Happy Father's Day, Dad

June 19, 2005

Hey Dad,

Today is Father's Day. It's a day our country recognizes fathers and the significant role they have in the lives of their sons and daughters. It's a shame that when we're young, we don't have the understanding to realize the privilege of having a father in our lives. I've seen and even worked with children who never had a father. And even when their father was home, he wasn't really a part of their lives. He was basically a stranger who took residence in the same location.

It breaks my heart to hear stories such as these. I believe that was a big reason why I decided to study the discipline of psychology. After working with kids who came from fatherless homes and seeing what you and mom passed on to me, I knew I had to do something, at least be a small part of the solution.

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. - Jim Valvano

You set the standard for me as to what a father should be. It wasn't a standard of perfection, but of love. It wasn't one of getting it right all the time, but of consistency in what you said and what you did. And when you missed the mark, you were the first to admit you were wrong. Your willingness to ask for forgiveness will always be etched in my mind as a lesson any young man can learn. Every time I fail (which is far more than I'm proud of), it's a sober reminder that no matter how hard I try, I will always be imperfect until I'm called home to eternity. In fact the older I get, the more aware I am of my limitations. This just demonstrates that my faith doesn't make me any better than the next person; it just points me in the right direction to the One who can save me, and is willing to forgive and offer me, once again, yet another chance. There will always be a need to receive forgiveness, and to offer forgiveness to others. Frederick Buechner says it so well, "When somebody you've wronged forgives you, you're spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you're spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride." If we only practiced this better, we would know how to live in harmony with each other. There's something to be said when a spouse is willing to confess to his loved one that he/she was wrong and quite sorry. Obviously, each spouse will fail the other. But it's at the point where two stop defending their arguments and decide to forgive that their oneness is made stronger and their love much richer. When I'm married and have children, I pray, somehow, I will learn to lead by this example which you and mother demonstrated to me. It is, however, always a lot easier to say than do.

As you know, I'm not a father yet. But I so desire to be a father one day, just as you were to your three boys. I can only wonder what it will be like to hear the words, "father," "dad" or, as we called you, "pops" from my little girl or boy. There is something sacred about those words. The name carries with it an immense responsibility, especially when it means leading these precious lives through their formative years. When I'm a dad, I know I will spend as much time as I can with them. I will protect them from any harm, even if it means giving up my own life. I will commit to being there for their recitals, their athletic games, their first bike ride, their first date (at least send them off), and all their special ceremonies. And when they have sleepovers, I hope I'm just as excited as you were with our friends.

Where does this desire come from? It came from you and Mom. Whatever I did, you and mom were present and, even when you couldn't attend something of mine (which was rare), I always knew you were behind me. Your support gave me that needed push to believe that I could do something even when I didn't have such faith in myself. It was that added step which moved me a little further than where I was the day before.

Unfortunately, I've never been a dad. I don't even know what it's like to sacrifice all the liberties you once had as a single man. But then you and mom married and, finally, I entered the picture. I just wonder all the inconveniences I caused you. I wonder how many plans or get togethers you and mom had to break because of me. How many diapers you had to change? How many baths you had to give me? How many meals you cooked? There is no way to count how many opportunities you and mom gave up. The things you once enjoyed as a couple obviously took a permanent back seat. No longer could you go to the movies or take a vacation alone without the need of a babysitter, a high chair, a stroller, or other things necessary in raising your baby. It's impossible to measure the number of sacrifices you made so that your little boy could feel safe, secure, and most of all loved. In all the thirty-three years I had with you, I knew I was loved by you and mom. I see this as a huge gift not many young boys and girls can say that had or currently have in their lives.

As a little boy, I always knew that I could run to you and feel safe within your strong arms. Even if the world was coming to an end, I knew somehow everything would be ok. It's funny - even though I'm no longer a child now, there's a part of me that wishes you were still around because your presence was tantamount to me running into your arms. The world isn't always a safe place as you probably can tell from your perspective. Many live in fear of what will happen tomorrow. We all have our concerns and worries. But when you were around, I knew I could always go to you and share a concern or challenge I was facing. Once our conversation was through, I always walked away feeling like, "It's going to be ok." These days I no longer have that privilege. In many ways I feel alone, and on my own. And although I have some wonderful mentors in my life, they could never replace you - the one who will always be my best friend.

As I said, it's Father's Day, yet this little boy inside of me misses you very much. Thank you seems too petty to describe how grateful I am for the responsibilitiy and role you upheld as my father. Still, I want to thank you for your grace, which reached out its arms, picked me up, and encouraged me to move forward. And thank you for your discipline, which offered reproof when necessary and sent me in the right direction again. Most of all, thank you for being my father. I doubt I could ever be as good as you were, but I have an example to go by when I need help. Happy Father's Day, Pops. I love you so, so much.

Your son,

- Justin