For the last six months or so I've been trying to write a piece about fatherhood. I've had ideas that I knew would have to be the necessary guts of such a piece, and I've had bits of phrases that I'd been jotting down in the edges of journals now and then. But every time I'd put my mind to it, put pen to paper, it just wouldn't materialize.
Perhaps there was just too much to say. Or maybe it was just very personal. I don't know.
I've been told that creativity thrives within clear parameters and even self-imposed constrictions, so a few weeks ago I promised myself that—with Father's Day drawing near—I would complete the piece whether inspiration chose to visit or not. And I did.
While I might have made my deadline in writing the piece, I'm obviously a little late to the game on getting it posted. The following audio was recorded live from Father's Day weekend at ROCKHARBOR, and the full text is below. (You'll notice that the performance varies slightly from the text, the product of live performance!)
Since your mother and I have now borne you I thought it best to go ahead and warn you about the battle of fatherhood.
Because this thing is a war at times. It seems we're always drawing up battle lines, and sometimes the battle rages between me and you, son. But far more often, I find, the battle is waged against one, just one, myself.
Because fatherhood brings into sharp relief the vast chasm that exists between who I want to be— who I'd like others to see— and who I really am.
If you ever want to know thyself, to discover the true wealth of who you really are— all your immaturities and insecurities— if you would care to have them brought out to bare in the midday sun, I'll tell you one way to get there: if you dare, have a kid.
Because, son, you're like a flashlight giving me painful insight into the dark and cavernous recess of my selfishness.
This fathering stuff is difficult work.
But someday you might be one of two, a couple who is just starting out. Maybe beating around the bush or outright talking about what you should do. And you may be asking, “If it's so rough, this parenting stuff, is it worth it?”
And all I can say is: It is. It really is.
Because, son, I'm seeing the whole world again, and its full to the brim with possibility, with discovery. As I look into your brown eyes— Wide as saucers the moment Mickey Mouse appears with his big round ears... My boy, in your face, I'm witnessing joy!
You're almost four today. And, yes, you can go out and play in just a minute, but listen awhile longer, please, there might be something in it.
Son, your name is Finn. And since the day you first talked it's been a nonstop ride. All your F's, they still come out as S's. Interpreting you is often a series of guesses, When you said “gold-sish” is “gold-fish” what you meant? With sword in hand, “Let's fight!” becomes “Let's sight!” so everything comes out just a little bit…bent. But I don't have to interpret when you stand there before me, lips turned up in a grin, and say, “Hi dad, nice to see you. My name is Sin-n.”
Because in some ways, And on some days, I'm pretty sure you're right.
But then late at night I'll sneak in just for one last kiss. I don't want to miss a chance to see you sleep with the light of the moon from the window falling on your cheek. In those kinds of moments I just know— as my heart fills to the very brim just at the mere sight of you, Finn— that this is, perhaps, the least selfish, the most selfless, I've ever been.
But moments like those are both pleasure and pain, and to say they're pure joy would be to posture and feign. Because there's joy and there's heartache. Because I know that your little heart will break time and time and time again on your way to becoming a man.
I remember the day your hand could first reach the handle of the front door; my heart tore in two because I knew that on the other side of that door there was a whole world that would tell you that the sky is the floor. And I wouldn't always be there tell you there's more than what they promise, more than what they profess.
Because they'll tell you everyday that the sky is the limit, but they won't tell you that their sky, son, there ain't nothing in it. The constant refrain is to shoot for the top for your own selfish gain, but it won't ever be enough!
I can't ever be enough. Your eyes can't see it now; they only see how strong I am, only see what I can do and not what I can't. Son, my power is scant.
Oh how much I hate to admit that to you, but nonetheless its irrevocably true that I can't be it all because I suffer from the same fall as you. Right now I am your whole world, but someday you'll outgrow it. I know it. I won't be big enough to hold the dreams that you'll so bold-ly chase.
Though my heart, it may bleed for you, if you add up all you need for you and compare it to all I am, it's true, you'll still be left wanting.
I can't ever be enough! I'm just not made up of enough eternal stuff. That's why I'm glad there's another who is holy and…other. Because, son, I have one who calls me “son” too.
And I'm not talking about Granddad! He is truly the best dad I could ever have had, but even he can't begin to offer the purpose and wonder of our Heavenly Father.
And I'm seeing that wonder right now more than ever, seeing more deeply the depth of his pleasure, seeing it from a father's perspective, and I know I'm not alone in this collective.
Because all men can become a father to some. Because fatherhood, son, comes in all forms: legal, biological, spiritual and other norms. But just don't miss that all its forms are gifts. Because when we see through the eyes of fatherhood his love for us, his children, is more richly understood.
Because when I look at you… Son, it's like seeing us through his eyes. And I can see that he loves us. I mean, really, loves us! With a love that overflows the shores of our imaginations, it blows off the doors of our wildest expectations!
I used to think that God was our Father so that we could learn to be fathers. But I'm realizing that he allowed me to become one To teach me how to be his son To teach me how to see how much he loves his daughters and his sons, each and every single one.