I thought I would be good at it. A natural. Just like rolling off a log. Being a good dad.
I thought it was core to my identity, just part of who I was and was meant to be. Like I came with a genetic switch that at the right time would be flipped and I would be great at being a dad.
I have a good dad, a very specific dad who was a dad to me in very specific ways. In talking to my brother as an adult, I realize we had different dads in some ways because my brother and I are very different people. I made the mistake of thinking of dad-ness in the abstract. I considered myself good dad material before I had a specific child, a concrete, flesh-and-blood, particular person.
I am a dad to Joshua Mark Love who today turns 26. I am chest bursting proud of him and have been at every step of his life. He has made being a good son look easy. Being the dad I wanted to be was hard.
He wasn’t what I expected. What I expected was a cuter and slightly more athletic version of me (he is cuter and a much better ultimate frisbee player than me, but he is not a version of me). The hardest part of being a good dad was learning to embrace his otherness, his uniqueness, his not-like-me-ness, his concreteness. I say this with great regret and not a little shame. But I don’t think I’m alone in this. I don’t think its uncommon for romantic views of being a parent to be shattered by the reality of an actual flesh-and-blood child who is totally and completely an irreducible other. Parenting is the place where some of our deepest idolatries, the places where we create the world in our own image, have to go to die. Lord, have mercy on me, a parent.
So, being a parent was work, it wasn’t just like falling off a log. I wasn’t as good at it as I thought. My identity as a parent was no longer abstract. I was a particular parent to a particular son. I was only a parent in the real life world of a relationship, within the context of a developing story with another central character. I had to realize that how I was with Josh was who I was as a dad. And I wish I was better.
In many ways, I learned how to be a father from him. I followed him to places I otherwise would not have gone. Even the things or interests we shared meant different things to us. It took me too long to see this for the profound possibility it was to find a deeper and broader identity for myself. To be saved through the particularity of his life. To be a father. To be a truer me.
This is his gift to me. Him, himself, other than me. And today I want to receive him again with joy, with a better and clearer understanding of what it means to love him, to be his father. Lord, have mercy on me, a father.