Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It's My Birthday, and I'll Cry If I Want To

Not sissy-girl tears, but good manly ones - like those shed at the ending of The Iron Giant: "Suuupermannn!"

(*sniff* aw, man - I gotta get back on track here.)

In preparation for leaving for Metropolis and Superman's 70th birthday, I had to get a LOT of things done early. One of those things was to send my dad a Father's Day card. (It's this Sunday, June 15th, bucko.)

Men have weird relationships with their fathers. Statistics show one out of four young men grow up without a father at all (divorce, born out of wedlock, etc.) really, one of two grow up without any real interaction at all. Absent fathers, they are called. Work and other pursuits have kept them out of their children's lives.

It is stunning. If you look only at the prison population, you find it even worse. Far worse.

Let me tell you a story I heard. I think it is true.

Hallmark wanted to do a public service for inmates at a certain prison. They set up booths for Mother's Day so any inmate and every inmate could send his mother a Mother's Day card. Couldn't write so well? They'd take care of it for you. It was a touching gesture to these men and they lined up in droves to fill out the cards. It was an astounding success, so Hallmark decided to do it again for Father's Day.

Not one inmate showed up.

You see those men had been nurtured by their mothers and respected them. But the "naturing" aspect - when to fight and when not to, how to use their masculine strength and the lessons they needed to be wise in a world that caters to pleasure - was not given to them. So when they hit those trials they were unprepared. They got slaughtered by the Enemy.

In other words, the Captain of the ship was derelict in his duty. One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller describes this pain of absent fathers in his book To Own A Dragon.

Like I said, men have weird relationships with their fathers.

At a certain point, we have to fight with them - maybe even get physical - just to say, "No. I'm a man now. I make my decisions, right or wrong, but I have to do it or I'll never be a leader for others - my own household, my own wife and family."

We love them but we also have to stand against them. The Swordmaster wants to see if his pupil can parry and thrust and repartee, facing his very best attacks - and all so they can be ready for the battles they must face. Within themselves, with others, with the world.

Women work in collectives - put two women together and you have friends. Put three and you have a group. Put four and you got a party.

Put four guys together and you got a gang - or a squadron - or... well you get the idea.

We band together to wage war against other men. But its always to "win" together. All that strength has to go somewhere.

But we don't always like that role. And truthfully, a boy only weeps over this absent father because he loved him and he wasn't there. He was less important than his dad's work or entertainment, his buds or his new wife. Or at least it felt that way. So the boy weeps.

The hidden one, deep inside the man.

I wept today as I wrote my dad's card. I acknowledged that we are two very different people, but as I grew older I realized I was wearing his smile, his values, and his faith.

My dad is in an institution now - a nursing home. He was running around town in his scooter a month ago, but he kept getting stuck. His wife could not care for his physical needs anymore. Being paralyzed on the left side is tough for person, but at 250 lbs. it is even tougher for the caregiver who must meet all those needs.

The last time I talked to him - and we cannot talk for long, our shared interests are few - he said, "Son, follow the Lord and He'll take good care of you. He'll feed you and clothe you and give you a home." This from the son of a dirt poor sharecropper, born in the Depression, who survived a Kentucky flood at the age of 5. Poor? You don't know poor. But he knows his True Benefactor.

So I weep. I am glad of my dad's faithfulness, though there is much he does not understand theologically - Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Covenant theology, etc. - he does understand that God is good and has been good to him.

I'm sorry. I have to stop now 'cause I can't see the screen anymore.

I'll damn well cry if I want to.

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