I love when my two year old sits on my lap with a book. I love seeing his eyes light up when he sees me walk in the door. I love the way he cries. I love the way he laughs. His words are smerkingly mispronounced in a way I never want him to outgrow. Sentences are hilariously hung together like dangling underwear, ripped work clothes and name-brand golf shirts mismatched on a wash-line. He reminds me of how much fun it is to be a father.
Then there’s my pre-teen, almost-teen, whatever-you-want-to-call-him. There are days I’ve thought of other things to describe him. Things that ought-not-be penned. Things my parents probably uttered about me in my most torturing of adolescent moments. And then I look at my two girls and wonder just how it is I will ever figure them out. Young females are their own planet; or at least make me feel like I’m on a different one. Maybe being a father isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all?
Then I call this to mind: my toddler won’t always toddle, my pre-teen won’t always pretend and my girls won’t always speak Klingon. Change is guaranteed. And, I am beginning to see, my role as a father is to be a change agent. I must accept, celebrate change, and foster change.
I must accept that my two year old cannot always speak like a child, but must put childish ways behind him. I must accept that my adolescent’s changes are mostly normal and expected in that season of life when discovering your own identity is the destination. I must accept that my girls will change me. They will change how I perceive my own manhood and awaken a fighter in me for their honour in new ways. I celebrate these morphing realities and in doing so I begin to accept my own changing place and, to a certain degree, my own redundancy.
And, therein, lays a disconcerting thought. Not only must I accept and celebrate change, I must foster it. And, if I’m any good at it, I will actually put myself out of work. My toddler will become responsible for his own messes. My pre-teen will become a man who can correct himself. My girls will walk out of my arms and find their most important strength in the embrace of another, hopefully better, man. If I do all this right I will have become increasingly unnecessary. And, so, fatherhood becomes the acceptance, celebration, and fostering of change to my own demise. Not particularly an encouraging notion, but, if I lose myself in this way I will win.
Fatherhood, in this regard, becomes a journey into understanding the unchanging heart of God. The story of Christmas is of God sending his son into the world announced by angels and declared in the heavens where a star is handed it out to the inhabitants of earth like the glowing end of a proud father’s cigar. The story of Easter is of God turning from his son. The son cries to be saved but it cannot be. Has something changed in the relationship? Has God now become a bully? No, this is the essence of undying, uncompromising, unchanging love. The Father knows what must be done and that the ultimate act of love required his own apparent demise. God accepts change, celebrates change with the power of resurrection, and thereby fosters change in me and, I pray, in my kids. The truth is that God’s unchanging nature challenges everything I want left unchanged, and that is our great hope. “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed,” declares the prophet Malachi. However, those comforting words in Malachi 3 are preceded by an unsettling challenge: He will come as a refiner among his children and as a prosecuting lawyer call out everything in us that needs modification. He will foster change. He will expect it. And, he will accomplish this by being unrelenting, unchanging and pure in his love to the point where he will even appear to lose the battle of Good Friday only to overcome in order that we might be changed and not destroyed. Lose to win. Change by unchanging. Love by long-suffering. This fatherhood thing is a great and glorious mystery.