Paternal Perambulations

 

    You will pardon the rather forced attempt at alliteration in the title of this reflection.  The Shorter Oxford Dictionary offers this definition of “perambulation:”

“The action or the act of perambulating; a walk; a survey on foot …The action or ceremony of walking officially round a parish, forest, etc. for the purpose of asserting and recording its boundaries and preserving the rights of possession:  beating the bounds.”

Father’s Day is prompting me to take a stroll and to take stock of how richly blessed I was to have had the father that I did.  I am also being stoked into a deliberation as to the need of godly men to provide fatherly or father-like deportment to those around us.

My fine father was a worthy and honorable man.  He was also a deeply troubled, conflicted man.  He missed out on a great deal in life because of his unresolved, perhaps even unrecognized pitfalls.  But he was well-motivated, however deeply distressed.

He loved me; that I always knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.  I have faint recollections of him when I was a wee-little child, distant memories that bring forth a vague but concrete awareness of how much he loved me.  One could do much worse at such an age.

We didn’t necessarily understand each other, and we found ourselves amidst a relationship that was fraught with the clash of personality, though never of heart.  We loved each other, and the both of us knew it, especially in our later days together.

I discerned the Lord to be prodding me to draw close to my Dad in the early 1980s.  I responded with an eager obedience, and my Dad responded in kind.  We began to talk, watch Boston Celtics basketball games and share church.  It was all quite splendid.

But we really hit stride in 1986, the same year in which I graduated from seminary and our beloved Celtics played their greatest season and won their last title with the legendary Larry Bird.  My father and I had an even better season. 

And then came 1987.  We lived, worked and played together.  God’s grace was abundantly evident in our relationship.  The Celtics went down in six games against the hated Lakers, but we couldn’t lose together.  It was grand.

My father took ill; cancer of the bowel and the bone it was, with precious time left betwixt us, though there will ever be the memory of what we did share.  My mother and I had always been exquisitely close; now, my dear Dad and I were indelibly bound. 

It was only then that the Lord deemed me ready for full-time Christian ministry; for it was only through this course of budding relationship that I came to truly honor my father.  And it was only then that I entered into a fuller appreciation of the 5th Commandment.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).  They are worthy of such honor by the very nature of the relationship, but do take note of the salutary consequence for those who so obey.

‘So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”  Long life and, implicitly (I believe) abundant and worthy life.  God wants us to be a blessing to our parents, and He assures us, too, that we will be so blessed.  The blessings are mutual. 

We are not living in a day in which fathers are always being adequately honored, though we are also living in a day in which too many fathers are not adequately fathering.  It is frightful in the ramifications to children, to family life and to the broader society.

The brilliant Irish novelist Patrick O’Brian describes a young character named Francisco in his fine novel, The Catalans, in his rather immediate transformation from child to man, as he takes his leave from school:

“Francisco wanted to be out, and the old man could see no reason why a boy who could pull on a rope should stay penned in a school.  So he left, and at once he was a man.  On the last day of his last term he was a boy, playing quite childishly with the other boys in the street as they went home; and on the first day of the new term he passed them as they straggled by the fish-market, he passed them with his sea-boots on, carrying a basket with En Cisoul, a hundredweight of sardines, for the boats had been out all night.  He nodded to them as he went by, but it was a man nodding to boys of his acquaintance, not a boy grinning at his equals.”

One wishes that it were a similar phenomenon amongst today’s men.  We need men, not ones who will merely and aloofly acknowledge others, but who will stand forth and lovingly beckon for others, especially those of the younger generation, to follow.

A moment must come when it dawns upon even the most obtuse examples of the male gender that manhood is both beckoning and required of us.  It isn’t easy, but it is urgent.

How else shall fathers be fathers?  Who else will be fatherly to a generation that needs father-figures?  The numbers of those who are pursuant of the task seem to be like the veterans of World War II – They are fewer and fewer with each passing day.

I don’t mean to be so much pessimistic or cynical so much as exhortative; encouraging even.  My so-called “learning curve” has been challenging:  I came into my role as step-father when my step-daughters were effectively fully-grown.  What did I have to offer?

I have been even more challenged in my identity as a grandfather, though the presence of the Little One as she resides in my home has given me a more direct and pervasive opportunity to strike a difference for the better, at least in the life of one little child.

Our churches need men who are prepared to serve in fatherly ways to our younger generation; in concert, our younger people need to recognize, to honor and to submit to those men who lend their lives in fatherly example, sacrifice and leadership.

We don’t need more powerful governing officials, nor do we want more influential figures from the world of entertainment, let alone more pundits and commentators who boast of having a prescriptive handle on our affairs.  We need real, honest-to-God fathers.

Our nation has been blessed by our Founding Fathers, men who were, however flawed, honorably disposed towards their fellow citizens and to those who would comprise posterity.  They literally placed their lives, let alone their fortunes, at our disposal.

The Christian Church was blessed with the devotion of the Apostle Paul.  He wrote to one community of fellow believers as a father would speak to his children:

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:10-12).

Our churches would be so well served by men who thought and loved comparably to the great apostle.  Are you such a man who is being called by God into similar service?  I know that it is my heart-felt endeavor to be such a witness and example.

I observe my twin brother.  He has blossomed as a man as he has been lovingly devoted to his two lovely children.  They have been raised amidst the security of a loving home, while he has been raised up as a man of the finest caliber. 

I attend to a man of deep acquaintance who has bloomed amidst his commitment to helping struggling people.  His beneficiaries are situated far-and-wide, but they have one thing in common:  Each can turn to a man for help and know they will find him and it.

I long for a scenario when men of God stand up to set an example for others to follow.  I don’t mean that I wish to see men become dictators or distasteful chauvinists; simply that we would all have the privilege of looking to and drawing upon the blessings of fathers.

I was so blessed.  My mother was so blessed with her dear Papa who loved to carry her on his arm when she was little and who loved to preach Christ’s Gospel wherever he went, whether in Boston or in Wales.  I want my congregation to be so blessed.

Gentlemen, Happy Father’s Day!  Children of all ages, Happy Father’s Day!  Brothers in Christ, we are entrusted with making it all so real for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom.  I say it again:  Happy Father’s Day … And may God our Father be praised!

Bradley E. Lacey
June 17, 2012