The Community of Fatherhood

By Burns Strider 6-16-2012
Father and sons, Dubova /
Father and sons, Dubova /

Being a father is a rewarding, difficult, exhilarating, exhausting, real, surreal, sanctifying, blessed, numbing, roller coaster riding endeavor.

Being a father is also the most masculine, manly, macho thing a man can choose to embark on. Fatherhood is the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup, French Open and Kentucky Derby all rolled into one. And, when some days end, my knees hurt.

When everyday ends, I’m deeply grateful I could join with Karen in raising two nearly perfect boys. 

I become introspective about being a father when Will and Pete are asleep; probably because it’s the only silent moments in my life. But, yes, it’s in those moments, maybe when I check on them one final time, before sleep for myself, that I feel the unequaled importance of striving to be a good father. 

The night lights in their rooms pitch a blue-green light and in that glow I see their soft lines and tiny noses. I can make out Pete’s scar over his right eye and Will’s freckles. 

I hear their hushed breaths and place my hand on their chests. Pausing, in the moment, I feel the rise and fall of life in each precious breath and in their thumping hearts I hear timeless thoughts and see the ageless bedrock of youth.

And, I remember my own father who would be resting in his easy chair during the evenings. I would climb into his lap laying my head on his chest. And, there, too, I would feel the warmth of life nestling in each breath, in each rhythmic drumbeat of his heart.

I stand between them; the memory of my father and the lives of two little boys like a bridge of continuity passing along the knowledge and rules and stories I learned. Sharing the values and teaching right from wrong just as it was provided to me. 

I use what I learned to teach what Will and Pete will know. I am present, sharing experiences and lessons, limitations, possibilities – father to son and then again.

There are others, too, I have learned from over the years. 

Bob and Mavis Hardy were such teachers. They were missionaries in Hong Kong when I was in my twenties and there, too, as a youth worker. It was a fabulous two years when both a congregation and myself had a lot of fun and, in the process, happily surmised a career in ministry was not necessarily the direction I should be headed. So, I chose politics and government.

The Hardys had once retired but were re-commissioned for a temporary stint. They were wonderful people and I found myself spending a lot of time with them. Karen, my wife to be, and I had met. We were dating. The idea of being a father had entered my mind on occasion; but everything did at 25. 

The Hardys had children who were grown and beginning their own families back in the States. We talked about them from time to time. Bob and Mavis missed them. One day, as part of a spontaneous series of amazing conversations, lessons, that spanned most of two years, Bob said to me that raising children can be hard because a parent will worry and stress, often afraid of being wrong in an action taken, decision made. He would say “you get it in your head that with one mistake you have managed to break your child forever.” 

Not so, he shared. Being present and active as a father is essential. You cannot be a father otherwise. And, this means making mistakes, which turns out to be OK as long as you are honest about making them and follow up in ways that acknowledges and corrects the mistake. 

In fact, and here is what I uniquely learned from him, “Whenever my kids,” Bob shared, “would have a traumatic experience, or needed guidance, I would often say to them that this is the first time they had ever been a child and its also the first time I have ever been a father so let’s figure this out together.”

There are times when I have looked at my boys and said, “OK, this is the first time you two have been little boys, but it is also the first time I have ever been a daddy. Let’s find out how we move forward together. Let’s talk and come up with a plan.” 

They responded in kind with surprising complicity in the thought. And, we figured it out and moved forward. It is likely I will utilize this approach some more as they continue on as growing boys and I continue growing as a father. 

Examples of being a good father abound throughout my life. I have not stopped looking for and experiencing them, either. 

A good father recognizes he can grow as a father by learning from good mothers, too. 

Gender issues be gone! 

I will never forget, in 2008, being in South Carolina with Hillary Clinton. It was the toughest of days during that historic Democratic Primary for President. I was working for her. Secretary Clinton had just stepped off a stage before a couple thousand South Carolinians, glaring lights, gawking reporters and camera lenses of all sizes focused solely on her.

I intercepted her and along with security and other staff we headed toward the motorcade for the ride to the airport. Backstage was packed with well-wishers, autograph purveyors, photo seekers and others. One reporter had been provided access to ask questions while walking to the motorcade through the push, pull and noise of the crowd. 

This is the context in which the reporter asked Secretary Clinton what her greatest accomplishment was. Without pausing, without having to consider this question in any manner she immediately responded, “Chelsea.” 

The reporter paused, nodded to herself, smiled, wrote on her pad and said thank you so much. No follow up. 

What would the follow up have been? 

I paused, turned and looked when I heard the question, always an interesting one for someone who has been busy doing so much. And, I witnessed a mom without any second thought, tell a person her greatest accomplishment is her child.

In the motorcade I started missing my boys. 

I wondered if I would have immediately and confidently provided that answer to that question. I hoped I would have. But because of the example of a good mother I am certain this father would provide that answer today… and mean it.

I am fortunate for the examples of an amazing father and friends. God’s grace abounds.

Those of us who are so blessed must commit to be those examples for everyone in all our communities. It takes us all sharing who we are and what we know with others. Bad, generational cycles in a society can be hard to break. We all suffer. And, building strong fathers is no exception. 

I am thankful for those two nearly perfect boys. Tonight, I will check in on them as they sleep. I will hear their breath and feel their heartbeats. My prayer will be for all fathers to do the most macho thing they can embark on – being a good parent. 

Perfection not required. Thank God.


Burns Strider is a founding partner of the Eleison Group and The American Values Network. Follow Burns on Twitter @BStrider

Father and sons photo, Dubova /

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