There have been commercials on CNN recently advertising a special event at the end of the month recounting the story of Apollo 11. The program will apparently show the historic mission with digitally updated and colourized film, some of it previously unseen.
Just to educate some of you youngsters, Apollo 11 was the mission that enabled the first walk on another planetary body by earthlings. Most of the continent stopped and either watched or listened in July of 1969 as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the dusty surface of the moon. When I saw the commercial I thought back to where I was when the landing happened: Burke family camp in northern New York State, where I listened through the rolled down windows of somebody’s car as the radio played out the event.
I have puzzled for awhile about why there has been such a sudden emphasis on Apollo 11. Gotta tell you it was an embarrassingly long time before I did the math and realized that the reason is that we are coming up on the 50th anniversary.
Fifty. 50. Five-oh. Half a century.
That means Apollo 11 happened when I was only thirteen, going on fourteen, still in junior high school and still discovering who I was to become. I was so young that I hadn’t yet had a cup of coffee, watched cable TV, flown in a plane or eaten lobster. There were still puppy loves to experience, a driver’s license to earn and hard days of work and fears, joys and stresses, danger and love yet to be experienced. I had yet to find someone who would marry me and then there was the greatest imponderable of all … fatherhood.
These days I’m much more settled with who I am. I love coffee, TV, planes, lobster, and even that fatherly imponderable from my youth now feels natural. In fact I’m filled with warmth and fullness even as I write these words and watch them form on the page: I am a father.
Father’s Day follows Mother’s Day by a few weeks which is great because the warmer weather increases the likelihood of a dad having something barbecued. In addition to the obvious smoky meat-eater options, we dads have to admit that even vegetables are better with blackened grill marks scorched into them.
Besides, is there anything better than to watch from the barbecue or patio chair while food, drink and relationships are fuelling the most precious people in our lives? Is there any higher or more mindful moment than when you look around and your space is filled with the faces, voices, laughter and stories of your family?
Contrary to what my daughter Tracy might (jokingly?) tell you, I don’t need to be the centre of attention (much). In fact I prefer now to just step into the background and quietly take it all in: the noise, the movement, the stories, the faces, the personalities, the interactions. All my senses focused on right here, right now. Never more attentive than when I’m with those I love.
As I have gotten older I have also grown more reflective. Things that used to matter a lot matter less now; the nuances that used to get missed, now get noticed. I now have a quiver full of life experiences that allow me to look at my life and family with a sort of wide angle lens that takes in the broader picture.
And now that wider lens reveals a deeper truth – my children have given me much more than I have ever given them.
Our children teach us things that might escape us otherwise. For one thing, children teach us how to understand God better. We think about our kids continually, wish the best for them, worry about them, take joy in them and love watching every thing they do. So does God. We are giddy with pride at everything they do. God too. We love them and want only the best for them. Ditto for God. A parent would die for their child. God did.
My wider, fatherly lens now gives me glimpses into the mind and motives of our Heavenly Father: he is infinitely proud of us and patient with us. He sees our potential, wants to be close to us. His love is mountainous. I know this because I have been given the gift of being a parent.
Do I have regrets? Yes, I am a human father. I wish that I had found more time, listened more carefully, intervened more proactively. I wish that I had spent less time telling them how to be and more time showing them. I wish that I had spent less time taking them to church and more time talking to them about Jesus. I wish that I had embraced every moment as if it was my last because, in a sense, it was.
But even as my lens pans across those regrets, I am not sad because the wider picture proves I have been blessed with amazing children: wise, mature, strong, productive, sensitive, good, generous, loving. That’s quite an amazing, broad picture I am able to snap every time I consider them.
Cheryl came into the room just now as I was writing this and when I echoed to her that our children have changed us, she blurted out, ‘Oh yes!!!’ So there, you don’t have to believe me, she confirms it.
Not every one of you is a parent, I know that too. Nevertheless I offer you the principle of parenting others, being blessed by their journey and looking at life with a wider lens.
I am so grateful for my children who were born into my life many years ago as well as the others who have entered my life in the years since. Thank you for the fullness and well-being you give me.
And whenever we’re together and you notice me slipping into the background, that’s because I’m emotionally pulling out my wide angle lens of thankfulness. Please just be yourself; I’m happiest when I’m sitting quietly by and watching who you have become.
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In this reading from today’s lectionary, notice the idea in the second paragraph that the innocence of children provides us with some sort of insightful protection. I invite you to pray the following passage with your own wide angle lens of thanks.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8 (NRSV)