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They say that the most difficult task in sports is to hit a baseball, to strike a round ball, heaved as fast as 100 mph, with a round bat squarely, which by description seems impossible. The very best who try fail a majority of the time.
Rocket scientists are seen as benchmarks for intelligence, brain surgeons as icons of professional accomplishment. Some can play musical instruments with the finesse and timing of a metronome, and some vocalists attain notes on a scale most can’t identify. Poets string words into phrases that intimate more than the words were intended to say. Intellectuals put a shine on our synapses.
There are the brave among us who hurl their bodies faster than sound itself or perhaps stare down death to save lives. Iron chefs make savory chicken salad out of odorous chicken-you-know-what. Some men can move jet planes with thier own power. Some can run as fast as a racehorse for a short distance. Some appear to have wings.
There are those who can negotiate peace among warlords and some who claim to communicate with the dead or predict the future.
There are miracles worked somewhere every day, mountains moved metaphorically and history rewritten, chapter and verse.
But no accomplishment – none of these or any others you might add to this list – can approach the daunting dare of trying to be a father.
Nothing matches its degree of difficulty, nothing challenges sophistication so routinely. Nothing approaches its level of responsibility. Everything in fatherhood is pure peer pressure and a seat at the black-chip table.
But then shouldn’t a status chosen and bestowed by Our Maker carry that magnitude of heft and culpability?
Many men become fathers to continue their lineage, others by chance and fate. Some overcome science and pursue that starring role as if stealing it rather than auditioning for it. Many of them don’t have a clue what character is required until the curtain on the key act virtually is drawn tight. But they stumble through their scenes and hope the audience gets the gist of the story.
Some may sire children, but they aren’t really fathers. Wrote author Kent Nerburn: “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.”
That’s why I believe God chooses fathers from men he knows will bring to the job the values he desires.
There are those with a gold standard of love, graciousness, patience and discipline. Others are the opposite. In the middle are most of us, who struggle to understand the purpose and not screw it up so badly.
Each of us has our example. A boy of a certain age thinks every father should have the bearing of Ward Cleaver, Andy Taylor or Ben Cartwright, to name a holy TV trinity. We watched them say their lines and emote their feelings, and we were awed by their insight, their strength, their guile and understanding. They made a major moment perfect in about two scenes or 5 minutes. None do. The boy cum father insantly felt himself inadequate.
We heard and read the example of golfer Phil Mickelson, who flew all night so that he wouldn’t miss his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation, even if it meant difficulty in winning the U.S. Open. He failed on the golf course, but not at home.
Or maybe you simply were blessed to have a father whose great and quiet strength came from example, from showing you how to work, to earn, to love and to bestow love. Maybe you recall the times when your dad shot baskets with you or taught you how to drive the tractor or counseled you through teen troubles and implored you give your best when the job was its most distasteful.
Maybe you weren’t so lucky, and your example of a good father came from not mirroring but by deflecting the lessons you felt from harsh words or abusive hands, from a distrust and a distaste that sometimes bled from the open wound of inadequacy into the austerity of emotion, love and even presence that sustain most boys.
Our world is full of these stunning examples.
There is a fun-loving young man who found himself with a daughter who needs constant attention and extreme medical care. But he changed his life to accept that challenge.
There’s a man who saw his son struggle at fatherhood and reached out to bring to his bosom a grandson in need. There’s a father who saw examples of how to love his son not from a man who was absent during his youth but from the father of a friend who considered him an extra son.
There’s a grandfather who worked alongside the father and taught alongside him as well, so a grandson became a father with perspective that did not require a trip to the bookstore. There are men who have taken in the children of the women they married and earned a level of love that usually requires DNA to kindle.
Within many of those descriptions is my own father, a supreme example for a life devoted to a role he assumed and embraced, who did his best no matter the situation and who unfailingly repaired the forgotten missteps he probably thinks he made.
Said Ruth E. Renkel: “Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.”
We sons and fathers of today, though, we take all those examples and feel so totally overwhelmed with the how and why find ourselves at the door of ineptness, measuring ourselves low on life’s scale.
I’ve hit a baseball squarely. I’ve understood the words of scientists and surgeons. I grasp great music and can embrace the ability to feed stunningly. I can try to save lives.
But I’ll never do anything in fatherhood as well as my dad.