Browse through the Hallmark section of Father’s Day cards and you’ll discover that every father is above average. The Bobs, Jasons, and Charlies of this world get up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and put on their capes before they leave the house. We are evidently overrun with heroic, god-like dads who compete in out-fathering everyone else.
There are many children, young and old, who can’t stomach Father’s Day. They are the offspring of deadbeat dads, abusive fathers, men who have failed them in ways that possibly scarred them for life. To them the whole purpose of this day is senseless, if not revolting.
A man becomes a man by imitation of his father. There are other influences in a boy’s life, but none greater, or of more lasting consequence, than his dad. A father makes many choices in his life—the woman he marries, the career he pursues, the skills he fosters. But I remain convinced no decision matters more than what kind of man he will be to his children. They are his legacy. And if in the twilight years of a man’s life, he can look back and say, not that he has been a perfect father, but that he has been all the father he can be, then he will have lived a life worth living. Dad, for over four decades of your seventy-two years, you have been a father to me. I have no other, nor have I ever desired another. Like any man, I am full of weakness and strength, good and bad, but the strength residing in me, and the good I possess, I attribute to you. You shared stories from your own life, and the lives of others, from which I learned what to avoid, and what to embrace. The silent witness of your deeds has spoken volumes, and taught me more, than any university degree. Though I could never detail all the gifts of character I have learned from you, these three stand out, above all others, as the legacy you have bestowed.
From you, Dad, I learned that a man is truly a man when, as Ecclesiastes says, whatever his hand finds to do, he does it with all his might (9:10). At every job I’ve had, from a roofer to a pastor to a driver, people have remarked on how hard I work. No one has ever called me lazy, nor will they, for I am your son. I am not a workaholic, but when I labor, I labor from the heart—with diligence, energy, commitment to the best job I can do. Work is, in a sense, a sacred task, given by God. And in working hard we give glory to the One who, even before sin entered the world, gave Adam work to do in Eden.
From you, Dad, I learned that a man keeps going forward, even when he may want to give up. I have gone through some painfully dark times in my life—and life being what it is, will probably go through more—but I have never stopped pressing forward to what lies ahead. Perhaps we are both simply stubborn, and refuse to quit for that reason, but I believe it is something more, something deeper, and better. It is hope. You have never given up on me, never gave me a reason to doubt that I would make it through my darkness, no matter what. And that hope has kindled more hope, and lasting hope, within me.
From you, Dad, I learned that our God is a good, loving Father. From childhood I have known the Holy Scriptures, as Paul did (2 Timothy 3:15), for you took me to Sunday School, sat beside me in church, prayed at every meal, and witnessed in countless ways that God is good. My faith may not be able to move mountains, but it moves me forward through valleys of the shadow of death, moves me to love others, and moves me again and again into the arms of the Savior whose love, and sacrifice, I first learned from you.
A true, loving father is a gift every child desperately needs. I have had, and still have that, in you. And I pray that I may be the same for Luke and Auriana. That, like you, I too may live a life truly worth living.
My father, Carson Bird, and yours truly, 1970, in Jal, NM.
I’ve yet to meet parents who want their children to grow up and become penniless beggars. When our nest is empty, we want their joy to be full. We urge them to keep their nose in the books. Hone a skill. Earn a degree. Land a good job. And, when the time is right, and they find Mr. or Ms. Right, we want them to marry and eventually give us grandchildren we can spoil. We want our children to grow up and lead happy, fulfilled lives in whatever vocations the Lord gives them. No parents want their children to mature into something less than their full, human potential. I am the father of two teenagers, a son and daughter. Now, I’m sure that if I were to sit down with God and have a discussion about the future of my children, we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on lots of things. I’m a selfish, short-sighted mortal, after all, and He’s, well, all-knowing and all-holy and all-that. But disagreements on details aside, we would concur on the One Big Thing: both God and I want my son and daughter to reach their full, human potential.
How will they reach this magical moment, this milestone on the journey of life? Perhaps by chasing their dreams, pursuing their passions with a heart wholly devoted to the attainment of whatever goals they set for themselves in life? As good as that might sound, no, that won’t get them there. Perhaps by devoting their lives to the service of others, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, putting every person’s interests ahead of their own? As wonderful as that would be, no, that won’t get them there either. Perhaps by becoming a voice for the oppressed, a defender of the life of the unborn, an advocate for victims of hate and prejudice and violence? As worthy as that would be, no, that won’t help them reach their full, human potential either.
To become everything God wants them to be, my children must first become the one thing they don’t want to be. They must become dead. But it’s a special kind of death; it’s not so much the omega of life as the alpha of life. To become that complete human being, my children—indeed, every person—must be united in death to the only complete human being who has ever lived. Full human potential is not a trophy achieved; it is a gift received. And it is received by bodily unity with Jesus Christ, with the one, unique man who is everything God wants a human to be. That unification takes places by a watery death that miraculously joins us to this complete man who gave His complete self for the complete salvation of a world gone completely wrong. Full human potential is reached when a person is embodied with the man who is also God by baptism into Him.
It is a fully true but also fully hidden reality—this unity with God in Jesus via baptism. It is fully true, for “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death. We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” (Romans 6:2-3). And “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But it is also a hidden reality, for “you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory,” (Colossians 3:3-4).
This is the now-and-not-yet reality of the Christian life, the is-and-will-be-ness of the faith. In Christ we have already reached our full, human potential. We have partaken of the divine nature by being grafted into the human nature of that one man who is also God (2 Peter 1:4). And yet we await, with all creation, the day of resurrection, when the resurrection of Jesus will have its way with us, when His coming back to life will restore life back to us. On the Last Day the full reality of what happened on our baptismal day will be unveiled.
My son and daughter reached their full, human potential when they were mere babies, a few days old, when they were united to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a simple baptismal font at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, in Wellston, Oklahoma. Whatever they grow up to be, to pursue, to achieve, I know that the most important thing that could ever happen to them has already taken place. They became children of the heavenly Father, partakers of a gift that they, and I, will fully see revealed when Christ returns in glory.