During my second year of teaching at that remote rural high school I’ve spoken of, one of the school’s premiere couples broke up.
They’d produced a son by then. His mother carried him in her eighth grade. As a toddler, he liked to crawl around on my classroom floor (it was that kind of school) and tear his mom’s algebra homework riiight down the middle, with an evil grin directed right at me. Pretty cute.
Then his father changed girlfriends. He broke the news to her halfway through the school day. The sight of her face coming down the hallway will stay etched in my memory.
I lost track of them once I left the school; I don’t know whether this young man stayed in his son’s life. I’d like to think he did. He certainly seemed to adore his little boy whenever I saw them together.
The story played out again at a job a couple years ago (this film’s been remade more than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and like most remakes, it never gets better). This teenage couple had a baby girl early on, and the dad always seemed to have one foot outside the relationship. Recently I learned the mom is single. I’d like to think the dad is still playing a role (I didn’t know this one at all), but I don’t know.
I’m happy for the successful families celebrating Father’s Day. But for me, when the holiday comes, it’s these little ones I think about.
Like many singles, I used to think I’d be a natural at the family thing. I’m a Christian, I’m a nice guy, I don’t waste my money…put me in the game, Coach, I’m ready!
Time has cautioned me. Time, and seeing my friends have kids, and the extraordinary slate of unremitting work it takes to raise children. Your attention span is forfeit. Your schedule is carved in stone. Your gross-out reflex…well, it’ll just learn to deal. And suddenly, the future is ominous. It’s not just you on the line as you pivot and adapt. Now there’s a little one dependent on everything you do.
And that’s for older dads.
For a father in his teens, who’s barely figuring out the world to begin with, who has no idea where to start…wow. I can’t imagine.
So I’m rooting for young dads today.
And I’d humbly say, just keep showing up.
If you don’t know jack about being a dad, just keep showing up.
There isn’t some shining manual resting on a mystical perch somewhere, emblazoned with all the ancient fatherhood wisdom, that you haven’t read. Truth is, even older dads are freaked out by the responsibility. They don’t know what they’re doing, either.
But they’re showing up.
When the medical bills pile on, keep showing up.
When the fights with the baby’s mom wear you out, keep showing up.
When you buy all the wrong crib materials and want to punch your steering wheel, keep showing up.
When you see those other guys killing the dad-craft on social media, keep showing up.
When the wisdom eludes you and the energy leaves you and the future seems set against you, keep showing up.
Everything else will come. Eventually the fog will clear, you’ll look down at your own two feet and realize, you’re still running. You’re still in the fight.
As I think of all the little tykes in the world giggling and looking around for their dads, I’m rooting for them. To keep showing up – as God does for us.