By Bill Mefford
My favorite holiday, besides Christmas of course, is Father’s Day. I honestly love it. I am not the best dad in the world and in fact I am fairly sure there are others who have a lock on that title, but I do have a lot of fun being a dad. In fact, when our oldest, Elisha, was first born all of my Christian friends and people in my church that I was pastoring at the time wanted to know if becoming a father had created some new theological illumination for me. To be truthful, it didn’t really. All I knew was that I had this new little best friend who I got to hang out with every day. Having fun with my boys has always ranked a little higher for me than discovering deep theological truths. That’s just how I roll folks.
One thing I love about Father’s Day is that my wife, Marti, and my two amazing boys, Elisha and Isaiah, have to at least pretend to listen to me for a day. And like my dad, I love to tell stories – and most of them are even true! So, here are a few I am not sure I have yet told my boys so I hope they will at least read this and maybe even humor me by listening to me tell them as well.
I remember Elisha’s first July 4th. He was 11 months old and we lived in Waco, TX. We lived in a poor part of town and I worked at an urban ministry so we literally had no money most of the time. But I remember we were at the park getting ready for the community fireworks and Elisha was fascinated with the glow-sticks other kids were holding and playing with. So, I set out to find a glow-stick for my son. It was close to the time of the fireworks so there weren’t a lot of people selling glow-sticks left, and even as I raced around to try and find someone, I knew all I had to do was throw him up in the air a couple of times to distract him from wanting the glow-stick. Finding the glow-stick was probably not worth all of the effort.
But I felt this weird need to buy him a glow-stick. When I finally found one and brought it back to him he played with it, and then tried to eat it of course. But I felt this odd feeling – something I had never felt before – of tremendous joy that I could give him something he wanted. Now, I don’t give my boys everything their hearts desire – luckily my job does not allow for unchecked hedonism! But I get the greatest sense of joy when I get to give them things they want. There is nothing quite like it really.
I also remember when Elisha started kindergarten and Isaiah was still at home. Marti was our bread-winner (my sugar-mama) while I was writing a dissertation and working a couple of part-time jobs so I got to be a stay-at-home dad! But each morning after Elisha got on the bus Isaiah and I would come home and play, and sometimes run a few errands or walk around town. Then, just before nap time, we would watch a little TV. Every day we had a routine where when it came time for The Wiggles (man, were those guys annoying), I would lay on the couch on my side and he would lay on top of me. I usually fell asleep and he would either get sleepy or fall asleep too. I loved feeling him draped over me, just chilling out and relaxing. Falling asleep with my boys is one of my favorite things to do in the world.
Now, I am not typically overly affectionate with people, but with my boys and especially with Isaiah, I have loved giving them hugs and kisses. It drives them both nuts now since they are so grown, but I love to take any opportunity to give them a hug and a kiss on their heads. The world seems so detached now, walls are built to segregate people from one another and we can easily become so sterile and separate from one another. Further, there is that "men don't touch each other thing" that prevents real, healthy affection. So, I am intentional to hug them and show my love for them. I want both of my boys to know how natural it is to love someone by not only telling them, but by showing them.
In addition to these good heart-warming stories, there have been hard memories as well. But those are good stories too. When Elisha was a baby and could not keep baby formula down because he had reflux we had to take him to the hospital so he could get an IV. Because he was so dehydrated he didn't have any veins to put the IV in except for his head so I had to hold him down for the nurses to insert the IV in. Holding him down while he screamed – raged is more like it – is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was pure torture and I literally wept knowing what was best for him was at the moment causing him such pain. It hurt still just thinking about it.
I remember when we first learned Isaiah had asthma as a baby. We thought he just had a bad cold so I tried to hold him so he could sleep and I could feel his chest struggling just to breathe. His gasping for breathe caused him to cry which took away his breathe. He was literally drowning in his wheezing for breath until we ran him to the hospital. It was agonizing not knowing what is wrong and not knowing what to do fix it.
And fathering is never without fear for there is only so much you can control in your children's lives. I remember feeling a deep sense of fear when Elisha went to first grade in his public school when we lived in a poor part of Lexington and he daily had to dodge fights and violence just to walk down the halls. With Isaiah, because he is biracial, ever since the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, and the subsequent murders of other Black men and people of color by the police and general public, there is literally not a day that goes by where I don’t at least wince at the thought of him walking home from school, walking to 7/11, or just playing basketball at the park down the street. I am fearful and enraged that my biracial son has to worry about stuff that my white son will never have to worry about. My fears will never go away.
Anger, fear, hope, love, and especially FUN – fatherhood is all of these and so much more. That is why I love it. I am not yet sure if I am especially good at it, but man, I can’t love it any more than I do. I can’t wait to tell my boys these stories and then give them a big hug and a kiss on their head while they squirm to get away. I'm a dad and there is nothing more I wanna be.