The Common Good

A Calendar is a Moral Document

Sojomail - June 18, 2009


It’s cool now to be an active, involved father. Overall, men being more active fathers is starting to become more of the norm and less of the anomaly.

Aaron Rochlen, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin, on new attitudes in 21st-century fatherhood. (Source: USA Today)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

A Calendar is a Moral Document

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“Dad, could we go to the field and practice a little more pitching?” Our Astros Little League baseball team had just won the Northwest Washington, D.C. championship game in the last inning. The kids and parents were all excited, and we had just finished the big post-game and end-of-season party at our house -- passing out both trophies and pizza. Everyone else had gone home, and Luke, my son and dependable clean-up hitter and pitcher, wanted a little more baseball. “Sure,” I said with a smile. “Let’s go!” What else can a coach, and a dad, say?

It was a very short walk, which is why our family moved just a month ago to live on the edge of Friendship Field in Turtle Park. I think it’s the best ball field in the city, with four adjacent diamonds on this field of dreams. For a baseball family like ours, this is like living on the beach. And this is where our sons, 10-year-old Luke and 6-year old Jack, will spend much of their next several years.

There was nobody else on any of the four baseball fields, because by this time it was almost dark. So we chose the one on which we had just won the big game. Luke walked to the mound, and I bent over as best I could to be his catcher. But it wasn’t many pitches before I said, “Luke, if we keep pitching in this darkness, one of us is going to get hit in the head, and it will probably be me! Let’s just go for a walk around the field, and talk about the game.” Luke thought that was a great idea.

So two guys, a father and son, slowly walked around all of Turtle Park -- in the dark -- making sure to carefully touch home plate on all four fields. Nobody else was there. We talked about baseball and other stuff. At the end of the walk, as we were heading home, my son looked up at me and said, “I love you, Dad.” And suddenly the whole world was just about perfect. When we got back, I was surprised to see little Jack still up. But he met us at the door and said, “Dad, could you and me practice pitching tomorrow? I’m getting pretty good!” My morning had just been planned.

Becoming a father rather late in life has indeed taught me many things. In fact, many of life’s most important lessons, I would have to say, have come to me by way of finally being a dad. These two boys have become a spiritual anchor for me, and being their dad has been a kind of contemplative discipline that my busy life sorely needs. I began to build my speaking and travel schedule around things like Little League baseball, or even just putting them to bed at night -- which I now do most nights of their lives. After a while, I realized I wasn’t just doing this for them -- but also for me. I simply can’t bear not hearing the daily reports about what happened at school, or after school, or with their friends. And their prayers before going to bed at night (my job) are surely not to be missed. They now help shape my theology.

Jack’s latest pearl was praying for his mom and dad and brother and cousins and classmates -- as usual. Then he and his brother often pray for “poor people,” but this time Jack added, “And God, there are a lot of poor people, hungry people, and homeless people -- any questions or comments? Amen.” Jack is used to an interactive classroom and wanted to know what God thought about there being so many poor people out there.

A few months ago, I could tell that Luke was trying to work out, in his prayer life, what he had heard about almost 30,000 children dying every day, globally, due to hunger and disease. He said, “Dear God, I pray that all those children won’t die again tomorrow ... (sigh) but that’s unlikely. So, Dear God, I pray ... that it will be their best day ever ... but that’s stupid. So, Dear God ... help us to stop this from happening.” Sitting there in the dark, with tears running down my face, I could only offer a quiet amen. How could I miss those prayers?

I once coined the phrase, “A budget is a moral document.” But being a dad to Luke and Jack, I now have a new phrase, “A calendar is a moral document.”

As many have pointed out, and have again this week on our blog, all the social data shows how critically important fathering is for children -- both boys and girls. As Roland Warren, who opened this week’s conversation on fathering, so aptly says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” And it’s all about the calendar. I used to say that a budget tells you what and who are most important to a family, a church, a city, state, or nation. And that’s certainly also true about a calendar. Who or what is most important?

Sunday is Father’s Day. This week and weekend President Obama will be having several days of events that are trying to say to the nation how important fatherhood really is. This is a very personal issue for him, having learned the importance of what was mostly absent for him. And the importance that he and Michelle obviously put on parenting those two lovely girls shows us what this all means for them. Having this first family as a national role model is something of inestimable importance for the nation.

Happy Father’s Day dads (and moms), and remember to make your calendar a moral document.

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