The Night I Learned What It Meant To Be A Dad

Our first born will graduate from High School on Saturday. She is bright, hard working, mature, and brave. I am amazed at her growth and maturity. She is going to be a great adult.

My most vivid memory of Grace as a toddler involves the moment I feel I first became a Dad. Sure, I was a dad by function and circumstance but it was this incident that showed me what kids can do to you and how they can teach you profound lessons.

Grace was two years old and a pleasant kid despite the age. My wife had a weekend commitment and that meant that I was in charge of Grace for the night. I would have to feed her, get her ready for bed, and make sure nothing seriously went wrong.

I was, and still am, an incredibly self focused individual. All of this responsibility was incredibly inconvenient, hard, and was removing me from my own agenda and preferences. I was feeling sorry for myself and bitter towards my wife for leaving me alone for hours on end with this bundle of demands, irrational behavior, and diapers. As the evening progressed, my plan was to do what I had to do and then get her in bed as soon as possible so I could be free of all of this annoying responsibility.

We lived in a duplex at the time and our neighbors had a toddler size play set out front complete with a slide. They were kind enough to allow us to use the play set whenever we liked. After I fed Grace, we went outside and she started to play and slide and slide and slide. At first, I thought this was a great way to occupy her before bed and I wouldn’t have to entertain her and I would soon be on to my own agenda. But something changed in the course of a few moments.

GRace

I think I first noticed her smile. Each time she went down that little slide, she had the most joyful grin on her face. It was infectious and I started to smile along with her. I began to notice everything, I noticed her joy, her beautifully cute hands and feet as she went about play. I noticed the way she completely lived in the present. Then I noticed the incredibly perfect night that enveloped us. West Texas sunsets are the best in the world and this night’s sunset was a masterpiece. The coolness of the early spring evening was so pleasant I wanted to soak in it.

Slowly, I began to live completely in the present myself.  This moment was beyond anything I could have ever concocted. This little girl was mine and she was planted on this earth to show me a side of love, compassion, and sacrifice that is unique to parents. I became a Dad that evening because there was nothing I wanted more than to have a thousand more moments like that night. To share a bond that only a parent and a child can experience. To recognize what family means on a heart level and not just a surface level.

I am grateful for that little girl teaching me this lesson and for the lessons she has taught me the following 15 years. Hopefully, I have taught her a few lessons and given her a few priceless moments along the way as well.

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When I Grow Up I Am Going To Be A Good Parent

I am the father of three girls, ages 17, 13, and 8. Parenting is hard enough but having kids at such distinct phases of growing up forces me to wear different hats each time I try to be a father figure.

For my 17 year old, I am thinking about all the things I need to tell her so she can survive a complicated and hard world. For my 13 year old, I am thinking about how can I instill in her how precious she is and that today’s frustrations will be forgotten tomorrow. For my 8 year old, I am trying to demonstrate to her what a father’s love looks like and that she is safe in this world because she has strong parents who love her.

The above paragraph makes me sound so good and noble but the reality is that I am thinking about these things and maybe even acting on these things in the midst of eye rolls, shrugs of disinterest, raised voices, and little patience.

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So much of my work in personal spiritual growth is to be able to manage life as a husband and father. My family is the great laboratory for measuring Christ’s transforming power in me. Everyday I am given a status report as to the improvement I have made in being more loving, or being more merciful, or being forgiving, or being a servant. The old cliche of “parenting will keep you humble” is so true.

The results are not always negative. There are times when I have said something kind and loving that I knew came from a place of Christ transformation and change. There are times when I was willing to sacrifice and extend myself for my children out of care for them and not for myself. There are times when I see past whatever I have planned next and provide words of encouragement, or advice, or teaching that might even resemble what Christ would have said.

I am grateful for my kids and what God has taught me through them and by them. I am grateful that all of my reading, learning, praying, meditating, studying, and work on my own growth in Christ isn’t locked away in a closet but gets a chance to be lived out in a way that stretches me and helps me grow but also, just maybe, benefits the ones that are closest to me.

What I Have Learned From Having Cleft-Affected Child

Our youngest daughter just completed her third surgery on her cleft palate this Thursday. The surgeon has tried twice to completely close up her palate but the two previous times a fistula (opening) has developed. Because of this, there are certain verbal sounds that she cannot make, there are certain foods that become problematic to eat and thus cause potential infection or discomfort and pain. My wife and I have been working through the weight of our daughter’s problems since before she was born three years ago. I think I have learned a few things along the way about myself, my God, and my spiritual life. Here are a few of those things that I have learned:

1. Prayer works – along this entire journey we have had countless prayers answered. For example, before she was born, her situation looked bleaker than a correctable cleft lip and palate. Conditions such as Down’s Syndrome, spina bifida, and kidney malfunction were thrown around by her Perinatal Specialist. We immediately began praying and had our church pray and many of the worst possible scenarios did not come to pass.

2. I can pray with intensity – there is nothing like desperate circumstances to get you on your knees with a sense of urgency. I cried, I pounded my fist in anger, and I pleaded with God to heal her and keep her from harm. I never knew that I could pray so vigorously.

3. Sometimes prayers end with resignation – After I have prayed in all of the urgency and intensity as I knew how, I often was just left with one prayer. “Lord, I place my daughter in your hands. I have done everything that I know to do and I am going to trust you with her care.”

4. A marriage can grow closer – I often hear about marriages that struggle when their children are suffering through intense medical situations. I can see where these things can zap the energy and effort needed to keep a marriage relationship going well. My wife and I have had our moments where we have let the magnitude of things overwhelm some of the commitments that we have made to each other but we also quickly learned that we needed each other because no one else on earth knows exactly what we are going through.

5. People mean well but say silly things – I don’t begin to pretend that our daughter’s health concerns are worse than other children with deformities or illness but when people passively dismissed her ailments as “just” this or “just” that or “that can be fixed,” I kind of cringed inside. I know that these people were thankful that her condition was not worse than it was but their comments didn’t accurately reflect what we will be going through over the next 15 years. My wife and I realized that expecting others to understand what we are going through is not realistic. We have to rely on God for comfort and strength and on each other for understanding and encouragement.

6. There is no quota on medical issues – In the first year of her life, we thought that each tough situation that we surpassed meant that we got a break for a while. That did not turn out to be true. Surgeries, pneumonia, scoliosis, hernia, and eye procedures all have marked our daughter’s life over the last three years. I have learned to quit keeping track and just move to the next thing. God is here now, God was there then, and he will be there in the next thing.

7. A church family is important – Visits to the hospital, picking up our older daughters at school, meals when we just get back from the hospital, and prayers have marked how our church has supported, assisted, and encouraged us. I couldn’t imagine going through all of this without the support of friends, family, and church.

8. God’s blessings come in the darkest time – I can remember nights when my daughter was in so much pain that she couldn’t sleep and I would just pray and pray for her comfort and rest. When my prayer would be answered there would just be a complete outpouring of peace and comfort from God. I almost felt like I was wrapped up in it. I couldn’t experience that if I didn’t first experience the pain and trouble of the dark times.