Long-Distance Dad

It’s that time of year again. You know, those last several weeks before the end of the school year when the kids are having all their school programs, parties and graduations. Of course the more children you have the number of these events increases exponentially requiring more memory cards for the cameras and camcorders. At the same time parents are wondering in the back of their minds what in the heck they are going to do to keep the kids occupied for the next ninety days… swim lessons at the rec center or maybe an art class at the library? Of course, there’s a week away from the city, singing songs and making incendiary devices at Lil’ Tike’s Terrorist Training Camp, and the always eventful family vacations to Disney or Wally World.

For me it’s both a fun and sad time. Fun in the sense of seeing Allie and Avery get all excited, and then act like a couple of hams in front of people at all their school events, but sad because it also reminds me that my three boys are having their own graduations, school programs and class parties. Throw in the fact that Allie just had a birthday party this past weekend to celebrate the fact she’s now 6, and it’s one more event in my kids’ life that I’m not at.

I have to admit, when I’m at any of the girls’ functions, there is a sliver of guilt that stabs me in that place in my heart reserved for my own children making me feel like I’m choosing one set of kids over the other. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I lived closer to where the boys are, but being thirteen-hundred and some odd miles away, geography determines things differently. Moving to where they are is on the table, but finances and a miserably unsuccessful job search stand in the way. Soon summer will be over, the school year will start again and relocating will then be delayed another year.

I know I’m sounding kind of bleak here and everyone (if you’ve gotten this far) is asking, “Where’s funny Ron at? He must be off his meds?” Ya, I like funny Ron too, and I’m still here (yes, I’m on my meds too, thank you), but sometimes “funny” can be an effective psychological barrier making others think you’re ok. Ironically, some of the stuff getting me the most laughs comes from the same things I agonize over the most. Allie and Avery’s day-to-day antics make for hilarious material, but as I’m typing it up, I’m wondering what quirky things my boys are doing as they sit at the dinner table or ride in the car.

Not that Allie and Avery are red-headed step-children (it’s really more of a light-brown, and Avery’s young enough her hair could still change), but your kids are your kids, and I want to be involved in the lives of mine, especially since they are boys. Again, nothing against the light-brown-headed step-children, but there are volumes of studies citing the damaging effects resulting from boys not having their fathers (or at least a male mentor – check out Donald Miller’s Bellmont Foundation on the side bar of the Lunchbox) to guide them.

This thought has also been one of the factors prompting my interest in the “masculinity movement” going on in the churches today. Within this movement there are ones extolling a balanced message, and there are others pushing a bit more aggressive ideology. As I look into those more vocal groups, I’ve been getting a perception they have gained a popular foothold with men looking to fill the voids created by the absence of those essential elements of manhood only provided by a father (and one that has found these elements himself).

This point is the theme for a number of books including Miller’s To Own A Dragon and John Elderedge’sThe Way of the Wild Heart. Both books make many solid points, as well as coming to the ultimate conclusions that even without a father, God is the only perfect Father who can guide us to a true manliness; and earthly fathers, despite our imperfections, should mimic His example in giving sons what they need to become a man.

Although I don’t agree with everything Elderedge has to say on the methodology in raising sons, I do think he summarizes the essence of what a boy needs from his father, and the void created should boys not receive it.

Without [the] bedrock of affirmation, [the] core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand ways. Quite often he doesn’t know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, ruled by fears and the opinions of others, yearning for someone to notice him. He longs for comfort, and it makes him uneasy because at thirty-seven or fifty-one, shouldn’t he be beyond that now? A young place in his heart is yearning for something never received.

For me, I have been tested many times in this area; in fact, I’m going through one of those periods right now as I deal with a completely new situation for me in being unemployed as I discover God’s direction. In conjunction with a job search, I’m attempting to face down the fears and doubts that go along with pursing a dream I believe God wants for me. By no means is this easy. It’s not supposed to be, and I’ve almost given up on it more than once, but the thought that keeps me from going through with it is what I would tell the boys one day when they’re facing the same thing. Will I be able to guide them with the confidence gained from overcoming my own fears, or will I shrink with guilt when they need me as I remember how I backed away repeatedly?

Last week I received Noah, Harrison and Sawyer’s school pictures from their mother, who, despite our differences, is pretty good about mailing them to me each year, and I am grateful she does. As I looked at their faces, that sliver of guilt stabbed into my heart like a shiv, adding to the pain caused by not being able to talk to them for four or five days. Rather than take pride in how big and strong they look (not to mention that they can melt almost any girl’s heart), I moped. Instead of taking delight in the fun they were having as they were at church, their friend’s house, or school events, I sulked, thinking they didn’t care about a Dad living so far away. I only made it worse as I focused on my present circumstance that are preventing me from being near them again, which of course, led to the doubts encouraging me quit. Pretty soon, “Fun Ron” started to turn into “Clinically Depressed Ron.”

Then yesterday Noah called me at around 4 in the afternoon (3 hours earlier than the regularly scheduled time). He wanted to tell me he fixed my old Army entrenching tool, and as such, needed to know how to dig a foxhole big enough to fit him, Harrison and their friend. Dad, I need something that will make us completely impervious (he uses lotsa fancy talk) to the enemy, he explained.

We spent the next thirty minutes discussing the specification and methods as Noah stood outside with the cordless phone relaying what I was saying to the others so they could get started. Then he handed the phone over to Harrison who launched into some of the events of the day, which turned to questions about the Indiana Jones movie coming out this week. Altogether, I spent over an hour in conversation with them, and I was thankful my works allowed me to stop what I was doing and focus just on them. Had I been working in my previous job, it would’ve more than likely I would have rushed things or been distracted if I even picked up the phone at all. Something then became clear to me.

In my desire to be a father to my boys, I have been trying to do it the way I think most logical in the sense of being physically closer to them. Along the way, however, in my narrow vision of how things should be, I’ve only frustrated and discouraged myself which in turn has led to doubting myself. That one-hour phone call reminded me of the commitment I made to myself to be a present father even though I can’t be a (physically) present father. It also reminded me I have a Father who has a greater vision for me, and in knowing He wants me to follow His example as dad to Noah, Harrison and Sawyer (as well as step-dad to Allie and Avery), I also know He will determine the circumstances and timing allowing me to do so. In the mean time, I need to keep plugging away.

"The Lady Killers"

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