Father's Day

     I was honored to talk on the phone briefly with my oldest son this morning for a few minutes only.  It was a conversation about his Jeep and the work he wants done on it this week.  Tomorrow he leaves for Afghanistan having just returned from Iraq last September. He's 22, still finding himself and making his way in the world but already so much  more of a man than I was at his age. The main job of his squad is to find and dispose of roadside bombs and the unit they're replacing handled 2400 in the past year to my understanding.  That may or may not be accurate.  Even with embedded media, documentaries, and television series about those who are serving, it's hard to know the reality from what we hear.

2006: Photo courtesy Bill Schalk
     His younger brother left Fort Bliss on Friday for a different base in Afghanistan where he'll also be for the next year.  We had the opportunity to speak on that afternoon before he flew overseas, and he texted me when they stopped briefly elsewhere in this hemisphere before crossing the Atlantic.  He's also more of a real man at 20 than I was 30 years ago. Six years previous when he was a sophomore in high school on a very cold fall night we thought we were going to lose him.  As parents those never leave our memories.  Playing both sides of the ball on the football team he took a knee to one side of his neck and a helmet to the other and lay motionless on the field.  It was six hours before we knew he'd be able to walk again.  We thank God daily he is whole, but would have accepted other circumstances.

     I don't even have to close my eyes to see in my mind and heart the individual moments each came into this world along with their younger brother.  When teaching Bootcamp for New Dads at the hospital over ten years, a program that's been discontinued, I'd often share those and other stories.   Digital cameras and smart phones didn't exist those days and I shot a roll full of pictures when the first one was born only to find the film hadn't "caught" on the spindles.  I was sure it did for the second son, but failed there as well. I'm sure that's not the only mistakes I've made as a father/husband. We had video for the third, and still have the tape (not digital) but it's not really something you'd show.  I think you understand.  As husbands our real role at birth is to help our wives while we stare in awe at what they and God have created.

    When our first son was born my wife, a stubborn strong woman (she has to be to stay married to me) continually repeated "Rub my back . . . don't touch me."  When the nurse was asking about prenatal care for our second son she answered the question about a planned pregnancy with "Well I knew about it but he (me) didn't."  She figured our oldest needed someone to play with.  When the doctor told her he thought it was a false delivery, she said @#$ that, walked the halls and gave birth very soon thereafter. By the time our third son came along eight years later she was an expert.  When her water broke (can't say that in the U.S. House of Representatives, I know) in the middle of a very cold wintery Michigan night in February, I showered, took the prepacked bags to the car and started it to get the heater going.  When I went up to get her though she refused to go.  "The front doors don't open until 6:00 am and I'm not going in the emergency room entrance." 

    These many years later having coached baseball for nearly 15 years, along with some basketball and soccer has been a life changing experience for me. In many ways good coaches become surrogate parents for a time for children that they may not see the impact of their work.  Good for me is not in win-loss records (see Leadership Development through Little League) but in giving individual attention to those in our care while holding the larger picture of the future in mind.  Though not recently, I worked with Junior Achievement in elementary and middle schools for many years for the same reason. As a father, I was excited when the boys could outplay me on the basketball court.  They haven't managed it on the golf course yet, but it's coming and that's OK too.  After all, my goal as a father is to help develop young men who are better than me.  It also doesn't mean my focus on a father was sports, but supporting their interests in who they are.

    This afternoon while running errands before working at a wedding at church, I called my father to wish him Happy Father's Day early.   Tomorrow he'll be spending time with siblings and not available to talk because he doesn't do well with groups of people.  We haven't had feedback from one set of in-laws, which is normal, but received an invite from the other set of in-laws a couple of weeks ago.  That covers our agenda for the celebrated Father's day.  My wife bought the wood for the three of us still at home to build a Corn-hole toss game for our back yard yesterday which can't be sanded and finished in a day, but will be a great family project.  The story of my father, who is an amazing servant leader and wonderful man is another post.  To try and draw this writing to a close, let me share some of the key points I taught in the birthing classes.

  1. The United States, which has more people in prison than the next 35+ countries in the world combined, has a commonality among those in prison beyond being convicted for something they may or may not have done:  They come from single family homes.  Particularly in this economy but even before, raising children with only one parent, with no disrespect to single mothers who are amazing, is  a recipe for crisis and failure. Be a MAN.
  2. If you married out of lust or some party, I'm sorry, because those motivations are temporary and superficial.  The most important thing a father can do to ensure opportunities for his children, is support his wife, significant other or mother of his children. Period. Otherwise, you end up violating rule number one and create societal problems.  There are always exceptions to every rule, but that's not the majority of human experience..
  3. If you wait until your children are old enough to play catch in the back yard (irregardless of gender) it's too late.  Neurology tells us that brain cells grow dramatically between birth to two, 2-6 and then take a break until the frontal cortex develops, which last I read can happen between 11 and 25 over a two year period.  Brain cells actually die after the age six for the rest of our lives outside of the frontal cortex (balancing checkbooks among other capacities). I'm not a neurologist, and what science told us when my first child was born is not even close to what we know now. And by way, we don't really know that much beyond the first statements. If you haven't conversed, held, comforted and developed a solid bond with your child until they can play ball of some nature, you're in for a very rough relationship later on.
  4. For the vast majority of us, nobody is naming a library, hospital or college wing after us.  The only legacy we leave this world with is our children.  They are more important than your golf game, the next raise, a promotion, or anything else that you might selfishly put over society.  They are the future of both you, this planet we share, and the human race.  Why you wouldn't put more energy into that over your bank account is beyond me and between you and God.
     In all of the above, understanding there is much more to discuss other days, what little I know includes extreme gratitude for two key influences in my life:  my earthly father and my heavenly Father, who didn't always agree and who for many years I didn't listen to anyway.  That would be humanly narcissistic.  Additionally, the number of male mentors I've had in my life helping me to overcome a self for the larger picture of community in society is extensive:  Tony Gates; Tim Cusack; 2 step-fathers; Ed Buchanan; Robert Moyer; Tim Steele; Mark Herzog; Jeff Neumann; Lakeshore Rotary (numerous); Jeff Noel; Bob Moss; Marty Golob; Kevin Matthews; Michael Sirianni; David Colp; Bob Badra; Pat Moody; Larry Holben; Marty Mason; two living father-in-laws and at least two dozen more, many of whom had no idea of their impact.  They just listened, corrected if I was listening, and gave of themselves.  For all of them and many more I wish you a most wonderful Father's day, and a year filled with hope, joy, peace and love beyond the recognized holiday.

     No amount of Hallmark cards in the mail can ever express the important roles they played.  Nor do I expect that's what led them to be who they are, or who we are.  Father's day to me, just like Memorial Day, Christmas, Easter, Mother's Day and a number of other "holidays' we celebrate is a 365 day a year lifetime of thankfulness.

     Maybe you've attained the fullness of who you can become in this life.  I know I haven't, but I do enjoy the journey and as Winston Churchill approximately said:

"I do love learning, but I don't often enjoy being taught."

Don't wait for any moment to pass, but awake new in the morning and step up to Do Something that makes a positive difference today.  As fathers, it's the most important part of our day.  The song below is from Level 42 called My Father's Shoes, with lyrics that echo my heart for my fathers both genetic and spiritual.  If you haven't heard it, try the beloved Luther Vandross's Dance with My Father.

Or try Level 42 Children Say:


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