I never meant to grow up and become my father. But, it turns out, we are not entirely in charge of the person we become.

When I was born, my father was 44, which in the 50’s made him a relatively elderly Dad. The year I graduated from highschool he was 62.

My father died on 3 November 1983. I was 29 years old. I thought him old at the time and remember feeling grateful for his good long life. Today I would think his death untimely; he was 73, 7 years older than I am today.

My father was a quiet solitary man. He lived most comfortably in the silent inner landscape of the spirit. He was a bookish man, most at home in his wingback chair, with a book and a cup of tea. Navigating the treacherous terrain of the time-bound material realm was not his natural gift. He carried about him the slightly bemused air of someone who could not quite figure out the details of his awkward life.

My father was born in 1910. He grew up in an environment in which children were taught to be mostly invisible. He was well trained in the art of disappearing. I doubt he was ever encouraged to acknowledge his own feelings, express his deep inner self, or validate his own perceptions.

He was, as we all are, to some degree a product of the era in which he was raised.  At 12 years old, my father was sent to English boarding school, first at Worksop and then at Bloxham. My impression is that after this he never really knew his own father. He must have become accustomed to the idea that fathers were expected to be largely absent from their children’s lives. In place of a father, he substituted order, tidiness and routine, skills that did not equip him particularly well for the intricate messy complexities of parenting,

Like my father, I did not arrive at the task of parenting with a well-equipped tool box for the task. My fathering mistakes are legion. It is tempting to engage in the futile exercise of regret longing for a chance to do over what I did so poorly the first time around.

Most of all there is one thing I wish I had been able to do more consistently throughout the early years of my parenting. As I think about being a father on this Father’s Day, the skill I most wish I had mastered as a parent is to have been more fully present to my children. The one thing I wish my children might have felt is that I had not been absent.

It may sound simple enough, but there is nothing easy about presence.

There were so many distractions, especially as a young man during the most intensive years of parenting while at the same time I was scrambling to build all my little kingdoms and being driven by all my trivial egoic agendas. There was simply no time for the slow practice of presence.

Presence does not demand. It does not burden the other with endless expectations; it is not distant or harsh. It never shouts or shames. It does not require that you be a certain way before embracing fully the gift that you are. Presence does not engage in power struggles; it never resorts to force.

The practice of presence says to a child, you are valuable just as you are without condition, absolutely, simply because you are. Presence is the signature of love.

Love is most profoundly a verb. The primary action of the verb “to love” is showing up for the other person. 

Love wants to know the other. Love listens; it pays attention.  Love is open, and receptive. Love leans towards gentleness. It does not need to be right or to get its own way; it rests and trusts in the goodness of simply being. So, love gives the other space simply to be.

A present parent becomes for their offspring an icon of God who is present everywhere and whose presence can be known by all people regardless of birth, upbringing, skills, talents, or accomplishments. We are not alone. The first opportunity we have to learn that lesson is through another person who is present to our lives.

I want my children to know how much I cherish their company and to know that this cherishing is a small reflection of the vast cosmic significance that is the source of their true worth and their only hope of real security. Loving presence is a gift that anyone can provide for another person. It is the goal and vision we honour on this father’s day.

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nb: for all my short-comings as a parent, the outcome has ben pretty spectacular: