O My Father

“My father, thou art the guide of my youth” (Jeremiah 3:4). We turn to him for guidance, for help and counsel as we age and learn our own fallibilities.
It is Father’s Day. Today, we recognize the important role that men play in loving and caring for children. Too often, I get caught up on a few words in the Proclamation on the Family and the idea that “fathers are to preside over their families.” It sounds distancing to me; that the father is somehow uninvolved in the day to day work of family and home life; he is, at best, a benevolent administrator. It makes me think of my paternal grandfather’s generation, who were not allowed to be in the hospital at the birth of their children, who were shaped by the culture of their time to not be overly affectionate; to be the authority figure in the home. There was no “My daddy is my fav’rite pal” type of dynamic possible (Children’s Songbook #211). As time went on, my grandfather, who I remember as large and strong and gruff, was able to melt somewhat, to enjoy his grandchildren more than he could his children’s childhood. Society is changing.
These changed expectations are reflected in the Proclamation. Yes, it says that the father presides: it also says that husbands and fathers are to love and care for their children, “to rear [them] in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God.” These responsibilities belong to the fathers and mothers, men and women. They are not exclusive domains; they are shared obligations. And when the Proclamation states that “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children,” the word “primarily” indicates that nurturing is neither their only responsibility nor are they the only ones who can and should nurture children.

When we think of good fathers, of good moments with our own fathers, we tend to think of those times we spent with him, working or playing together. I remember painting miniature models with my father, tedious detailed work, being praised for my steady hand and neat strokes.

I am glad that our society is changing, that we are allowing men the license to enjoy being fathers, to express their deep love for their children as they get to know them through the day to day work of raising, teaching and nurturing their children. I can’t imagine a better father’s day gift than to be able to enjoy being a father, with all of the love and heartbreak and happiness that entails. So, mothers, let your children’s father into their lives a little more. We don’t need to jealously guard our child-rearing domain. We all are blessed, fathers, mothers, and children, as fathers are given to the work of raising their children.

In thinking about this, I did consider briefly scriptural fathers, the great patriarchs of our religion. But for the most part, they are not the kind of father we would want our men to emulate today. One of my friends is preaching to her congregation about Abraham and Isaac today. That is about fathers, that but story is too deep for cursory examination, and too deeply and wonderfully troubling to take lightly.

The story that came to me as the best Old Testament father story is about a man who may not have even had children of his own. Elijah the Tishbite dwelt with a widow woman and her son during a time of famine, when he had sealed the windows of heaven against the hardness and wickedness of the people. The son fell so sorely sick that there was no breath left in him. And Elijah said “unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he…cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:15-24). The ostensible moral of the story seems to be that the widow’s faith is confirmed by the miracle, but I see a father figure, a man holding a sick child close to his heart and pleading with God to restore this beloved son.

“Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalms 127:3). For your Father’s Day, I wish you the blessing of children, to love and care for, your own or the others, the ones, like the widow’s son, who wander into your lives and through their need allow you to be a teacher or provider. To be a father.

3 comments for “O My Father

  1. Julie M. Smith
    June 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Very nice insight on that Elijah story. Thank you.

  2. June 17, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Julie — you are right.

  3. Ben Huff
    June 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you for these thoughts, Rachel. Possibly my clearest memories from when I was a small child are times when my dad did something with me, just the two of us. I especially remember flying a balsa airplane outside, going to Radio Shack to test some vacuum tubes, and going out for breakfast together. It definitely made an impression.

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