This post was originally published on February 16, 2021. Over the next few weeks, I will be pressing more into the theme of masculinity and initiation with new articles, but this post from almost a year ago fits in well with the topic I think. I hope you enjoy it.
Are you talking to me?
Moments after the birth of our fourth child, the midwife turned to me as she was filling out some paperwork and said, ‘Great job, Dad’. I froze. It felt like a trap. A quick review of the past few hours showed my biggest contribution to be holding my wife’s hand as she screamed in pain. Compared to what my wife had endured to deliver our son, I did not think I had done anything to deserve an ‘atta boy’.
“I didn’t really do anything,” I responded. I will never forget what she said next. “You held the room,” she said. “It’s noticeable when dad isn’t there”.
I have thought about that comment a lot since that day. It is a theme that has become more present in my life over the last few weeks.
Showing up is important, but more than that, how we show up is what makes the difference. It determines whether we hold the room or let the room hold us. Reflecting on how my dad showed up for me, my experiences as a father, and the way our common Father continues to show up every day, it is clear: presence matters.
As a 16 year old, basketball was the center of my universe. It meant everything to me. I will never forget the night in grade 11 when my team was in an elimination game to move on to the next round of playoffs. The season was on the line. Unfortunately, we blew a lead in the 4th quarter and ultimately lost in overtime. For a kid who loved the game as much as I did, it was hard to take.
Sitting in the locker room after the game, commiserating with my teammates, my coach walked in, all the blood drained from his face. He was with another teacher from school, who was not our coach, which was odd. It was then we learned that another one of our teachers, a big supporter of the basketball team, had died earlier that day.
The moment hit me like a rogue wave. The impact of the game forgotten as I absorbed the news of losing someone I cared about. The news was more than I felt able to able to bear. Knowing I could not stay in the dressing room indefinitely, I went through the motions of packing my things, but I did not want to leave. Preparing to head out, I feared that I would fall apart.
One of the last players to exit the locker room into a sparsely populated gym, I felt emotionally raw and in a fog.
I saw my parents waiting for me amongst other families. When my dad saw me, he moved in my direction. Nothing was said and he hugged me, allowing everything I was experiencing in that moment to pour out. This was not a normal hug – without words, I felt him saying, “I am here, you can hold on”.
My dad was a rock I could cling to in a desperate moment and things seemed to steady. In that moment, my dad’s presence offered me strength when I had none and more than twenty years later, I can still feel it.
Last summer, my older son was experiencing night-terrors on a regular basis. As parents, it was tough to watch. He would wake up in a sweat, upset about something and seemed to be mentally distant, still in a dream. Nothing we said got through and we had to ride it out with him for a few minutes, often holding him securely until he ‘woke up’.
I should mention for context, it used to bother me a little that whenever my kids would be going to bed and wanted a snuggle, they would ask for mom. If my wife was out or unable to fulfil this request, then I was an acceptable backup. Generally mom is the preferred option for bedtime cuddles.
You will understand my surprise then, when after one of his first nightmares, my wife came out of the bedroom and said, “he wants you”. I felt like the kid at the end of the basketball bench getting called into the game. Almost looking around to see if she meant someone else. Ready for action, I hopped into his bunk and felt him curl up close to me, before drifting into sleep.
I was so chuffed about this the next day and was sharing with some friends at work about the experience. A good friend pointed out that one of the reasons kids want to snuggle with their moms is because they offer comfort.
What my son needed on that night was security and I could offer it to him by being present when he felt vulnerable.
Before having children, I would not have understood how, by being there and offering myself, I can make a difference. In moments such as being with my son after a bad dream or seeing one of my girls run for cover behind my legs when chased by an older sibling, I know that when I am willing to step into the places they are experiencing fear, I can offer security to my family. By making it count in the small moments, I build trust for the big ones to come. And in doing so, I not only fulfil one of my callings as a father, but also point to the Father, which is the greatest calling for any parent.
Over the last few weeks, I have encountered challenging situations on many fronts. Some of them were of my own making – a careless oversight at work, for example. Others came about for reasons beyond my control. It felt like many things were piling on top of each other at once.
I am tempted, in these moments, to feel isolated and alone. As if I need to figure out the solution to the problems or to whine ‘why me?’ when there is no solution. It feels like a discomfort or pain that I must grin and bear my way through. This is a tough road to walk and, as it turns out, an unnecessary one.
In my most recent experiences, I have tried to stay aware of the fact that I have a Father who knows me better than anyone and shows up for me. As I reflected on and prayed through my challenging moments, I felt a reassuring presence. That God was trying to guide me through and that good would be the ultimate outcome. And while I would sometimes prefer the magic wand that erases all my mistakes, I believe that God has something better in mind.
God does not create the problems I encounter. I am perfectly capable of creating them on my own. But He allows them to happen and when I turn to Him, I find a Father who continues to show up and guide me. If I turn away from His presence in the moments I need it the most, I am the one who misses out.
Showing Up in a Meaningful Way
Pulling into my driveway after a day at work can seem like a benign activity. Over the last few years, I have realized the moment is critical in my daily life and the life of my family. If I turn off the car and walk in without checking myself, there is a high probability that whatever state my mind and heart were in when I left work, that is what I will bring into my home.
If I pause for ten seconds and think about how I am about to show up for my wife and children, it can make all the difference.
Early on in my marriage and after I became a father, I would have said that showing up is what counts. Now I know it is how I show up that matters. It has a direct impact on those around me, especially my family.
By persisting to live as a son of the one perfect Father, I can draw upon the guidance and wisdom that comes from God. Rooting myself in that relationship allows me to show up and be the presence my family needs me to be.
It is the difference between holding the room and letting the room hold you.
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Man at Water Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky on Unsplash