I feel like the blogosphere is filled to capacity with posts for wives and mothers, but very little content for men. I aim to single-handedly reverse this trend with this post, which is dedicated to the Husbands and Dads out there. But Wives/Mothers, I guess you are welcome to read it as well:
Sorry for the dearth in posts, but the past two weeks have been pretty crazy for me. Two weeks ago, everyone in my family got the flu and ear infections…that is, everyone but me and my 18 m/0 son. I spent most of my time roaming from bedroom to bedroom, taking temperatures, handing out plastic cups of Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Amoxicillin on a perfectly timed schedule, like a nurse in a sick ward. And when everyone would take their feverish naps, I would go outside and work on pulling weeds in the front yard.
You know you have a problem when neighbors with abandoned cars in their backyards tell you, “You know…your property could use some work.”
After a week of ickiness, all the women of the house finally kicked their various flus and infections, and we were back to normal. Until this Monday. I was resting up in my bedroom, trying to recover from a week of taking care of a sick family, when I got a call on my cell phone. It was my wife…calling from downstairs. Over the phone, she asked me in a strained but polite tone to come down because she needed some help. I found her sprawled out on the basement stairs, with one sock off of her foot…and her toe, pointing WAY off in the wrong direction. I think the X-ray above probably gives you a good idea of what her foot looked like.
“Um, I think your toe is broken,” I said.
So I packed two of our kids into the minivan, then literally picked up my 7 month pregnant wife off of the floor and gingerly put her in the front seat (painfully knocking her broken toe into the dashboard), and headed off to the hospital. We found out that she had dislocated and broken her toe so severely that the doctors were concerned that her bone might break through the skin. They told us that she could expect it to be healed in 6 weeks time, but until then, should try to keep her weight off that foot as much as possible. And so began another crazy week for me, where I took care of everything around the house. I grilled ribeye steaks for dinner, and later, picked up a carton of ice cream to aid the healing process. Or that’s what Carol told me it was for, at least. I made sure her foot was iced and elevated, and that she was getting plenty of rest. For a few days, I bathed all three kids and put them to bed. I did all the laundry in the house, swept and vacuumed the floors.
In other words, I have been the Perfect Husband & Dad. Now let me explain in five easy steps how you too can become this amazing person!!! Wait, wait, don’t leave in disgust just yet. I’m going somewhere with this, just read on:
#1. It helps if your wife had cancer.
Three years ago, I didn’t know how to do jack around the house. The washer and dryer frightened me. And I was always uncertain where to find the pots and pans in our kitchen. The only reason that I am fairly capable around the house now is because two years ago, Carol was going through chemotherapy and pregnant with Jonathan, and was so weak and nauseous from the treatments that I found myself in the exact same situation, only for months at a time. And it was during that difficult season that I learned how to take care of the kids and do the laundry and dishes, and keep the house clean. So I wasn’t born a domestic god (just a figure of speech, not blasphemy) – I was made into one.
What I realized is this: I think we as men often get fixated on the fact that we weren’t born the husbands or fathers that we want to be, that we’re terrible with the kids and we don’t know when or why our wives are mad at us. And because we lack those inborn skills and characteristics, we despair and resign ourselves to mediocrity, or worse. But really, we should realize that good dads and husbands are very rarely born – instead, they are created, forged through difficult circumstances. The best fathers out there weren’t born with a specific set of genes that enabled them to wash dishes and wipe bottoms. They learned how to be the fathers that their families needed, and the husbands that their wives respected, usually through very difficult circumstances.
And that should give us hope, knowing that even though we might have been born the worst, we can become the best.
#2. Perfect Love > Perfect Skill
I am good at one thing at home: doing the laundry and putting it away. For some reason, that one single aspect of home life has always come naturally to me, and I rather enjoy it. But besides that, I’m not really good at much. I’ve burned a grilled cheese sandwich, and recently. I’m not a great caregiver, and often fall asleep when I’m supposed to be making sure that my kids don’t fall down the stairs and burn themselves on the stove. I don’t naturally have many of the skills that a perfect father or husband should have.
But what I do have is a deep love for my family. I know for a fact that no one loves my children and my wife more than me. And it’s my love for these people that gives me the motivation to do what does not come naturally (i.e., everything), or else to learn to fake it the best that I can. Because I love my kids, I learn how to make them snacks, and how to effectively, yet nicely, get them to stop hitting each other. Because I love my wife, I haul my butt to the grocery store to buy ice creams in various flavors, multiple times a week. These don’t need to be inborn talents or characteristics. A perfect father needs only to love his family more than any other person in the world, and that love will make enormous and necessary growth and improvement possible. Love is so much more important than skill, because love makes us willing to learn any skill possible, but being skilled does not guarantee that we love, or love well. Or as Scripture puts it, love covers a multitude of shortcomings.
So do you love your family a lot? Then good, you should be able to do the dishes, no problem.
#3. Perfect for mine is not perfect for yours.
I think that I was the perfect father and husband to my family last week…the operative word being “my” family. You see, I realize that that my kind of fretful behavior might actually be really annoying to other families, in other situations. I know wives who would feel more than a little stifled to have their husband hovering over them as I did with my wife. I’m sure that many families would have preferred if their dad just ordered a cleaning service to come and tidy up, rather than trying to do it all himself, painfully, and rather badly. Last week, I was a very good dad to my family, but might have been a very annoying dad to any other!
But that’s okay, because there is only one family I have to be perfect for: my own.
There is no perfect ideal when it comes to being a father or husband. There is no perfect set of neutral curriculum upon which men are judged. You don’t have to be the perfect dad in every situation, to every family, to every person…only to your own. So forget being a good father compared to other fathers, or in the eyes of other men or women or in the church. Being a perfect dad in those contexts means nothing at all. Focus your attentions on one thing only: being a good father and husband to your family alone, whatever that means. Be the best father you can be to YOUR kids, the best husband to YOUR wife, given YOUR job, YOUR house, YOUR schedule. And if that makes you a bad dad in the eyes of the Jones’…screw ’em.
#4. Perfection is not permanent.
I have been the perfect husband and father for the past two weeks, it’s true. But this week was another story. A few words to describe my attitude and mood these past few days:
Completely lacking in perspective
I just couldn’t keep it together and maintain the “perfect father thing”, not this week. I regressed, and rather badly. But it’s okay, because Carol’s foot was feeling better at this point, and she was able to step back into her role at home, basically doing everything. And despite my impatience and incompetence, my little girls and the boy still loved me. And so even though my perfection had worn off, my wife and children were able to adjust for my fall from grace.
Perfection is not a permanent state, at least not when it comes to parenting or husbandry. There will be seasons when we must step up as strong fathers and husbands, and not falter. I think this in itself is something that a lot of men do not realize. But those are only seasons. In the other seasons, it’s okay to be good or average, and in other seasons, even sub-average sometimes. In those other times, it is the strength and courage and love of your spouse and children, and most importantly, of God, that bear you up and carry you forward. Husbands are not mountains that carry everyone’s burdens on their shoulders – they are part of a family and a community that helps each other in turn. So you don’t have to be perfect all the time, as long as you have someone to cover you when you take your break.
#5. Perfect does not mean flawless.
When we think about the word perfect, we usually mean “flawless”, meaning having no errors or flaws of any kind, i.e. a perfect diamond. And that’s an accurate definition, don’t get me wrong. But the word for perfect in the Greek (sorry, I have to make use of my theology degree in some way) is a little different. That word, teleios, can mean flawless in some sense. But it’s true meaning is closer to “complete, or whole”. In this sense, perfection is not a state of being without flaws, but being whole and complete, and needing nothing more as a result.
I think this is such a necessary dynamic to build into the concept of being a perfect father or husband. Being a perfect father does not mean you will never screw up. That’s not possible, not for fathers, nor for mothers, nor sons, nor daughters, nor anyone. And I think our frustration often stems from the fact that we measure ourselves in that crushingly destructive way. Instead, I think our goal in our roles as parents and spouses should be wholeness, to be a complete person. We should love our children…and our wives. But we should also love God, and allow that love to inform and fill all others. We need to know that we are loved, by our children, our wives, and by our God. We should love ourselves as well. We need to have strong identities invested in strong things, not only career and position. I think this is a far better understanding of perfect fatherhood: to be whole, both to love and to be loved, whose lives are rooted and given shape not by the ideas of culture, but by God love and Word.
So there you go, my (tongue in cheek) guide on how to become a perfect father! And as you can tell, the only way to do that is essentially by redefining what “perfect” means. The search for perfection, whether it be the perfect spouse or parent or whatever, is fundamentally skewed. Perfect is for God alone. We, on the other hand, are constantly in the state of becoming more like Him. And as long as we are consistently on that path, I think we should give ourselves a pat on the back.
Or in my case, a nice chocolate cupcake.