As Father’s Day comes to an end I find myself reflecting on the past year of getting to know my boy. This isn’t my first Father’s Day but last year he was a tiny bundle of milk and sleep and I hadn’t learned a single thing about being his dad.
A few weeks ago, 2 days after his first birthday, we had a service of thanksgiving and dedication for him and I, being the minister, got the chance to speak. I shared a short list of what I had learned in my first year as a dad and what that year had taught me about life and about God. It feels relevant today. I don’t think that you have to be a dad or a parent for these to be relevant.
1. Sometimes you have to tidy up someone else’s mess (and sometimes it really hurts).
Just after bedtime every evening, I look around our lounge at what I imagine the results of Santa’s sack bursting open to be. I then gather various parts together and pack them away for the next day’s repeat performance. Every now and then my socked foot finds its way onto a Duplo brick or some other razor sharp item. This induces a hopping based dance that nobody needs to see.
In life, as in parenting, sometimes we are left to clear up other people’s mess and sometimes it hurts. Sometimes our relationships are messy because of something done to us or our loved ones. Sometimes we need to reach out to refugees of a war we have no part in. Sometimes we need to forgive debt. Sometimes we just need to let the past hurt go; a person becomes more important than what they did to us. The world becomes better when we clear up for one another as well as for ourselves. It is rarely easy, but it is good.
2. God loves us a lot (even when it feels like he doesn’t.)
We have one of those springy-thingys in the skirting board to stop the door handle denting the wall. If you know what I mean by springy-thingy then you also know that it makes a wonderful noise when you flick it. So does the one year old who lives in our house. What he doesn’t know, that you and I do know, is that if you get your skin caught between the coils as you let it go, it will feel like a shark has your finger between its teeth.
With that risk in mind I stop him playing with it and every time I do he is far from happy with me. He can’t understand why I’m not just letting him do what he wants. To me it is obvious; I love him and I don’t want him to get hurt.
There is a lesson for me in there. I often ask God why things happen or don’t happen for or to me. I keep coming back to this. He loves me and doesn’t want me to get hurt, but not only that, he wouldn’t give me a snake when I need a fish. He wouldn’t give me a rock instead of bread. He isn’t just not giving me things I don’t need, he us giving me things that I do. He loves me a lot, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
3. Life is never just good or bad it is a tangled mix of both at all times (and it’s how we react that makes the difference.)
I thought I’d been tired before being a parent. I hadn’t, not like I’ve been since. I thought I’d felt helpless before, I hadn’t, not like I’ve felt on occasions since. There are some really hard moments when you have no idea what to do and you feel completely useless. But, I’ve never laughed so much or felt pride like it. I’ve never been so aware of the little wonders of life.
I get to choose how I see life as a dad. Is it hard or is it wonderful. It is both, but I’m placing my heart behind its wonder. I also get to see the rest of life that way. Life is never all bad or all good but a mix of them both and I get to choose where to put my heart. I’m choosing the good. I’m living on the bright side of the street.
4. Wonder is one of the most precious things in the world (and one of the most dangerous)
Watching a little boy discover the world is incredible. Watching him turn a leaf over and over in his hands trying to work it out or the obligatory first taste of lemon is amazing. Watching him try to climb up the fire guard or grab a hot cup of coffee from me is less amazing. He is so full of wonder and curiosity and it is both precious and dangerous.
We are all born with a deep sense wonder and most of us gradually grow out of it in time. By 25 I was pretty sure I knew how things worked and what I believed. By 30 I had it all systemised and at 35 I’m trying to re-engage with wonder and breakdown my own systems. .
When we can reduce the wonder in our faith and create an airtight system of black and white statements of belief, I think something dies inside of us. When we stop wondering and asking questions we stop imagining that things could be different. When we stop imagining then we’ve already arrived at our final destination, we’ve accepted that this is the best it can be. When we wonder, we might just discover something new. We might just open a door and find some treasure behind it.
I want to have the level of wonder of my boy, I think I’m much more likely to make a difference in my world if I do. I want to keep my eyes open for the beauty and danger of the world and to never stop discovering.
5. If we could trust other people the way a child does the world would be a much better place (and there’d be a lot more giggling).
Every restaurant we are in he tries to hold the waiter or waitresses’ hand. He looks confused when someone walks past him without interacting. He reaches up for cuddles from complete strangers. Eye contact with a lady he’s never met on a plane makes him giggle, quickly followed by some giggles from nearby travellers.
Children learn not to do all of that eventually. They learn to be wary of others and not to make eye contact. They learn not to just giggle on a plane. It’s quite sad to think one day it will all stop happening.
Imagine if we had higher levels of trust in one another. Suspicion of others starts off as an ability to keep ourselves safe but can easily become divisive and destructive. It evolves, changing from caution to blaming, from acceptance to prejudice.
Imagine if we all dropped out guards for a day. Imagine if we smiled at each other on public transport. Imagine if we just told a stranger something funny without warning. Imagine if it was ok to just giggle together. Imagine if we started with what was familiar about a person than with the strange. Imagine if we looked at the world with our arms outstretched and not folded across our cheers. Imagine a world of open hands not closed fists. Wouldn’t that be a great day? Isn’t that a better kind of world?
I’m learning from my boy to trust and smile and be open to other people.
Being a dad is great. I’ve learnt more in the past year and a bit than I have in any year before. I hope the lessons are useful to you too.
I’m particularly enjoying the giggles.