As I write this it’s the week after Thanksgiving. I feel full. Not because I ate too much turkey and mashed potatoes, but because of a feeling deep in my soul. It feels warm, satisfied, blessed, and…full.
I admit it, I’ve been feeling it a lot lately and it surprises me, because I guess it is one of those deep feelings that I never anticipated when I was in the thick of things…like fathering.
For the last twenty-something years, life and family have kept us busy with transitions, changing needs, and constant exhaustion. We love our children but it just seemed like their needs were overwhelming at times. For years the questions tormented us…were they learning enough and we doing enough to prepare them? What if we allowed too many bad influences and not enough good ones? Maybe I wasn’t being intentional enough…loving them unconditionally…or even smiling at them anymore.
There were little reprieves along the way like when they got old enough for us to leave them for an hour, then three, and years later on a rare overnight. That perk was offset by the fact that now their “issues” were bigger and the battles more involved and soul sucking.
It wasn’t just about math facts, phonics, and bed times. Now it was about computer usage, the opposite sex, and the battle of the wills. There were days that I would be mad at them, my wife would be mad at me…and I was OK with that!!! I felt like I was the one who did everything and my wife felt the same. And yet it was easier sometimes to do it ourselves than to go to all the effort to ask one of them to help.
Such was life in the trenches for the last 20 years. And then something happened to change everything. It was my oldest son’s graduation from college. Not ones to make a big deal about ‘educational’ milestones (there are a lot more important things to celebrate…like birthdays and first snows) we decided to gather at one of our favorite restaurants, La Haciendas.
Everyone was there including my future daughter-in-law, Rissa. They gave us our usual table…the large one in the back…AWAY from everyone else. The chips and salsa were flowing and everyone was laughing, talking, and dipping.
I was at the every end of the table because I have a loud voice and can be heard by everyone. Sitting at the end of a long table can tend to feel like the seat of least importance. I remember coloring on a kid’s menus with Cal (8 at the time) and Jed (6). They were too young to enter the big kid’s conversations and so I talked and colored with them.
I guess at one point I looked up from the quiet end of the table and watched my older kids laughing and talking almost oblivious that I was there. And then a feeling of warmth and deep satisfaction began to work it’s way up my body until it settled in my heart like a big comfy couch.
It was that feeling of fullness, a glimpse of the reward of parenting. My children were friends, they loved being with us, and they were going to continue to be a family even when I was one day gone. They were going to be OK.
Last week I felt it again more than once over the Thanksgiving weekend. My children function as a family without me. They laugh, tease, care for, and love each other. I didn’t know it at the beginning of the journey…but I know it now and I’m so thankful for it.
That’s why I’m writing you today, Dad, because maybe you’re in the midst of the hard times and forgotten the big picture like this dad whose concerned wife emailed me just a couple of days ago.
“Todd, I noticed your family photo smiling merrily at the Christmas tree farm. I had to think why couldn’t that have worked out for us?
My husband does his very best to be ’the dad’ but it always seems like we are climbing this muddy hill of life and getting nowhere.
This Christmas he decided to take our girls to chop down our Christmas tree instead of heading to the big box store so we could have that old fashioned family Christmas feeling. You know the one…drive down the snowy country roads, the smells of pine needles and cider donuts in the air, everyone laughing and singing carols.
Never enough money or time, working two jobs to provide for his family, he was determined to make this a great family memory for all of us to cherish through the years. Well, needless to say, he came home feeling like a failure, defeated that the evil foe had won again. We drove two hours to find out the tree farm didn’t have trees taller than my 9 year old so we ended up buying one off their precut lot. Along with a number of other mishaps and disagreements endured throughout the day, this was the 2nd attempt to cut a tree to no avail.
Fourteen years ago for our first Christmas together as a married couple we had a similar experience! Yes, we laugh about it now but how could this happen again? I tried to point him to all the good that came out of the day and what meant the most to us is that he TRIED! He continues to try and try and try but never feels like he gets anywhere. It breaks my heart 🙁
We know the focus isn’t supposed to be on the material things and it’s about spending time together but I just ache for him. I pray for him each day that he feel fulfilled in his jobs both here at our house and beyond. He is a man of integrity and loves his family so much. I couldn’t be more proud to be his wife but if I could have one Christmas wish this Christmas it would be that my husband feel joy and fulfillment that he is doing a good job and making a difference.
Not exactly sure why I felt compelled to share…looking for advice or just a place to share my story about my man but keep doing what you are do Todd because the hardest job out there is being a dad (and mom) and unfortunately the world we live in doesn’t always see it that way. We can use all the encouragement we can get!
Merry Christmas to you and your family!
~ a mom
I wrote the mom back and told her that her husband may not know or feel it now…but a day is coming when he will be sitting at a table filled with his children and this deep warmth will fill his heart and he will feel FULL, blessed to be the dad.
The secret is to not quit because you don’t feel it now. I’m telling you, Dad that feeling of fullness and blessing will come in it’s own good time…it may not be in the coming year or two…or five, but it will come.
Trust me on this one.