Tony Woodlief | Author

Intentional heart

I started a garden last summer. It went to weeds, and then the weeds grew parched under the relentless Kansas sun, and then they withered and died. I traveled more than I’d anticipated, and when I was home other things competed for my time, if only fatigue. I think on that garden and I fear it will be my fatherhood — ground broken with good intentions, but scorched and barren all the same.

All we parents begin with dreams of what our lives will mean. We dream that our children will be healthy and safe, that they will learn good things from us, that our God will be their God. We dream that when they are older they will be people we like, and that they will in turn want to be near us.

Lately I have wrestled with bouts of panic. I fear I am too far behind, already, in this father’s race. I am apart from them more than I want. This is how our lives will be for the next several years. They used to ask when my traveling will be done, and now they don’t. They have been fishing more with other fathers than with me. They have been to Boy Scouts with other fathers, but not with me. This is our life into any future I can foresee, not that I have ever seen the future well.

Sometimes I panic, and then I despair. Your life stretching out before you holds a series of choices, and what you don’t realize until you are older is how quickly those choices can accumulate and choke off possible futures. If you are not care-filled and prayer-filled and intentional, your days may pile up with more regret than hope.

One of my deep griefs is that I didn’t accept Wife, in those early years, as a partner. I looked on her too often as a bundle of wants and inadequacies and comforts, but not as a partner. Only lately have I come to appreciate her counsel.

It is hard, I think, for men to accept the counsel of a wife. We want to have the answers, and to be strong, and — above all else — to be admired and respected. The last thing we want is to be humbled. To be truly counseled, however, is to practice humility. And to be counseled by your wife, well, that is to let this person — who you want more than anyone else to see you as strong and admirable — inside that place in your heart where your fears and flaws and pettiness reside.

I never treated her as a partner and I rarely valued her counsel and now some things are broken that will never on this earth be unbroken.

But there is grace in broken places, you have to know this. I poured out my heart to her a few days back, my anguish over not being as present in their lives as I had dreamed I would be, over not doing things with them each day, not having as many hours with them to teach what I had hoped I might teach them.

I mourned all the time I have wasted and all the time I will not have.

She reminded me that what a boy grieves — the boy whose father comes home every night, or the boy who never meets his father — is the absence of love. She reminded me that this was my great wound, thinking for years and years that no father wanted me. I never learned how to rebuild an engine or sight in a rifle, nobody took me to Boy Scouts or church, nobody came to my track meets or wrestling matches. But the wound that has run right through the center of me as a man was the absence of a father’s heart.

So I took hope. This I can give them. This they will know, that they are loved.

That can only happen with our children, though, if I am intentional, if you are intentional. Every moment with them, every conversation with them, offers the opportunity to strengthen the bond holding heart close to heart, or to let those bonds erode in the silence.

I don’t have as much time with my sons as other fathers have with their children, and I don’t know how to do the things that other fathers teach their children. But I do have this heart that is theirs, and this prayer on my lips day and night, for patience, for fatherly love, for peace in their presence.

I pray it will be enough, that I will be enough.

On Key

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