Five: A Dad Reflects on his Daughters Fifth Year of Life.

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Dad Reflections
The other day as I walked with Elliot to school she decided to skip. This is a pretty regular occurrence when we’re walking around: skipping, jumping, swinging from arms and shoulders. I think she does this because she really likes the feeling of freedom as she glides through the air–probably also why she loves gymnastics so much. She leaped into the air, effortlessly. Her curly hair tossing back and forth, side-to-side, her giggles growing louder and louder as they rolled out of her mouth. Her precious smile stretching from ear-to-ear as she implored, “Skip with me papa!” I looked at her and smiled. “Skip with me papa!” she said again, and so I obliged. We skipped hand-in-hand, smiling and laughing down the street without a care in the world. We weren’t unnoticed, however.

As we skipped, a bit carelessly, a bit out of control, a man continued his walk towards us from the other direction: sullen with a sunken face, hunched over shoulders, replete with a disheveled, and vulnerable disposition. I noticed his approach, and so began the process of slowing us down, getting our movements under control, and on to one side of the sidewalk.

As he approached us, this giggling, smiling, skipping little girl and her dad, he stopped, looked at her and said with all the seriousness he could muster, “Never ever lose that joy in your heart. Thank you for reminding me.” He took a deep breath, lifted his shoulders and continued his journey.

This is how my now five-year-old little girl interacts with the world around her. She is a little girl who has the ability to stop people on the sidewalk and remind them of joy. A little girl who can somehow leave a mark on someone’s life in only a moment. A little girl who brings laughter and excitement to the rooms she walks in, and can somehow change the atmosphere wherever she goes. And really, she’s been this way since before she was One.

This is my little girl. And I couldn’t be more proud of the person she is and is becoming. Just a few days ago as we were coloring Star Wars characters (her favorite thing, and the theme of her birthday party this year), and creating new stories and adventure of Princess Leia, Dark Vader (yes she calls him Dark Vader), Hans Solo, and BB-8 (“he’s so cute!” she says), she exclaimed out of nowhere, “PAPA! My heart is so full of love and happiness!”

I know it is my little love, I see it from you and in you all the time, and because of you mine is too.

Four: A Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Fourth Year of Life.

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a dad reflects
She sat there with her book wide open and looked up at me with her big brown eyes and melted my heart, “Papa. I love you. I missed you.”

I cried. I missed her too.

I have been traveling for the past week leading up to her fourth birthday and in a year filled with tremendous transition from moving across the country, to working on a dissertation, to Tracy’s job transitions, to changing pre-schools and having to make new friends; Elliot has been a champion throughout this entire season of crazy. Her third year of life was full of so much change.

Change is hard and as I look at this little girl who is growing up right before my very eyes I am caught between tears of sadness for what has past—note to self, don’t look at old pictures of your daughter the day before her birthday unless you want to sob—and with joy and pride for who she is becoming. She is resilient and with the big situations in life, she’s patient. Of course she still wants her cookies RIGHT NOW! But don’t we all? I find myself at times given to sadness by the amount of change she has had to experience in such a short amount of time. There’s a large swell of guilt that I feel for creating such a monumental amount of change in her life. A guilt for not being able to make it easier on her, for ultimately being responsible for all of this. Parental guilt is hard, real hard. And yet in the midst of it all there is this sweet and kind and smart little girl who seemingly takes it all in stride.

I sat there with her as she laid in bed, her music playing softly in the background, I asked, “Elliot, what are you most excited about by turning four?”

Without pause she responded, “I’m excited to start listening to you and momma!”

You see, for a little over a year now Elliot has promised that she will start listening to us when she turns four years old… you know, when she “grows up.” And she remembers this promise… and the night before her birthday she’s excited to follow through. And so am I. But as I think about this little moment, she knows how much this little promise means to Tracy and I. We’ve talked about it pretty regularly over the past year. And here, on the night before her birthday she’s thinking about us. She’s thinking about what she can give to us instead of thinking about herself. It’s as if this promise is her fourth birthday gift to us. And that seems to be a core part of who she is as a person. In fact, just last week she was busy helping put together her birthday party goodie bags for her friends and as she put different items into the bag she would remark, “Oh they’re going to love this!” That’s my girl!

Later that night I snuck into her room. She had crawled out of bed and made a nice and neat bed right in front of the door and fallen asleep. I scooped her up, laid her back in her bed, brushed her wild and curly hair aside and whispered into her ear like I do every night, “Papa loves you.” I stood in her doorway and watched the last few minutes of her third year of life pass by. I took a deep breath and let a couple of tears escape.

She’s four. (And now she’ll start listening to us!)

Three: A Dad Reflects On His Daughter’s Third Year of Life

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THREEI stood in her doorway to watch her sleep. She was bigger now and yet somehow just as tiny as the day we brought her home from the hospital. Her sweet and mischievous attitude painted all over her tiny little face, and her adventurous/daredevil-ish spirit marked up and down her legs from leaping off the furniture, rolling around and tumbling outside in the grass, and sprinting through the house with a carefree spirit squealing like a banshee. That’s my little girl: my silly, crazy, bright, joyous, wonderful little girl. I stood there silently in her doorway mourning the passing of her “two’s.”

That moment sunk in heavy…

That’s the strange thing about time, it passes along slowly, rhythmically, regularly, always rolling, always ticking, always moving, and yet the milestones that arise with the passing of time always sneak up on you. Time seems to lull us into a sense of security, a sense that nothing will ever change… and yet the reality is: with the passing of time, nothing will ever be the same.

I stood there in the doorway and smiled as tears welled up in my eyes. I love this little girl more and more every day. I love reading stories to her at night—which is more about her making up stories about the stories we’re reading than actually reading the stories right there in front of us. I love praying with her as we tuck her in—you get a beautiful glimpse into her sweet and tender heart, the love that she has for people and the astute awareness she possesses for what is actually going on beneath the surface of people’s lives. I love her carefree spirit and her fearlessness—unless it involves eating meat, she just won’t eat meat (“papa, I just don’t like it!”), and somehow that makes me feel like I’ve failed her as a father. I love who she is and I love who she is becoming; which inevitably involves change.

Oh change.

She is changing right before my very eyes and I don’t want to blink!

I love fatherhood. I love the ability, the opportunity, the responsibility you have to shape and mold a little person, but it’s also a delicate balancing act: molding her into who you want her to be versus who she really is. I am learning more and more about the delicate nature of these scales: to not impose who you want her to be or think she ought to be, but instead to help her steward the life she has been given, to help her see who it is that God has created her to be, to help her listen to the inner voice of love that permeates her being, and let her life speak. Because when it happens, when you actually let her life speak, you begin to see just how special a gift she is to the world. It’s a big responsibility as a parent to help your little one learn how to steward their life and at the same time it’s a huge honor. I love this honor, I love helping her steward her life, and I love helping her be the person she was created to be.

I stood there silently in her doorway as she slept. I mourned the passing of her “two’s” and I welcomed in a new chapter of change: my little girl is three-years old.

Two: A Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Second Year of Life

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Two Year Old
Two. Years. Old.

Seriously. My little Elliot Grace is two years old.

It seems like only yesterday that we brought her home from the hospital. Only yesterday that we wondered why on earth the nurses were okay with letting two completely inexperienced parents leave the hospital with a brand new baby girl. “All they made us do was sign a paper? That’s it?! What are they thinking?! Why, oh why didn’t we take those parenting classes?! Now what do we do? What’s next?” Only yesterday that our eyes were opened wide with fear to the realization that we were on our own now. The fear of newly minted parents had grabbed us with a force beyond recognition as we gingerly walked away from the safety of the hospital and into the waiting world of possibility.

My little girl is two years old and I can’t believe how much she has changed in the past year. She doesn’t walk and stumble along anymore, she runs. She doesn’t string together a few random words and sounds expecting us to understand exactly what she means, she weaves together stories. She can count to 20, she knows her ABC’s, loves the “Happy Meal Song”, can sing most of the Frozen soundtrack a capella from memory, and even has a couple of her books memorized so when we skip pages to expedite putting her to bed, she calls us out on it. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating her first year of life, that I was reflecting on this newly minted state of fatherhood, and now we have a toddler.

We have a toddler who loves being around people, who continually asks to go outside so she can “go make friends”. We have a toddler with such an adventurous spirit that she always climbs up and conquers the biggest slide on the playground, always demands to be pushed “higher papa!” in the swing, and loves to ride the rides at the county fair. We have a toddler whose smile can light up a room and whose giggle is contagious. We have a toddler.

Becoming a first-time father in your 30’s, after 10 years of marriage, isn’t the easiest change one can go through. Rhythms are set, life has a routine about it, you have become comfortable and certain degrees of selfishness are easily overlooked. Elliot Grace has changed all of that for me. She has forced me to confront my selfishness, confront my unhealthy rhythms of life, confront my self. Elliot Grace has made me a better person. And that may sound strange to hear, but this I believe, is one of the great gifts she brings to the world.

This little girl is growing up, and with each passing day she captures a new part of my heart that I didn’t even know existed. I am blessed beyond belief to be her “papa” and I look forward to watching her grow into the little girl God made her to be.

One: A Dad Reflects on His Daughters First Year of Life

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First Year of Life

She turns one today. My little Elliot Grace is all grows’d up and she’s all grows’d up. I can’t believe her first year of life has already passed us by.

One year ago today, Elliot Grace entered the world and shattered my naiveté about fatherhood. Sure, I’d been brought up to speed about the untold sleepless nights, the endless crying, the difficulties of feeding, the moments when you simply cannot console your child. I’d been told the horror stories of tantrums and wails in the public square accompanied by the judgmental stares of strangers perched in their towers of superiority. Diaper blowouts at the grocery store that leave you in a lurch looking for the closest bathroom in which to hose her down, massive amounts of spontaneous spit-up that run down your freshly pressed shirt just as you’re about to head out the door, the first moment of defiance as she throws food in your face because she’s tired of eating pureed peas, the adjustment in friendships as you focus inward on your family for a season while attempting to discover this new rhythm of life; I was prepped for all of these moments and more.*

I was one of the privileged few fathers able to experience the joy and agony as a stay-at-home dad–sometimes both joy and agony occurred simultaneously, I think most stay-at-home parents can identify with this seemingly contradictory emotional state. I will never forget those first 10-months** but during that time I was confronted with something unexpected: myself. No one ever told me that day-in and day-out, as a parent, you would be continually confronted with yourself, with your own selfishness, with your own unmet desires and unfulfilled wishes, with the fact that you are continually forced to choose: her or me. Parenthood is a perpetual cycle of self-sacrifice and every day, if you pay close attention, you die just a little bit more to yourself as you give more and more of yourself to your child. It’s actually a beautiful image of the gospel taking root in your life.

There is nothing that I wouldn’t give for this little girl. There is nothing that I would not sacrifice to make sure that she is okay, that she feels safe, that she knows she is loved. There is nothing that I would not do to prevent her pain, to protect her, to make sure that she has everything she needs. And perhaps that has been the steepest learning curve: I do have the capacity to love another person more than myself.

In her short year of life, this little girl has changed my world teaching me more than I ever expected possible. She continually brings joy wherever she goes and has this tremendous ability to make people smile making friends with anyone and everyone—especially strangers who are instantly captured in her web of joy. She has such a vigor and excitement for life and an inherent love and concern for people. I look forward to watching her blossom into an amazing woman whom I have no doubt will leave this world a better place than before she graced us with her presence, for she has already changed mine.

* I was able to handle some of these moments with more grace than others… but I maintain that the older gentleman at the Whole Foods who stared at me over his glasses with such an air of arrogance and superiority while squawking, “could you please keep your child quiet?” totally deserved the over-the-top sarcastic-laden scolding I gave him. I will admit, watching him walk away deflated with his tail between his legs was quite satisfying. (Elliot approved too. She wasn’t even crying when the man entered into his momentary ignorance, she was just really exuberant and excited to be at Whole Foods learning about fresh produce.)

** I believe those 10-months solidified her as a daddy’s girl!

How I “Denied the Faith” and Became a “Godless Man”

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GodlessTen months ago my life changed forever. After 10 years of marriage, my wife and I welcomed our very first child into the world and I have never been the same since.

Perhaps the biggest influencer in the change I experienced is that for the past 10-months I have been a stay at home dad. Day-in and day-out I spend every waking moment with our daughter. Through sleep-strikes, uncontrollable wailing because her poor teething gums hurt, to bumps and bruises as she learns to stand on her own, even throwing the food she finds unacceptable in my face, the moments of joy and laughter, the moments of tenderness and care as I watch her fall to sleep in my arms or smile at the silly faces I make; I have had the privilege of being there through it all. These past 10-months have contained some of the most joyous and yet most difficult moments of my life–yes, even more difficult than when I was a pastor. Being a stay-at-home parent is hard. (I can’t imagine doing it with more than one child–bravo to those of you who are able/capable of such extraordinary feats of strength!)

You could say that the difficulty from being a stay-at-home parent stems from the transformative shaping that occurs within. Never before have I been thrust into a situation or lengthened period of time where I have had to grow more and faster in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control–you know, the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5). This is why I was so surprised to find out from a prominent pastor (Mark Driscoll), that I have in fact “denied the faith” and become a “Godless Man.” (Video Link*)

Let me summarize the video for you in a couple of sentences: Condemnation. This condemnation is specifically for all stay-at-home dad’s, ‘Peter Pan types’ who simply don’t want to grow up and instead choose the lazy route as a stay-at-home dad rather than being a real man who provides for his family. This is a role that no woman can respect.**

The challenge of these condemnatory statements are at least two-fold.

First, the basis for Driscoll’s statements derive from a misquote and a misunderstanding of his prooftext 1 Timothy 5.8, which reads (from the English Standard Version–Driscoll’s translation of choice):

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The misquoting of the passage happens when he inserts gender into a passage where none exists. The original Greek for this sentence is gender neutral (which the ESV captures in its translation), yet Driscoll insists on making this about men instead of the intended universal truth that is for all Christians regardless of gender: “Provide for your household.”

The misunderstanding comes from a narrow interpretation of the word ‘provide’. Dricoll has chosen to narrowly define the word ‘provide’ to merely financial terms. However the word here actually contains a much broader understanding of provision extending into the realm of physical, emotional, and spiritual care. It is a word that lays out an expectation of continuous responsibility to one another, a covenantal relationship.

As a stay-at-home dad, I am upholding the universal truth of this passage by staying home and caring for my daughter. I have been providing for my family what is necessary in this season of life, and it has been a sacrifice on my part to do so.

Second, I take issue with Driscoll’s assertion that being a stay-at-home dad is a lazy role for a man. If that is the case, then what does this say about women who choose this role for themselves? Is he really implying that this is all they can handle? Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy (I’ve said as much already), however to liken it to laziness and then say that this is really all a women is suited for is a horrible degradation and a completely skewed understanding of gender roles within the home.**

Today (May 14, 2013) is officially my last full day as a stay-at-home dad. I get to re-enter the “work force” in the next couple of weeks as a pastor. These past 10-months staying at home with my daughter have been truly amazing. Moments that I will never forget and will cherish for the rest of my life. In fact I can honestly say, despite how hard it is, I will miss this. I will miss our spontaneous mid-afternoon “daddy-daughter” dances, taking her to Giants games in the middle of the afternoon, going for walks around the neighborhood creating silly songs along the way. And sure, I’ll still be able to do these things but it will be different. I won’t be with her every waking moment of the day… and that will be a drastic change that will take getting used to.

Being a stay-at-home dad is difficult and even more so in the face of our success-oriented, career-focused society. It is a counter-cultural sacrifice that shows the extent to which you are willing to give of yourself to your family. You, the stay-at-home dad, have my respect. You have not denied the Faith but instead have walked full bore into it. You have not become Godless but as the Fruits of the Spirit grow from within, you have become more like Jesus. And that is the true measure of a man.

* This is a clip from a sermon by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church in Seattle in 2008. I would love to assume that someone has lovingly talked with Mark about his comments and perhaps even changed his view. However, the video of this teaching remains up on the Mars Hill YouTube Channel (as of May 14, 2013), so I don’t believe he’s backed off his statement. And if he has, he should at the very least have the video removed so that articles like this one become irrelevant.

** Not to mention that this is a horribly narrow understanding of masculinity!