Fatherhood: a confession

I had a thought today that terrified me.

Lately, we’ve been downed by flu, and trying to play keep-up and catch-up while recovering, I was mentally sapped.  So I started losing patience with my daughter, blowing up when those daily, minute acts of self-assertion that I read as defiance tipped me over into raw impatience.  I popped a balloon she loved, threw a toothbrush, that kind of stuff.  Brutish daddy.

She is all too forgiving and I apologize, which I don’t feel ambivalent about despite my breeding.  But while I openly apologize and discuss my weaknesses with my daughter, and I think that’s okay, I also know I’m still a voice of authority, and a vital one to her.  It’s hard to figure out that balance when she’s three.

The startling thought that came to me: the voice I use with my daughter when I’m upset is the voice she could internalize as the voice of authority, even the voice of God.  To me, the inner voice of God, the voice of authority, is confused, deeply confused, so that when I’m attacked, I respond with defensiveness, survivalist reflexes.  I find it hard to accept that God could be displeased with something I’m doing, yet do so out of love and at the same moment desire my well-being and restoration.  Let alone, that he could be a quietly persistent voice, steadily walking beside me, encouraging me day by day and moment by moment to course-correct on the narrow walk.  That was not the voice of authority in my youth.  I wanted to hide from authority, from fatherliness, until I could either prove myself or defend myself from its judgments.  It’s a part of why I so lack character and discipline.

Is the voice with which I speak to my daughter one that she will internalize as a faithful, persistent, encouraging and emboldening voice of inner discipline and patience, of forgiveness and renewal, of tenderness and toughness, of grace and gratitude?  Or will it be one that she hides from, fears because it is explosive and out of control, turns into accusation and blame before it pendulum-swings into regret and shame?  Do I sound more like the future abusive husband I fear, or the grace-filled Counselor I’m supposed to represent?

Tomorrow morning, we will have breakfast together.  I’ll need quite a lot of grace myself to be a different man, a new person, with her.  Hopefully, to be part of teaching her the real way the fabric of God’s universe trembles with his mercy and truth, in a way that gets in her bones.

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