For those who enjoy country music, I heartily recommend the most recent record by Tracy Lawrence, For the Love. I’ve always liked Tracy’s great voice, and I usually appreciate his song selections, too, all the more so as he has matured as an artist and a person. I gather from various sources that his life has not been so smooth, but I guess he’s been able to translate his difficult experiences into songs with real heart. For the Love is a great example of such songs, including some of the best he’s done, in my opinion. I really like, "Find Out Who Your Friends Are," which he sings with Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney. The title song, "For the Love," and "As Easy as Our Blessings" are solid contributions, too. But my hands-down favorite song on this new record is, "Til I Was a Daddy Too," which Tracy co-authored. I appreciated discovering that song about the time that Zachary moved out to Nebraska for the summer, and I was thinking about it a lot on Fathers’ Day, too.
Yesterday, I reminisced about my Dad and some of the things that I shared with him as I was growing up. It occurred to me, again, that Tracy Lawrence is right: "I guess I didn’t know what a Daddy goes through, ‘til I was a Daddy too." The way that I experienced my father’s love as I was growing up, it was easy for me to take it for granted, especially because he was always there for me, and it was just a given that he loved me and took care of me. Now that I experience things with my own children, and I feel their hurts and fears, their joys and delights, as their father, I am profoundly and sometimes painfully aware of how deep these things can run. I do get too wrapped up in myself, too much of the time, but I am ultimately more concerned about my children and their lives than I am about myself or my own. Nevertheless, I often don’t know how to cope with that love and concern, or what to do with it.
DoRena and Zachary are gone for the summer, and they most likely won’t be living under my roof in any sort of permanent way again. I’m still sorting that out and learning how to deal with it, juggling the mixed emotions of pride in their growing up and sadness over the sense of separation and transition. On top of that, my Nicholai left for Boy Scout camp yesterday morning, which left me with only six of my children at home for Fathers’ Day. The number is neither here nor there, but the absence of my three oldest children left a pretty big gaping hole in my day. It made me feel old and empty and all out of sorts with the world around me. I guess it was the first time it really hit me, how my parents must have felt over the years when my siblings and I couldn’t all be there with them for holidays and family occasions. There’s nothing to be done. It’s part of growing up, as children make their way and find their place in the world, and establish families of their own. But that doesn’t make one feel the ache of it any less.
First Zachary, then DoRena, called me on the phone yesterday. They’ll have to wait until they have older children of their own, calling them from far away on such occasions, to know how much that meant to me. It was a poignant lesson for myself, suddenly understanding what those phone calls I have made over the years have meant to my parents, and the disappointment they have probably felt at times when I didn’t.
Nicholai didn’t have any way or means of calling, but I got to say goodbye to him before church, and I found the Fathers’ Day card that he made for me and left with my things at home. He’s a good boy, and I am so proud of him, of his sensitive and caring heart, of his creative imagination and artistic skill, and of his growing sense of responsibility and daily-increasing maturity. But I’m afraid that I haven’t done a very good job of letting him know how much I love him, or how much I care about him. He’s languished a bit as the third child, enough younger than Zachary to be counted among the "little ones." I’ve been a graduate student and/or a pastor for Nicholai’s entire life, and he’s probably had less of my personal time and attention than any of the other children, not by design but by circumstance, which doesn’t make it any easier. I can’t beat myself up for the past, but I need to do better in the future.
I can’t undo the past, either, but I remember much of it quite fondly. I’ve been thinking about each of my children, and about some of the more memorable points in their lives. It would weary even me to type out everything I’ve thought about, and I doubt that anyone else would have the stamina to read it all. Still, I have wanted to jot down some of my thoughts, if only because it’s important for me to remind myself.
I remember walking DoRena home from her babysitter in Seward, and having her stop and crouch down on the sidewalk, repeatedly, to observe the progress of the bugs. Fascinating. She’s heard that cute little story a bazillion times, I think, but it remains one of my most prominent mental images of her. I also remember taking her to meet the school bus in Fort Wayne, and going to meet her when the bus brought her home at the end of the day. Gary Allan has sung about that in one of his songs, and I know exactly what he means! That first time I sent DoRena off like that, I could have sworn my heart was going to break. It got easier with time, but it is still pretty hard to send her off to school.
I remember Zachary making his arrival in our apartment in Hopkins, Minnesota. I went out to start the car, since it was pretty cold up there in the middle of January, but when I came back in LaRena told me to forget about the car and call an ambulance. By the time I got off the phone, my father-in-law had delivered my son and managed to unwrap the umbilical cord from around his neck. It’s rather ironic that the only one of my children I haven’t witnessed being born, is the one who was born at home. A few years later, while we were living in Fort Wayne, Zach had the bad habit of falling down the stairs. I was a basket case the first time it happened; about the tenth time it happened, I think we had gotten used to it. The one time he actually managed to hurt himself on the stairs, it wasn’t falling down them, but running up them and full tilt into the hallway corner of the upstairs landing. So, a week or two before vicarage, I was at the emergency med center watching them sew up my little boy’s forehead.
I remember a number of outings and longer trips that I’ve gotten to make with Nicholai. When his godfather, my good friend Kevin, was still serving a congregation in northern Indiana, we used to meet about once a month to go over an upcoming Gospel. Shortly before he moved, I took Nicholai along for lunch with his godfather, and that was a memorable occasion. Several years later, Nicholai went with me to the CCA in Wisconsin, and we were able to sneak away for a visit with his entire godfamily, who were living just an hour further north at that point. I’ve taken Nicholai on other trips, too, including a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Illinois. He’s a good traveling mate, and I always enjoy his company. Lately, he’s been getting into Dungeons and Dragons, thanks to a program at the local public library. I’m pleased to see him having fun with that, and it has brought back pleasant memories of playing D&D with my Dad when I was about the age that Nicholai is now.
I’ve written before about Monica’s surgery, when she was just ten months old. It would be hard to top that memory, or the depths to which I felt that experience as her father. It is a more pleasant memory to recall her Baptism, my very first as a pastor, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity in June 1996. That was two days after my ordination, and the whole extended family was here for that blessed weekend. I have memories of trips with Monica, similar to those I’ve taken with Nicholai, such as taking her to visit her godfamily in St. Louis. In recent years, I have enjoyed the chance to attend her piano recitals, as she continues to excel in that area of her life. I marvel at what a young lady she is growing up to be.
I remember most vividly when Ariksander, at age three, wandered away from my sister’s house in Savannah, Georgia, and we spent the better part of a frantic hour searching desperately to find him. I know he’s tired of hearing that story, but I won’t ever be able to forget the surge of panic that gripped my heart, and how I became increasingly terrified with each passing minute. It was my brother-in-law who found him, several blocks away, and of course it was the Lord who guarded him and kept him safe from harm and danger. The gratitude and joy that flooded my heart when I had my little boy back in my arms were sweeter than anything else I’ve ever tasted in this life on earth. In the years since, I have appreciated Ariksander’s quiet curiosity about the world around him, and I try not to worry too much that he’ll get lost again. I am most touched by the many times when he asks me to say a special prayer with him, usually late at night, to help him sleep and to ward off nightmares
One of my favorite things to do with Oly’anna is going out for lunch together, and then shopping for new clothes or shoes. This is what we have done for several of her birthdays, and on a couple other occasions, too, so we are building up a collection of pleasant memories from such outings. Because she is such a "Daddy’s girl," Oly’anna has taken it especially hard when I’ve been away from home for any extended length of time, such as for my dissertation or teaching in Siberia. I remember finding her a little Daddy-bear figurine, a number of years ago, which was her "hug" from me whenever I was gone. We put a picture of the two of us together in the little box that "hug" was packaged in, and I guess that was her security item for a very long time.
I remember thrilling to hear Justinian say his "whole big long name," Justinian Matthias Gregory Basil Stuckwisch, already at a pretty early age. He is a bright little boy, with sparkly eyes and the sweetest little face you could imagine. He can be mischievous and ornery, especially when roustabouting with his siblings, but mostly he’s a sweetheart. I was most amazed to have him sit down next to me yesterday, and then proceed to read aloud the book, Go, Dog, Go. My little bear is growing up!
Frederick is still in the process of making more memories than he’s already logged. I know that he is a "high maintenance" two-year-old, and he can be a challenging handful, but he is precious to me. I do remember the ear-piercing, head-splitting scream that he utilized for quite a while, which thankfully began to go by the wayside when he really started talking and was better able to express himself otherwise. I’m pleased to say that he has become quite a "Daddy’s boy" in recent months, and we have been enjoying neighborhood walks together almost every day. I don’t know if he’ll remember that in years to come, but I’m already tucking it away for future reminiscences. The other day, when LaRena and I went to pick him up from the Horner’s, after we had gone out on our anniversary date, Frederick was gleefully announcing that "Daddy’s back." Okay, so that warmed my heart pretty good.
I remember Gerhardt being delivered by caesarean. That was a sight to behold. Watching them pull my baby out of the incision in my wife’s tummy, and actually having to tug quite a bit to get his little head to disengage and pop out, was surrealistic and bizarre. I’m sorry, but the only thing I have to compare it to is the creature busting out of that guy’s chest in the classic movie Alien. I’ve never breathed such a sigh of relief as I did when he took his first gulp of air and started crying. I remember holding him and rocking him and singing Paul Gerhardt’s hymns to him at the hospital, over the next several days before he came home. And I surely do remember his Holy Baptism, administered by my friend and colleague, Pastor Grobien. I got to see Gerhardt be born twice, and the contrast between those two events could not have been more drastic. The end result for him is life everlasting as a dear child of our dear Father in heaven, and I’m most grateful that all of my children have been called to that divine inheritance in Christ.