Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Perfect Fathers

Reading the first chapter of Don Miller's book got me thinking about the things we learn from having a dad around and what we miss when dad is awol. Don writes about watching Bill Cosby's portrayal of superhip dad Cliff Huxtable, always ready with an apt witticism, a goofy pratface, or a well-timed cultural lesson. He was the perfect dad. Sigh.

It's quite a thing to aspire to, this acme of dad/manhood. Boys aspire to be it, girls aspire to wed it. What does the perfect Christian man look like? He's a man's man who grunts Tim-Allen-like while reading John Eldredge; he's Ward Cleaver with a little Michael Landon half-Pa-Ingalls-half-dreamy-Highway-to-Heaven thrown in; he's a hard, serious worker; he makes his wife glad each morning as she reads The Power of a Praying Wife that she's not dealing with all those issues; leads family devotions; serves on the elder board; grills a mean steak; always says the right thing; etc etc etc etc

Does anyone know this guy?

He's a false image, an idealization. Most men can be like part of him or even all of him in bits and pieces, but bundled together he's an improbably, impossibly pedestaled hope, poised to topple. And he's who boys without fathers think they should be and who girls without fathers think they should marry. The boys cringe at their first taste of failure, sure it's a sign of a genetic flaw. They hem and haw and avoid, fearful that they don't have the mettle for this after all. The girls spot every flaw a mile away and thank their lucky stars they avoided that mess; better to move on and find one that's not broken.

One of the benefits of having a dad around is that you get to see the real version. You get to see a dad who sometimes comes home late, having forgotten to stop and pick up the milk, and snaps at his wife, then sulks in front of the television. You get to see a dad who occasionally aggravates his wife by leaving dirty socks or dishes lying around. And, yes, you get to see a dad who, hopefully more often than not, makes up for it all by unexpectedly bringing home everyone's favorite ice cream or sending his tearful wife to sit on the couch while he does the dishes.

One of my favorite books is The Velveteen Rabbit. It's a classic children's story about a toy bunny who thinks he is real, but soon learns that real is something attained painfully and over a long period of time. Real, for the toys, happens when they've been loved so much that their hair wears off, their eyes fall out, their stuffing lumps up, and they basically look a tattered mess. The toy bunny learns that in the midst of all this untidyness is the essence of real.

Fathers aren't stage props or sappy, one-dimensional Christian romance novel characters. They're real men who elate, disappoint, protect, wound, lead, abdicate, laugh, (ha, you thought I was going to say 'cry' but we're being real here), sulk, and do all the other things that make up real. And, no, it's not perfect, but it wasn't supposed to be. Only one Father is perfect.

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