The Highest Calling: Being a Dad

Yesterday was Father's Day. As a favor to a dear friend, I did a speaking event on Saturday night away from home, and planned on returning very early in the morning for Sunday and Father's Day. But I got to my connecting city, only to learn that my flight back to D.C. had been canceled. Good old United Airlines -- it appeared that their computers had a problem. They re-booked me, of course, for the next day! They had oversold their flights for the rest of Sunday -- something the airlines do regularly to benefit them even if it inconveniences their customers.

So my mission to get home for Father's Day began. After some work, I got on a wait list and, because of my frequent-flyer status (the only benefit of traveling so much), I was able to get on a flight and make it home by about 4 p.m. As I got out of the cab, I saw a sign outside our house that said "Happy Fathers Day," with bright colors and hearts. And the frown of a weary traveler quickly turned into a big smile, and the stress of once again battling corporate America relaxed into my warm welcome home.

Big hugs and gifts followed, including a picture of 12-year-old Luke's Little League baseball team with trophies in hand after winning the championship just last weekend, with an old guy smiling behind all the kids in his own baseball coaches cap (that would be me); a handmade and stitched pillow for my head, from my 8 year old, Jack, for just hanging out and relaxing together on the couch; a new photo album with the latest action shots of the boys from our early summer -- mostly playing baseball -- and a bottle of my favorite red wine.

The highlight came when I unwrapped an interesting little book called, Dad and Me: Conversations to Keep Recordable Book. It's a wonderful and imaginative little volume of voice recordings that Joy and the boys had put together, with the boys answering questions like, Where do you like to go with Dad on a Saturday and why? What games do you most like to play with Dad? Would you and Dad have more fun on a boat, a dog sled, or a space ship? If you and Dad were superheroes what powers would you have? What would you call yourselves? If you and Dad were inventors, what would you invent? How would you use it? If your Dad were a king, what kind of food would he have as a feast, and what kind of animals would he have at his castle? What are your favorite foods and animals? What's Dad favorite spot in the house? If Dad won a gold medal for doing something incredible what would it be? If Dad gave you a big trophy for doing something amazing what would it be? If Dad could be the same age as you for just one day, what would you do together? What are the three things you like about your Dad? And what does your Dad do to show you he loves you? And so on.

My son's answers to all those questions will just stay between them, me, and their mom, but their responses melted away any leftover anger and anxiety about my long sojourn home, all the pressures of the work I do each day, the disappointments that are part of caring so much about social justice, and my continued awareness of all my own shortcomings and failures to make more of a difference in the world.

Instead, the difference my being a father to these two boys makes to them, and to me, seemed more than enough in that moment, sitting between them both on the couch, and listening to their wonderful, funny, happy, and loving answers to all of the creative and probing questions. They were both beaming with me, laughing, or tearing up as we together listened to their perspectives on their Dad, their world, and on the meaning of life itself. I realized that to have this relationship with these two boys is literally the best thing I will ever have. And to always be with them, and for them, in this world, is the highest calling I will ever know.

Then we all settled in to watch the end of the U.S. Open golf tournament and got more and more excited as 22-year-old Rory McIIroy set 12 records, including the lowest score in U.S. Open history and the youngest to win the title since 1923. At the end, there was a big bear hug between Rory and his father Gerry, a white-haired man from a humble background in Northern Ireland, where both he and Rory's mom worked multiple jobs, and made many sacrifices to help their very gifted son achieve his dream.

Making the long walk down the 18th fairway, Rory spotted his Dad in the crowed and his face lit up with the brightest smile a Dad could ever get. Rory says of his parents, "They never pushed me at all... I just wanted to do these things, and they were very supportive." A good Father's Day bit of advice.

We all know the media story about how this same young man led the Masters tournament just a few months ago, and then fell apart on the last day due to all the pressure. His father wasn't able to be with him at Augusta. But this time he was, and they ate breakfast together every morning before the match. Rory hinted that this made the difference, saying that he missed the "face" and "reassurance" of his father at Augusta. And that's exactly what fathers do. My son Luke is way beyond me in baseball now, with his travel teams and real coaches (far beyond his "Dad coach") giving him the necessary skills and training to move his baseball career forward. But he still says that he likes to hear my voice during his games just to "calm me and keep me focused," he says.

I could feel the emotions in Gerry Mcllroy when he watched his son being presented as the U.S. Open 2011 champion. Rory raised his trophy high and showed the world that big boyish smile again, then said, "Happy Father's Day, Dad, wherever you are, this one is for you." We all just sat there watching in our house, just a few miles away from the Congressional Country Club where the tournament was being played. I was enjoying resting my head against my Father's Day pillow from Jack. And we all understood exactly what Rory meant.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.