For most of my childhood I had a frightening hunch that I would one day be a dad. My hunch was frightening because I was raised by a single-mother. What did I know about being a dad? One day my kid would ask me questions that all dads know how to answer. All dads but me.
“Dad, how do you clean a fish?”
“Just cut his head off, son. The rest should take care of itself from there.”
“Dad, what does a spark plug do?”
“Hey look, a butterfly.”
My senior year of high school I failed out of a trigonometry class and got put in a wood shop class. This excited me. Trigonometry didn’t seem to have a lot to offer but wood shop would probably help me to learn some dad things. This way, if my kid ever asked me what a spark plug did I could at least build him a bird house. My first few days in wood shop were spent telling jokes and seeing who could hammer a nail into a board the fastest.
And then, almost as quickly as it started, I got taken out of that wood shop class. I don’t think anyone else, in the history of public education, has ever been taken out of wood shop. Wood shop classes exist for the kids that get taken out of other classes. When school administrators pull you from a wood shop class, it’s sort of like getting kicked out of prison. My fears of fatherhood remained.
So instead of wood shop, I got put in an electronics class. I was okay with this. Now, whenever my kid would ask me what a spark plug does I could teach him how to slide his church shoes on the carpet and electrocute his friends. That’s classic dad stuff, right? Unfortunately, all we ever did in electronics class was watch movies. The movie we watched the most was Short Circuit starring Steve Guttenberg. The good news is that I got an A in that class. The bad news is that now, whenever my kids ask me what a spark plug does, I tell them a stupid joke and talk about the Police Academy movies.
I’m a 36-year-old father of two young boys and my worst fears as a kid have finally been realized. I don’t know a lot of dad stuff and I think my kids are on to me. My oldest son wants to build a tree house. I’m really hoping Jesus comes back before that time comes.
To compensate for my lack of knowledge, I try to spend a lot of time with my boys doing what I did as a kid: playing outside, playing on the floor, praying, reading the Bible, loving mom and watching Kung-Fu Theater. Sadly, Kung-Fu Theater doesn’t come on anymore but there are worthy substitutes.
I always pick up my youngest son, kiss him and ask him who he loves. He’s 16 so he really hates when I do this. No, really he’s a lot younger than that. But every time I ask him who he loves he does the same thing. He points at the wall, or the ceiling, or the refrigerator. Anything but dad.
One day I was asking my son this question and he was giving his usual response when his older brother walked up and said, “Hey dad, ask me who I love.”
I sensed a Hallmark moment coming so I gladly played along.
“Who do you love more than anybody in the whole world?”
For a minute I felt like a real loser. I should have petitioned to stay in that wood shop class. But then it hit me.
Maybe my son loves his mom so much because he sees how much I love her. And maybe he’ll grow to love Jesus even more because of how much I love Jesus. In a way that’s kind of intimidating but it’s also very liberating. Who cares if I don’t know how to do a lot of dad stuff? If I can just, by God’s grace, love my wife like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), train up my boys in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) and love Jesus more than anything else (Deuteronomy 6:5), I think all of the rest will be just fine.
This week I spent some time with a senior adult in my church. She lives alone and she says her kids are always asking her if she gets lonely in that big house all by herself. She tells them that she never gets lonely because she’s never alone. And then she told me about the time a tornado came through her town in the 1930s and how good of a job her dad did at taking care of the family. The loving presence of her earthly father taught her a great lesson about the far greater loving presence of her heavenly Father.
I hope I teach the same lesson to my boys.