19 April 2008

Of Daddies and Daughters

It is six weeks from today that my DoRena will be wed, the good Lord willing, and while I am so far away from her right now, she is closer than ever to my heart and always on mind. Of course I'll be home again before the big day, exactly four weeks prior to it, but that remaining time will speed by fast, and it's not like I'll be spending it with my Bean. She'll have school and plans and preparations in Fort Wayne, while I have church and home and family (and recovery from my teaching and travel) in South Bend. The truth is, she's not my baby anymore, nor even my little girl, but a fully grown up young adult and, if I do say so myself, a lovely young woman. She will make a beautiful blushing bride, indeed, as Sam surely knows! She has already been glowing with joy and happiness since her engagement this past summer. Oh, my, how the days go by.

She had a bridal shower today, and I was glad for my own lovely young bride, LaRena, and our other two daughters, Monica and Oly'anna, to be there for that joyful occasion. I've been thinking of it all day long, hoping and praying that it would be a great little party for her, and wondering what it might be like. She's been blessed with some really great friends, and I am so grateful for the loving care that is shown to my big girl by her very own circle of peeps (many of whom, I'm pleased to say, are also my peeps!). I know it was a special thing for her little sisters to be there with her; a good thing, both for them and for her. Sisters are important to each other, but I think it must be more difficult to nurture that bond with a bigger gap between them. DoRena is almost a decade older than Monica, and more than thirteen years older than Oly'anna, and she's been away from home now for most of the past five years. So it goes.

I've been reminiscing quite a lot lately, with my wife as opportunity has permitted, but mostly to myself (though not out loud except here on my blog; I haven't resorted to chatting with myself just yet). As I've shared in this forum any number of times in the past, I cherish many fond memories of my Beanie-Belle, going back to her birth and infancy, her toddler years, her first few years of school (in Fort Wayne), and then there is that blur of years that seem to have come and gone in the blink of an eye since we moved to South Bend in 1994. Up until that point, even with my seminary studies, I spent a lot of my time with DoRena (and Zachary). Between my doctoral studies, and then my parish responsibilities at Emmaus on top of that, and then the hymnal project on top of that, my time at home with my wife and children was squeezed pretty thin. I was busy enough that I didn't always realize how little I was around, or how little I was fully "there" even when I was around. I realize it now in retrospect, but I can't get it back.

As I was first getting to know Zach's future in-laws, Rebekah's dear family, her Mom made a comment that really cut me to the quick. She simply noted that, for the first few years after her Lynea and my DoRena got to be good friends (through Higher Things and the Mouthhouse list), all that anyone ever heard or knew about me was that I was either away from home working on my dissertation, or else I was at home working on my dissertation (and not to be disturbed). I'm afraid that's pretty much the way things were for several years, at least, and the years leading up to that point weren't much different or much better. I'm not at all sorry to have earned my doctorate. I'm glad to have had that opportunity, and now to serve the church with what I've learned along the way. I'm also proud of my disseration, and I hope that it will benefit posterity. But there are few things in life that I regret more than those years of being so distracted and so distant from my family. I regret it for their sake and my own. It is my firm resolve and fervent prayer that my regrets of the past will bear the fruits of repentance for the future.

By the grace of God, DoRena and Zachary have both grown up beautifully, and anyone who reads this blog already knows how much I love them, how incredibly proud I am of them. There's not a day goes by that I don't give thanks to God for the life that He has given to each of them, nor do I neglect to pray for His continued blessing upon their future, as also upon Sam and Rebekah and their families, as they become DoRena's and Zachary's, respectively. At this point in their lives, praying for them is one of the primary things I have left to do for them, as my children. I pray for all my other children, too, of course, but I also have a daily hands-on responsibility for those younger ones. With DoRena and Zachary, it is mainly by praying that I serve them now, and by disciplining myself to communicate with them regularly.

With DoRena getting married next month, I have been thinking especially about the role that I have been given to play in her life, specifically in bringing her to this point, and what it finally means for a father to give his daughter in marriage to another man. There is more than sentiment involved in all of this; there is something profoundly significant about it.

My good friend Tim (who also happens to be my Zachary's future father-in-law) commented on this very thing at his own firstborn daughter's wedding this past summer. I have very much appreciated his insight. He said that preparing his daughter for marriage, for that day when he would "give her away," was the very thing that he had been given to do from the beginning as her father. Even the way he said it, I knew that he was exactly right, and it was such a stunning realization; all the more so, coming, as it did, just days after Sam had proposed to my DoRena.

Not every little girl grows up to get married, but most of them do. How that all works out; what sort of man their husbands will be; what kind of marriage they will have, so much of it is shaped by and depends upon their daddies. This isn't Freudian psychology, but genuine theology. The Church is given to Christ, her Husband, by the God and Father after whom all fatherhood on earth is named. Daddies bring their daughters to that same Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Baptism, in daily catechesis from the time they are under his care until they are married, and in giving them away to the man who will be for them as Christ is for His Church. That is both a privilege and a responsibility, which is carried out rightly by the Word of God and prayer.

A father is to be the bishop of his own household, and a deacon to his own wife and children; by no means as a substitution for the family and household of God, but as pointing to that divine household, which is the Church, and as bringing his own into that divine family of those who hear the Word of God and keep it. In doing so, he is first of all to be as Christ unto his wife, whereby he will also be an icon of the Father to his children. By loving and serving their mother, forgiving her and caring for her, his sons and daughters will learn, not to despise marriage, but to embrace that good gift of God in faith and love. His sons will be catechized to follow his example in love; and his daughters will be catechized to live by faith in Christ, as they grow up to become wives and mothers, each receiving her husband and her children as from her dear Father in heaven.

The importance of fathers for their sons cannot be underestimated, but for now I am thinking out loud about the important significance of daddies for their daughters. I do not know how to express it adequately or eloquently enough, but I have been increasingly restless to put such thoughts into words somehow. For we fathers are so busy and so focused on our manly tasks and burdens and responsibilities, that we too easily overlook the tender feelings of our daughters. As they get older, they are less inclined to exercise their little girl wiles upon us, because they would so much rather that we exercise our fatherly attentions upon them without being asked. The day may come when they simply stop asking altogether, but only because they do not want to be crushed with disappointment. Daughters want and need their daddies.

Men and women communicate very differently; they say and hear things differently; they convey and perceive things differently. Lots of attention has been given to these differences, mostly with respect to the difficulties they cause within marriages, romantic relationships, and the workaday world. It has recently occurred to me that fathers have a similar difficulty when it comes to communicating with their daughters. Little girls can often be exasperatingly difficult with their emotional outlook and outbursts, but young women can be downright mystifying to their daddies. I hope our daughters know that we do not mean to misunderstand them or hurt their feelings; yet, we may not always be making our best efforts to understand and help them. I realize now, to my chagrin and deep regret, that the busier I was with my own matters at hand, the less and less I was paying attention to my Beanie as she was going through those teenage years. The fact that she has turned out so magnificently is in spite of my inattentiveness to her. Happily, I've done better in more recent years, but I am sorry, DoRena, for the years I missed.

Daughters don't necessarily want their daddies to answer every question for them, nor to dictate every choice and decision they will make, but they do want guidance and direction. They may be shy or feel awkward about asking, but they do want to know what their daddies think about their clothing and appearance, about boys and dating, about where they should go to school and what they should do with their lives.

For a young woman, there is hardly anything more important than having a father who takes an interest in her, who cares about what she is doing, who supports her ambitions and pursuits, who guards and protects her when it feels like the world is crashing down upon her. All of which is probably not as difficult as it may sound to a man. As wives often simply need their husbands to listen and to acknowledge their feelings, in order to be of tremendous help, it seems to me that a daughter may simply need her daddy to listen with a compassionate ear, and then also, when the time is right, to respond with a word of love and sympathy and forgiveness, as the case may be. Mainly, I think, a girl wants to know that she can depend upon her daddy; that he is her rock, not to crush her but to protect her; that, as often as she needs him, he is simply there for her, always strong and solid on her behalf, but no less tenderhearted and kind.

I cannot speak with certainty for other fathers, but I marvel at what I perceive in myself. There is something unique about the daddy-daughter relationship. It is one of those things that is both nature and nurture, but I am convinced that it is theological in each respect: It is the way God has created us to be, and the way that He catechizes us to be. It is the way that we are wired, and the way that we are taught by His Word and the Holy Spirit.

There are fathers, I realize, who hurt and abuse their daughters. Of all the heinous things that happen in this fallen, sinful world, there is nothing that makes me sadder and angrier than that. It is as vile and wicked as abortion, but I think a father is even more culpable in such a case than a woman who destroys the fruit of her own womb. The very title of this office and vocation, that of "father," is a confession of the God and Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For a father to inflict abuse upon any of his children is therefore the most destructive sort of lie and contradiction, not only a physical but a spiritual perversion. It is all the worse when it is vented against his daughter. For even with proper paternal discipline, it is somewhow different with a daughter than a son. A father disciplines the son whom he loves, but he speaks tenderly unto the heart of his daughter; for that is how the Father speaks to daughter Jerusalem, at the cost of His dearly-beloved Son. Men are catechized to bear the cross and lay down their lives for their women, for their wives and, I warrant, for their daughters.

In any case, although there are hurtful and abusive fathers in this world, that is not the norm. Notwithstanding our sinfulness, the Father has crafted something of Himself into this office and vocation; He has given to daddies a special sort of care and consideration for their daughters. It is that way for me, at least, and I can only attribute it to my own dear Father in heaven. There is no other woman in the world that I behold and perceive in quite the same way as my daughters. My wife is uniquely my own in yet another way, of course. And there is a special familial relationship that I have with my mother, on the one hand, and my sisters on the other. But it is different with my daughters. Perhaps the closest comparison occurs in my pastoral care of the congregation, whereby I serve as their spiritual father in Christ, but that is obviously its own unique context, as different in some respects as it is similar in others. It is different, too, with my sons than with my daughters. My sons are younger versions of myself, and I am instinctively bidden to apprentice them as future husbands and fathers. With my daughters, my instinct is fundamentally different from the ground up: I am inclined to care for them, to protect them, to serve them, to soothe their hurts and quiet their fears, to provide for all their needs.

In one respect, I am proud of all my children. In another respect, it is pride that is at the forefront of my emotions when I look upon my sons, whereas my daughters immediately evoke my affection. I do not know how else to describe it. There is a sweetness and tenderness to it, not so different than it was when I first held them in my arms as newborn infants. Even now, when I consider my DoRena, for example, so grown up and beautiful, so poised and charming, so mature and competent, and so thoroughly a woman in the eyes of the entire world, I can see and take note of all those things, but what I instantly perceive in her is still my "little girl," my dear sweet daughter, the apple of my eye.

When I was at the seminary recently, I met up with DoRena and Sam and a group of their friends in the commons. As I approached, the group parted to each side so that I could walk right up to Beanie and give her a hug. It was in that moment that I realized, more poignantly than I have before, that I will always be her Daddy. There is no way, really, to put this into words. There are ways in which I am giving her up and giving her away to Sam, exactly as it should be. She will receive his name, and he will become her head, as Christ for His Church. In this respect, I have already served my vocation as her father, notwithstanding the times when I have fallen short in that office. Yet, she does not cease to be my daughter. My place in her life will be redefined and changed, but it will still be a place in her life. By God's grace, her children will be my grandchildren, and there will be joys and delights to share with them, as with DoRena and Sam, in the years to come. I serve her now, especially, as I have said, with my prayers; but so also by communicating with her, by listening when she speaks, and by speaking to her from the heart and from the Word.

As I do these things for DoRena, I am all the more reminded, too, of the responsibilities I have for my Monica and Oly'anna, who are still under my headship and my care at home. They are still my little girls, but they are growing up fast; I've already seen how fast it happens, and the years will not stop flying by at their relentless pace. It is barely one more year before Monica becomes a teenager. Another year after that, unbelievably, my dear little Oly will be ten! God grant that, even now, and no less then, I will be sensitive and attentive to their needs; not only to their needs of body and soul, but also to those of heart and mind and spirit. In doing so, I am already preparing to give them away to the husbands who will be as Christ unto them. And in this, above all, I am being the Daddy my daughters most need me to be.


Jeremiah said...

Thank you very much for your thoughts on the unique vocation of fathers. As the father of a little daughter myself, I really appreciated what you had to say about the important role a Christian father has in his daughter's life, even as she becomes a young woman.

I even passed along what you wrote to my own father as he begins the countdown to my sister's wedding! God's blessings as you continue to be a "daddy" to your daughters!

Unknown said...

What a beautiful post! I will share this with my husband (can you believe it's been almost 10 years since my husband starting his instruction with you). As the mother of newly-born twin girls, I've been thinking a lot about my vocation.
And you have nothing to fear -- my relationship with my dad is stronger than ever.