I’ve never been real big on holidays, as I’m sure those who know me can tell you.
I guess I’m just more of a do-it-365 sort of person. I try to cover the major one’s as best I can so as not to hurt those around me unintentionally but for the most part, and especially for my own role in them, I’m pretty content to let them pass as blandly as possible.
Every once in a while though I find myself giving them more thought than usual, today seems to be one of those times.
Yesterday morning I attended the memorial service for the son of a family friend. Among the tributes paid during a very heartfelt service was a quote referenced by the local pastor, who told a story from the life of author Robert Louis Stevenson.
It’s said that, as a young boy, Stevenson was fascinated by the lamplighters who made their way down the street with torches & ladders lighting the street lamps. When asked why he watched with such delight, Stevenson is said to have replied with great enthusiasm about the men “punching holes in the darkness”.
That imagery stuck with me through much of yesterday, I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful way to be remembered that is, as a person who brought light into darkness. That general notion seems to have coalesced this morning, helping me understand the role or at least one of the roles that so many father’s have played.
I look no further than my own father, a man who has punched quite a few holes in the darkness for me. Lighting the way as an example of how to live up to your potential or your responsibilities rather than grab easy excuses. “Too tired” didn’t seem to be in his vocabulary whether it came to throwing a ball in the yard or finding time to read and study his Bible. While I may not be particularly adept at following his example, it’s certainly not for the lack of having it put before me for an entire lifetime.
I think of my grandfather, usually just Pop to me. The practical matters he illuminated included the mysteries of driving a car (without killing myself or anyone else) to firing a gun (again, without killing myself or anyone else). Those are pretty big pathways to light for anybody, especially a boy who wasn’t necessarily gifted in either area. And even if I don’t always manage all of the aspects as well as I’d like, there’s was no more influential person in shaping the sum total of who I am. Give him credit for some of the good parts, I’ll take the blame for the less appealing parts.
I’ve thought of my father-in-law, a kind & gentle soul carried around by a physically large man. His peaceful appearance belied a determined fighting spirit that inspired and amazed during a prolonged illness. He punched holes in the darkness of those challenges that threatened to overwhelm us all. There also isn’t a day that passes where my wife doesn’t miss his punching ability, an uncanny knack to find just the right words to inspire her to overcome some pesky professional problem, whether through skill or simple perseverance.
I think of so many friends who view Father’s Day with sadness, grieving the loss of their own bringers of light. I can’t begin to do justice to all the candles, torches, and bonfires they provided. I will say that from the precious memories that have been shared with me that I’m confident that those fires still burn, bringing light that extends far beyond the original reach, carried proudly by those who first saw it.
Even as I look back at those lights, I see others ahead. A family friend who recently entered the fraternity of fatherhood. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind about the lights he’ll put on the pathway for his beautiful little daughter. No storm will be too fierce to prevent him from living up to his responsibilities to her, nor to the responsibility he sees for himself. I say the same about another friend who is soon to be a father for the first time. Mere words simply can’t explain to him — yet — what a journey he’s about to begin, but I know that he’s well stocked with flint and steel to light those fires for his son.
Inevitably, at least for the past 14 years, my Father’s Day thoughts turn not so much to celebration as to assessment. While I try to pay tribute to my Dad and the many other father’s who have been the source of so much light, it’s impossible not to wonder about my own role as a parent.
I’ve been blessed with a remarkable child, one that I’m proud to realize is already a better person at his core than I’ve been on my best days. It’s gratifying to see that, to know it, and certainly flattering to hear others praise him and try to give me credit for the person he is and is becoming. Candidly, I’m not sure how much I’ve really had to do with a lot of his better qualities, he seems to have come from the factory with a lot of those things.
I’m more comfortable taking credit for having a strong desire to give him as many tools as possible for the challenges that lie ahead. Whether it’s helping him understand basic concepts like the relationship between work & play, how to compute an Earned Run Average, the Byzantine nature of the global politics (and the realpolitik that goes with them), or just how to figure the distance of a punt under those Friday night lights in your head without missing a beat, I just want to fill that toolbox as much as I can. Or, phrased more eloquently, to punch as many holes in the darkness as possible, the biggest ones I can manage.
I’m grateful for all those who put light in front of me by punching holes in the darkness. With the help of my Heavenly Father I hope to keep those lights burning, at least as embers but always with the hope of a raging flame that lights the darkness. I also encourage every dad out there find those opportunities and throw their own punches, bring that light.
Happy Father’s Day to one and all.