THE PERFECT FATHER?
J. Grant Swank, Jr.
Not too long ago I heard the preacher tell the congregation all that a father is to be. He made us priest and king and prophet and disciple and companion. Then there were all those scriptures to support his tally. It was neatly outlined. The delivery was impressive, too.
The only thing is that when he neared the end, I felt like David strapped down with Saul's armor. I couldn't get up from the pew. Whew!
I glanced around to see other fathers in a similar mindset. They, like I, were trying not to show it. Throughout the concluding hymn we men were wondering how we could bring it off. How do we match up to be "The Perfect Father"?
I know I'm supposed to take the children to church regularly and teach them the Bible, the ways of prayer, and the salvation path early in life. I know also that it is probably more important for me to live the truth than talk about it.
But what formula applies when spit-spats seem to increase within the family and the halo slips a bit off center?
It is in those moments that I grapple with the priestly, prophetic, and kingly hats, only to find them slipping off my brow. And then I glance to right and left, hoping the world isn't watching. After all, as a Christian father, am I not to live out the perfect example?
I must confess that I'm not always up to it, whether the church is glaring at me or not. And the longer I live, the more I reason that few others are always up to it either. It has taken some time, however, to actually accept that as fact.
I guess the attractive pictures on religious magazines, the ones with a handsome man surrounded by beautiful offspring and that gorgeous woman for a wife really did brainwash this naive mind.
At times, I would gaze at those perfect families seated on the sofa with the thick Bible positioned in the center and ask if they ever dropped French fries--catsup and all--on their laps. No, that could never happen to that family!
Nor could that lovely wife ever argue with that handsome husband with the large smile and dimpled chin. How could it ever be with such sweetness abounding?
I have seen those same perfect families walk into church. On some Sundays, especially in spring, with the buds just starting to bloom and the birds tweeting in the trees, I can see them still. They slide down the center aisle to take their places, with hymnals held high.
So, it really happens, I think.
But enough years have gone by that I know neat dads and perfect families don't always come in such attractive packages. With that, I heave a sigh and recoup.
You see, being a good father isn't a matter of appearances. It's not even whether or not you could jump into that slick magazine cover with the perfect family.
When you stand before your Maker, He won't ask you to smile or show off your family. Instead, you must be able to face Him honestly and say, "I did my best--even in the worst of times."
The other evening, I had a tussle with my seven-year old son. We were not seeing eye-to-eye on a matter. It was time for him to get ready for bed, and I felt as if the evening had been rather botched up. I didn't like the feeling at all.
After he climbed into his pajamas and then curled up under the blanket, I sat on the edge of his bed and started to pray, as I usually do. It was hard to find the right words, but I made a stab at it.
Should I turn the prayer into a mini lecture, trying to get in one last punch? Don't the pros tell us that during sleep the brain keeps on absorbing the last thoughts that are planted on the mind? Well, this would be my chance!
Or should I turn tender and love the little fellow to pieces? Would that be copping out? Or would it be wisdom?
His face was turned away from me. He was wondering as well what approach Dad would take! After all, this was not the first time the day's endings had wound down to this.
Then I caught his big, brown eyes turn a bit more to size up my expression. With that, I wilted. After all, he knew he had done wrong earlier. But there was the look of hope in his face.
Could there be mercy in the court?
I closed my eyes to pray, Dear Lord, thank You for my boy. You know how much I love him. He means the world to me. Now we thank You for this night's sleep. Be near us all. And may tomorrow be a good day. In Jesus' name, Amen.
He swung his body around toward me and hugged me tightly around the neck. His eyes were closed tight. There was no more reason to glance in wonder.
"Daddy, do you love me even when I am bad?" he asked in my ear.
"Yes," I answered. "I always love you."
So, with that he said one of the most encouraging statements known to mankind. It isn't novel or new. Yet it's powerful, that's for sure.
"You're the best daddy in the world."
It was then that I promised myself something. Yes, there's still much room for improvement as far as my being a father is concerned. And yes, I've goofed from time to time.
Yet that night I told my memory to hold on to one thing as the years kept passing by. It was the innocent testimony of a little boy to a father who was sincerely trying.
"You're the best daddy in the world."
Don't forget it, I said to myself as I turned out the light.
Don't ever forget it.