An Intimidating Pass
There is a scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in which the Fellowship is travelling by boat. Approaching the border of Gondor, the ancient kingdom of men, they come to The Argonath. Two huge stone carvings of the ancient kings. The sentinels serve as a warning to any who would pass that they are entering a great kingdom.
A gate is a simple image, but one loaded with much meaning. Jesus refers to the Narrow Gate in Matthew’s Gospel saying, “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:14).
A gate marks something. A change in place where one side is distinct from the other. Gates are often secured, either by a lock or someone guarding it. A gatekeeper.
A father is called to be a gatekeeper for his family. To protect the family from harm and ensure the security of those within the gates. Our children have a need to feel comforted and a need to feel secure. As a dad, it matters to me that when my kids perceive a threat, whether real or imagined, that they can count on me as a source of strength.
And yet, a gate is not a wall. It is meant to be passed through. The purpose of a door is to allow people to enter and leave. A door can let in light and air. In a dark room, a closed door that never opens falls short of its purpose.
When I reflect on how I show up as a dad, I can see it is easy for me to be the watchguard. Enforcing the rules and keeping things secure comes naturally to me.
It is important to keep watch over the things that matter most. But that is only part of the job of the gatekeeper.
While it might be easier for me to stand guard at a closed door, part of my job as a father is to open the gate and walk with my children to what is outside. It may not be as safe – life offers both joy and suffering – but by letting them through, I can foster their growth and accompany them on their way.
A Broken Door and Honest Talks
In my own journey in faith, I have discovered new meaning in my calling as a husband and father. One of the temptations I have often fallen into is the be extra-hard on myself as a dad.
A few years ago, the image of God the Father that I had held for most of my life broke as I encountered something greater. Before this encounter, I saw Him as distant and judging. This is how I had interpreted Him growing up. I have since come to know God the Father more like a Dad. He looks out for me and cares for me in the same way that I look out and care for my own children (except infinitely greater than that).
This revelation has been a great source of joy for me over the last few years. But it has also resulted in me putting a lot of pressure on myself to model this Father to my family. To be the gateway through which others could meet Him through their interactions with me.
I could be very hard on myself. Every time I made a mistake, I would imagine the damage caused. Like the eating away of an imaginary buffer that each of my kids have, allowing for some mistakes in my parenting.
It is a strange way to look at it. Through my own growth, however, I have come to realize something. That even in times when I do make a mistake with one of my kids, there is opportunity to restore our relationship. Sometimes it results in us ending in a better place than we were before I made a mistake.
It was in a conversation with a priest friend of mine that I realized that the call to fatherhood is not a call to perfection. If I set my own margin for error at zero, I will fail every time. This does not excuse the mistakes, but it allows me to view them with mercy and provides opportunity for growth. To learn from them and get better. The calling of being a father is not a one-off that you say yes to and that’s that. Being a father is a journey, with many bumps along the way. If we learn from them, we become better parents.
In this conversation, this priest pointed out the futility of expecting perfection. We are not called to be God to our kids. We are called to be the gate through which they can learn the Father. To lead them on the path through which our children can meet God.
Boldly Passing Through the Gates
In moving beyond our comforts and into the frontier beyond the gates in our lives, we open new possibilities.
In order for a father to be the gateway to the Father, he has to first know the Father. To shepherd someone through the gate, he must know what lies beyond. He must understand his own heart and the Father’s relentless pursuit of it.
The journey through can be intimidating and the thought of staying within our own walls might seem more sensible. But unless I seek to be fathered through those unknown places, how could I do the same for someone else?
This passage, like any great adventure, opens us up. It changes who we are and helps us grow into something more. We gain experience, wisdom, and the confidence of knowing we are not alone. By entrusting ourselves to a Father who loves us, we prepare ourselves for those entrusted to us.
Life offers us many gates. Some appear wide and easy to pass through, but these gates are not what we are created for. Anyone who has grown through adversity understands this. The greatest fruits often come from the toughest journey. As Jesus said, few are called to enter through the narrow gate, but its path leads to the most life.
Standing at the Gates
When it comes to the gates of life, as a father I believe I have two primary jobs.
They are both critically important, and when done at their best they point to the Father and the life awaiting us beyond the narrow gate.
The opportunity is there daily. Whether we are leading a group of travelers through a dangerous pass in canoes into the ancient kingdom of men or opening the front door for a toddler to go outside, the heart is the same. A father’s heart is always at the gate.
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