Today is Father’s day. I live the most wonderful and privileged life. Each and every week I am blest with many ‘encounters’ of the heart that give my life purpose and meaning.
Some three weeks ago I was out at a sports day at one of the schools I used to work at. I was there to watch some students play football – students that I had had on a retreat about a month previously. As I walked from one football field to the next I met a man I had taught almost thirty years ago. Danny had his 16 year old son with him. I turned to the son and said, “Your father is a fine man!” The son immediately responded, “Yes, I know, I love him!” I smiled and after recalling days long gone where I would drive Danny and his mates to the Gold Coast on a Sunday so they could surf for the morning – and I would sit on the beach with a coffee and read the paper – we parted ways. Not fifteen minutes later – while watching another game with a dear friend and his wife and their 16 year old son another dad I had taught – again, almost thirty years ago came over and claimed me. At the end of the game I met young Henry and I bathed for some time in the warmth of these loving father – son relationships.
I have few prized possessions. On the wall next to the desk where I write there is a large photo of my Mum and Dad on the Chrysler Building in New York back in 1949 on their honeymoon. That photo means a lot to me. But my most treasured possession was a small, yellowed piece of writing paper with a scrawled letter from my New Zealand grandfather to my father – studying in Canada, sent to Dad about 1947. We were are poor family. My grandfather had sent dad off to Canada (via Sydney, Melbourne, Johannesburg and Munich) some time around 1936 for dad to learn about printing and journalism. Sadly the Second World War intervened and dad ended up being trapped in England for the duration of the war. After the war THE place to study journalism was the University of Toronto under Marshall McLuhan and then the University of Missouri. To pay his way through University dad would wash dishes in restaurants and his ‘income’ was supplemented by my grandfather sending dad packets of New Zealand stamps to sell in America. The letter that I referred to above accompanied such a packet of stamps. The letter reads;
Mother and I wish you a happy birthday on May 21, and very many happy birthdays to follow. We send you all our love. Nothing will ever change that. We pray for you always, that you may reach your goal, even through you have “hitched your wagon to a star”. Keep well and keep cheerful. Dad
Such a short letter but oh – so powerful. I can only begin to imagine how it was for dad on the other side of the world, pursuing his dream and to receive that simple little letter. “We send you all our love – nothing will ever change that!” My dad died when I was 17 and I found my grandfather’s small note while looking through one of dad’s old books. Dad had kept that letter for almost thirty years.
I have taught thousands of boys. I have never to this day heard a boy say, “I wish we had a third TV in our home” or “I wish we had a fourth car!” or “I wish we had a second swimming pool!” But I have walked beside hundreds of young men who would dearly have loved their fathers to have spent more time with them. I have sat for hundreds of hours as young men have shared how their father’s have taught them to surf, gone hiking with them, taught them to play guitar, kicked a footy with them, shared their first beer with them and more. The sons glow.
We men are a funny lot. We don’t so much SAY love, we don’t so much preach it – we do it and show it by our doing. Sadly too many men don’t even do that. Our actions speak what our heart longs to say. We ruffle our sons hair as we walk past. We give the pat on the shoulder, we pretend not to see the blush the first time we see our boys with a teenage girl, we freeze as we fish together, exaggerate the size of the wave we rode and enjoy the mischief of keeping our secret men’s business secrets from she who must be obeyed.
The father – daughter relationship is special too. We can be the balancing act when it all gets too much. A compass point, a rock, a point of stability and wise counsel. Not as involved in the day to day often but there when the emotions run wild and the ups and downs are all too much. We are there for them too on the special days that really count. About a year ago a good friend of mine, a beautiful young woman, lost her father suddenly to a heart attack. As she shed tears part of her pain was that HER man, her dad, would not be there to walk her down the aisle, to hold her children in their precious first hours and grow old as the wise grandfather figure we all crave.
Ten reflections on being a great father
Firstly what I would like to conclude with are my reflections – not from personal experience for one of the sacrifices of my own life is that I am not a father – but my reflections from watching hundreds of wonderful dads.
- Presence more than presents
- Love expressed through action, through doing together, through simple thanks and simple acts more than words
- Words of love and encouragement after building of relationship through seeds sown, time spent together, a relationship built on honesty and integrity
- Honesty more than heroics – so many crave the honest and there father more than the hero
- Beyond the hero to the faithful friend
- The ordinary rather than the extraordinary
- Fidelity more than a flash in the pan
- Feet of clay – it is not about perfection – and sharing that you too fail, have failed and will fail – but we walk this journey together
- A sense of humour that can laugh at yourself, muck around, play and just waste time with each other
- Profound respect for the women in their lives
- Ops – I can’t count – not ten but eleven – “Be there always, in the good times and the bad, sometimes up front, sometimes in the background, there but not there – dance the tango of their journey sensitive to the rhythms and seasons that they are walking – guiding and sometimes being guided, leading and sometimes being led, sensitive to your dance partner and always – yes always – trusting the music inside you!”
Happy father’s day! And yes, Francis David Price – thanks for dreaming your dream when so many others would have given up hope!