It’s always good to have some fun on Father’s Day. Even in church.
So here’s a fun story about dads and daughters from that master storyteller Bob Fulghum:
“Grand Junction, Colorado. Hot afternoon in mid-July. Local newspaper headline says: ‘Power Shortage In Grand Junction’.
In the men’s bathroom in the local airport passenger terminal, another kind of power problem is in progress. From behind a stall door comes the sharp cry of a small child. “NO, no, no, no, no. I won’t. I won’t.
Followed by an imploring voice of a man under great pressure. “Please. Do it for Daddy?” and the little voice replies, “No. No, no, no, no, no.”
The seven men using the facilities turn their faces in unison toward the stall with what-the-heck looks. In the opening at the bottom of the door, two sets of feet can be seen. A small pair, sockless, in black patent-leather sandals. And a much larger pair, in polished brown cowboy boots. The encounter continues:
“Look, I know you have to go. You go every day. If you don’t go now, you’ll have to go when we’re standing in line or after we’re strapped into our seats or when we’re 35,000 feet in the air, and you’ll probably mess your pants and we’ll have to clean you up when we’re way up there and you don’t want to have to do that and I don’t want to have to do that so why don’t you just go now like a good girl?”
“No. This is the boy’s place.”
“I know, but Daddy can’t go into the girl’s bathroom.”
“What will Mommy and Grandma say when we get off the plane and you’ve messed your pants and you’re crying and I’m mad? They won’t be glad to see us.”
“Yes, they will.”
“We’re going to miss our plane if you don’t go now.”
“I don’t care.”
“Am I going to have to get really cross?”
“Then please, please, at least try.”
“If you go, I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
“I’ll buy you a present – you can pick it.”
“I’ll give you a dollar. Five dollars.”
“Please try – just as a favour to Daddy.”
The big voice gets tough. “Well bygod you’ve just got to do it, that’s all there is to it. You’re going to sit on this pot until something happens.”
The sounds of struggle as the little feet disappear. “Noooooooooooo.”
“You… little… you… little…. Aw, hell.”
The stall door swings open.
A five-year-old girl emerges in tears, her lips puckered in fierce refusal and her mind set in cement as she marches solemnly past the onlookers and out the door.
Her father follows. Big man in a black Stetson. Red-faced mad. Embarrassed. Defeated. Humiliated.
Nobody pushes him around. Nobody tells him “No.” But his five-year-old has done it. And she has also not done her “business.” And there’s going to be trouble in the air and a fracas when they get to Denver. He storms out the door after the child, fit to be tied.
The impromptu Committee of Wise Men who have witnessed this drama and who remain behind in the sudden quiet of the men’s bathroom render their judgements.
“Sure glad I ain’t in his shoes.”
“Ought to take the big guy into a bar and buy him a drink.”
“Women – I don’t know… ”
“That kid’s gonna ‘splode at 35,000 feet.”
A guy washing his hands speaks with the Wisdom of Solomon.
“If it had been me, I’d have given her a banana split, a hundred dollars, and all the presents she could carry, before I would have got on that plane with her.”
Later, I saw the man and his child headed back to the men’s bathroom in a big hurry. The little girl’s disposal system had settled the matter. Now she had to go. The last I saw of father and daughter they were sitting side by side in silence. Just the two of them in the otherwise empty departure lounge.
They had missed the plane.
I wish I could have heard him when he called his wife to explain.
Father and daughter will survive this ordeal.
Time will turn it into a family legend.
This is the kind of story a father will save to tell about his daughter at her wedding. It will be funny, especially with the embellishments fathers are prone to make. It is she who will be embarrassed this time. But the father will make it clear, as fathers sometimes do, that he’s proud of this independent-minded child – has always been – and the groom had better understand he’s marrying a strong woman who has been thinking for herself for a long time.”
This Bob Fulghum story is a dad story, rather than a daughter story. And us dads like it. Sure we might have done it different. Used better language, better bribes, been calmer, more zen. But sometimes it is what it is, and we get stuck between a 5-year-old unstoppable force and what we think should happen. And we lose. And, afterwards, we laugh about it. And we also are proud and love and are a little bit wary of that determined spirit that drives that unstoppable force.
Father’s Day: Reflection 2
If you are looking for tips about fathering then I wouldn’t suggest the Bible. Frankly the examples aren’t good. And the main exemplars for Christians – namely Jesus and Paul and the rest of the disciple gang either didn’t have kids or didn’t talk about them.
That said, here’s a few biblical tips:
Picking a favourite child from amongst your children is a very bad idea (ask Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Joseph). It’s not only bad during your lifetime, but in theirs (and maybe their children’s) too.
The corollary to that is: try to be fair at all times. And – and this isn’t in the Bible – your wife or partner is a good person to consult with about fairness.
This leads me into a brief comment on the whole dysfunctional system of patriarchy, with its privilege and favourites. This system led wives to vie for position, and position for their children, and then siblings to vie with each other for position and privilege. The whole notion of equality of status – with dignity, affection, and respect in the mix - between a man and a woman, between two partners, between two parents, didn’t exist.
The closest the Bible gets to that is ‘love one another’ (John 13). And that is one of the best parenting tips there is: love your partner/ /wife, and show it, and live it; and then your kids might see the quality of love that makes for happiness, and replicate some of it in their lives. You hope.
Hope is a big thing in the Bible. Probably because life was tough – short life spans, poverty, war, snakes, you name it. So hope for a better tomorrow was something to hold on to. But for most of the Bible there was no afterlife; so hope was seen as trying to make things better for your children (through whom you would live on). Not too dissimilar from today. And like today, the biblical characters seemed to put more importance on an inheritance of positions, possessions, and their power, than on kindness, compassion, and nurture. And the consequences were a mess.
Children seem to replicate their dad’s actions more than his words. Not that words are unimportant. But I suspect it was the hug and the hospitality which spoke the forgiveness that the prodigal remembered long after his dad was dead.
The story with the prodigal in it is a rare New Testament example of fathering, and many a sermon has been preached on it. The fathering bits that stand out for me is the dad’s seeming ability not to take offence (or to hide it well), his commitment to the relationship between his sons, and the difficulty of trying to be both loving and fair to all.
For those who extoll God as “father”, you have some problems. God is quite erratic throughout the Bible: seemingly ordering murder & genocide, picking favourites, disregarding abuse, etcetera. There is not much, if anything, recorded of God saying, “I love you just as you are,” or “You are a wonderful human being, and I love your creativity and independent thinking.”
The affirming of children is rare in the Bible - which probably accounts for a lot of the dysfunctional relationships and ongoing violence. Children were largely nobodies until adulthood. If you’re treated like a nobody, like a dog to be trained, then it is much harder when you’re an adult to treat everybody like somebodies, including that silenced child who is still inside you.
That reminds me, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ is not a proverb about hitting kids. The ‘rod’ is the rule of Law, namely the Torah. The proverb means: if you don’t teach your child the Torah, your child will be spoilt. In our secular context maybe we could translate this as: ‘If you want to influence your child’s future, show them and teach them about love: its breadth, its beauty, and its cost.’
There is only one Bible story I can think of about an adult standing on the side of children and bearing the cost of it. And that’s the gospel reading today from Mark with the well-known phrase “Let the little children come unto me”. The question to ask is, ‘What was stopping them coming to Jesus?’, and the answer is not just the disciples but that whole mind-set about children being nuisances and nobodies, and best seen and not heard (and when adults are together probably best not seen either).
Another important thing in this story is Jesus touching and blessing them – which was a form of owning, identifying with, and acknowledging and authorising these children for life and its abundance.
And lastly Jesus, as Jesus would do, tipped the disciples upside down by saying that children are the exemplars of those who are part of the empire of God. ‘You want to know how to be a disciple of mine, look at the children’. ‘You want to be great, act and think like a child’. ‘You want to know about the love I’m speaking about, follow the example of children’. And scholars, and church-goers, have ever since tried to work out what this means.
I think it ties in with the part of our tradition that says God comes among us as a child. And I would add, I think that takes a lifetime to understand.