Reflections on Identity and Fatherhood on My Son’s 26th Birthday

My son, the artist.

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.

 

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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4 Responses to Reflections on Identity and Fatherhood on My Son’s 26th Birthday

  1. Cheryl says:

    Love this. So true, it is humbling to come face to face with our idolatry as we learn to parent. I hate that, at times, I have desired with my whole heart for my children to feed my ego and identity. Thanks for a great and honest post. Josh is a life-giving blessing to our family.

  2. Mark,

    What a wonderful post. And your “He wasn’t what I expected” paragraph really hit me. I’ve a 17-year-old son and can so relate. I hope I can say the same, or close to it, in 10 years. Thanks for your honesty and the gift that you’re able to provide for him on his birthday!

  3. Ashlee says:

    I think this applies to mom’s too – and this post made me tear up. With two daughters and a third baby on the way I think how can I do this it’s not working but you are right I am trying to parent the way I think a parent should be and not the way my kid’s actually need me to be. Thank you for this humbling and eye opening post from a mom who really needed to read this.

  4. Sara Barton says:

    Love it. Happy Birthday to Josh, and blessings to you.

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