A Fatherly Kind of Love

I happened across a quote the other day that captures perfectly my experiences of fatherhood. The quote is from a small book titled, Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love, by Fr. Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. In describing a friend of theirs named Joe, the authors said, “He knew not the name of intimacy, but the meaning.” Joe, they said, “probably could not have articulated the meaning of hospitality, but he knew how to pour you another cup of coffee. You would leave Joe’s company feeling taller, stronger, and more human.”

Like Joe, there are some great dads out there who are better at demonstrating their love than at verbalizing it. One reason for this, perhaps, is that dads have faith in their kids’ potential. Dads assume their kids can do it, no matter what ‘it’ happens to be. Because of this, dads are comfortable trusting their children with things like hammers and nails, two-wheeled bikes, and lawn mowers a lot sooner than moms are. Dads give extremely high pushes on tire swings to show their affection. Dads are more apt to wrestle than to cuddle. Dads understand the need for superlatives like climbing the highest, racing the fastest, and eating the most.

While I was in high school, my dad helped me train for the fall cross-country season by taking long runs with me in the summer when he came home from work. One of the things I remember best about those runs is that he always beat me. I treasure that memory because, by not sandbagging, my father showed me that I wasn’t a child anymore. He knew that, in order for me to realize my potential as a runner, I had to be pushed, not coddled. Like the authors who had spent time with Joe, I felt “taller, stronger, and more human” after running with my dad because I knew that if I came even a little closer to his finishing time, it was a genuine accomplishment.

Like my dad, my husband trusts in our kids’ potential. He let our oldest jump off the diving board way before I was comfortable even letting her swim in the deep end of the pool. I don’t think he even thought twice about it. She asked if she could try. He said “Sure,” treaded water in front of the diving board, counted to three with her, and “Kersplash!” down she jumped. When her wide-eyed, smiling face bobbed up from under the waves, she was “taller, stronger, and more human.”

prodigal sonOne of the most poignant, Biblical stories about fatherhood is the parable of the found in Luke 15:11-32. The father’s lavish acceptance of his wayward son upon his return is the highlight of the story, but I always wonder what possessed the father to let the son go in the first place? Where was the mother crying out, “Are you crazy, Papa? You can’t give him his inheritance early. That boy’s got holes in his pockets and wild ideas in his head, and you know it!” But the prodigal’s father also knew that no amount of coddling was going to turn his boy into a man. By letting him go, the prodigal’s father gave his son the chance to grow “taller, stronger, and more human,” and because of it the son became all those things, and a great deal more humble to boot.

God, our heavenly father, has taken the same risk by trusting us, his children, with free will. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In that verse we see how much God believes in us. Rather than lowering the bar or taking away the possibility of perishing, God has made heaven a choice and given us the chance to grow “taller, stronger, and more human” by allowing us to make that choice ourselves. Now that’s a distinctively fatherly kind of love, and on this Father’s Day, I thank my father, my husband, and all great fathers out there for the times they have embodied such love.

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