‘nuff, Daddy. Dat ‘nuff.” I’ll say, “Just a few more, son,” but I’ll be thinking something else.
It will never be enough.