"Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise;"
"Happy Father's Day," I whispered to my father, and hastily hung up the phone, briskly ending our bittersweet exchange. I looked at my wife in a dither, the flustered look in her eyes revealed the depth of her anguish. We embraced. I squeezed her tightly, and as I did, I felt the warmth of her tears sliding from her eyes, down her cheek, then mine, before ultimately pooling on my shoulder. She began sobbing. I finally relented from my feeble attempt to restrain my frazzled emotions. We wept together. This was not how I anticipated spending Father's Day.
Father's Day as a national celebration arose from the desire of a woman to honor her remarkable father a little more than a century ago. Historians attribute the original idea of creating Father's Day to Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington. Mrs. Dodd reportedly had the idea for a day to celebrate fatherhood while hearing a sermon on Mother's Day in 1909. Her father, a Civil War veteran, raised her and her five siblings alone after her mother died in childbirth. She believed he too deserved a moment of reverence and celebration, so she pushed to have a day to honor fathers. Mrs. Dodd drummed up support among local religious leaders, who subsequently celebrated the first Father's Day on June 19, 1910 in Washington. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a proclamation that declared the third Sunday of June as a day to celebrate fatherhood, and in so doing he officially recognized what had previously been a beloved annual celebration across the country for several decades.
Father's Day began as a religious holiday, presumably as a means to adhere to the commands of scripture, but quickly became commercialized as it grew in popularity nationally (e.g. President Coolidge lent his support for the observance in 1924). It also has signaled a time where our nation pauses to reflect on fatherhood, celebrate those who embrace the title of father, and also serves as a jolting reminder of the deleterious impact that occurs when our fathers are absent. President Obama, who notably has reflected on fatherhood quite publicly, has used the annual celebration of fatherhood as a means to spark a national conversation on fatherhood and personal responsibility, in addition to launching an initiative that promotes responsible fatherhood and mentoring in 2010.
In essence, Father's Day has come to hold different meanings for us all. Previously, Father's Day for me represented a time when I would scurry to find a gift for my father more worthy of the occasion than a new tie or customized coffee mug. More recently, the day has grown in personal significance for me as I journeyed the road to fatherhood myself. Me and my wife lost who would have been our first child on Father's Day seven years ago. A few months after our wedding day, we began debating when we would attempt to "grow" our family. While we were debating the merits of waiting a bit longer, we learned a new life had begun growing inside my wife. I, the one who advocated waiting for a more appropriate time, found myself surprisingly elated at the potential arrival, and spent the next several months eagerly preparing for the arrival of our "bundle of joy." I had envisioned how our lives would suddenly change upon our child's arrival with distinct clarity, an almost arrogant certainty, when, within the blinking of an eye, our hopes were dashed by the unthinkable. The "vapour of life" slipped from our grasp, vanishing before we could even fully appreciate its presence.
That jarring moment demonstrated the frailty of this life, and how little control we have over it. We were crushed, but not without hope. We took solace in the fact that God, our Father in Heaven, is breathtaking and breath-giving. It is the Creator, the Giver of Life, who determines the beginning of living, and we had to trust His timing. We learned that lesson yet again when we found out that we would become parents nearly a year to the day we suffered our crushing loss. Our family would then grow two more times in the years that followed.
Now that I am a father, I daily experience a range of emotions. Naturally, I am thrilled that God has entrusted me with this great honor of becoming a parent. I also feel consumed with a great sense of wonder and anticipation of who my children will become, along with how me and my wife will shape their growth and development. Particularly, after our experience seven years ago, I was constantly reminded of the miracle of childbirth. I still distinctly remember watching my wife waddle across the room, and the motherly glow she exuded throughout the day. I will never forget touching her belly, and feeling sudden movements from within. I will always hold dear the moments I would place my ear to her swollen abdomen and hear a faint heartbeat.
Each day my children remind me of how precious this life is, and it continually makes me consider how I am spending mine. I feel the great weight of responsibility that comes with rearing children "in the way [t]hey should go." I find myself constantly examining myself and delving into deep introspection as I search for what lessons I will impart to them: what experiences will they remember me for, what habits are worth keeping, which should be discarded, and what will be the be the sum of my legacy? I wrestle with these questions as I think of what do I have to share that is of eternal significance.
Notwithstanding my lack of answers to these questions, my children gives my life new meaning, and new hope for what may come of it. When I peer into their eyes, I see more fulfilling joys, deeper purpose and a new sense of optimism of what the world can be. I feel an urge to strive harder to be my best knowing they will view their first glimpse of manhood from me. Knowing my son carries my name makes me fight for the name's value. I feel a greater love for my wife as I share these precious moments with them. I feel a more urgent desire to make this world more like it should be, so that my children will know a better life than I did. I feel like a father, and there is no feeling like it.