A few years ago our family was on a road trip on the East Coast. We love road trips together and staying at a hotel with a pool is always a requirement. Some of our favorite memories have been made playing together in hotel pools just off the interstate in some small town in America.
On this particular day we had been swimming together for a while and needed to figure out dinner plans. I had been out of the pool talking with Christina for about thirty minutes, was all dried off and had put some dry clothes on for dinner. Our boys were younger a didn’t yet know how to swim. Will--our youngest and filled with longing for adventure and independence--was making his way around the pool by holding onto the side wall. I had talked with him a few minutes before about being very careful as he went around the edges because half of the pool was too deep for him to touch.
As you might have already guessed, while in the deep end he got too far away from the wall and his hand slipped off. As he started to go under, unable to stay afloat, his eyes met mine and I saw the most profound fear I had ever seen in him. Without thinking I dropped my phone and dove head first into the pool, scooped him up while under water and brought him to the surface. He spit out a mouth full of water and looked at me with the biggest eyes. “It got deep fast, daddy!”, he declared.
“You’re ok now, buddy. But man did you scare me.” I said.
“I was scared too.” declared Will.
“I bet you were buddy. I bet you were.”
After setting him up on the side of the pool where Christina could wrap a towel around him and hold him close for a minute, I pulled myself out of the pool. A grandmother in her 80’s was sitting in a chair nearby. As I walked by she said to me, “That was pretty cool! I’ve always wondered what I’d do if one of my grandkids went under. I guess I’ll just do that!”
Diving into pools while fully clothed is just what a parent does. In my case, it’s just what a father does. Being a father has been an extraordinary experience for me. I don’t get it perfect all the time, but being a dad to Gabe and Will has been more formative for me as a person than any other experience of my life. I love this role I’ve been given. To be honest, though, there were years where I would have never guessed that would be true.
The Process of Reconciliation
For the first 26 years of my life, my father and I had a strained relationship. When I was young he spent most of his time meeting the needs of others, at the cost of the needs of his family. I remember the occasional investments of time that he made in me, in part because they were rare enough to remember but also because those moments meant so much to me as a young boy.
When around, he was emotionally depleted, having already given everything he had away. He was often more angry, aggressive and impatient than engaged and loving. He didn’t withhold the words of love, just the consistent and important actions. He said he loved me, and I believed he wanted to, but there just wasn’t enough love left each day.
Lest you think I’m unloading on him in an unfair way, we spent the last five years of his life in a meaningful and deep friendship. Head died in January of 2008 and I miss him every single day, and often long to pick up the phone and get his wisdom and advice for the decisions I’m making at this point in my life.
Leading to that friendship were hours of conversation, talking through the experiences and wounds of childhood, adolescence and my early adult years. In a very courageous way he owned them all, which helped pave the way for our journey of reconciliation.
We would sit on his porch for hours, overlooking the river that passed in front of his house. We’d have a few beers together and he’d smoke a cigar while I smoked a pipe (like I was an 80 year old man). We’d walk through good memories together, but also talk through the really painful ones. Often times he didn’t even remember the darkest moments of anger and aggression. He acknowledge that they were true if I remembered them, but that he was always running so fast--on empty--that most of his life during my childhood was a blur to him. We laughed and cried, owned our junk and built a beautiful friendship.
I thank God often for His design of reconciliation and redemption. How we can overcome deep wounds through time and healing conversations. My dad's true character came through in his final season of life, and I see him much differently now as a man in my forties with children of my own. I see him with more grace and greater understanding of the childhood he had navigated and survived.
Reckless Abandon + A Motorcycle
A few years ago I was driving down the highway and noticed a motorcycle coming down the entrance ramp. Since childhood I’ve had a fondness for motorcycles. I just think they’re cool, as are the people who ride them. Maybe it’s the image connecting to my streak of rebellion, or the cultural symbol.
I also think of my dad every time I see a motorcycle. One of the ways we reconnected in that healing season was riding his Harley together. He had a beautiful bike that he loved to ride. One particular day I will never forget. We were riding through the countryside of rural Indiana, and I was on the back holding tight to him. We hadn't verbalized the words “I love you.” in some time, working on the showing each other part before getting back to the words.
We came to a stop sign and I leaned forward in that moment and spoke loudly over the rumble of that beautiful Harley engine, “I love you, dad. I’m really glad we’re become friends.” He turned and looked at me, “I love you too, son. I’m so thankful for this time together.” So yeah, I really like motorcycles.
So back to the story… I was driving down the highway and noticed this motorcycle in particular because it appeared to be a father riding the motorcycle while his son rode in the sidecar next to him. I wasn’t driving the car I was in, so I could really watch the unfolding of a beautiful story. Something extraordinary was happening. As the two came down the entrance ramp to the highway, I could see them looking back and forth at each other with giant smiles on their faces. The son was pumping his fists into the air, laughing and yelling toward the sky. I can still see their smiling faces as they entered the highway. I don’t know that I’d ever seen a more expressive joy in my life!
The magic of this moment was in the detail of the sidecar being pulled by the motorcycle. It wasn’t a normal sidecar that we’ve all seen, with a low profile to the ground and just big enough for a person to squeeze into. This sidecar was different. The son was confined to a wheelchair and his wheelchair had been strapped into what looked like a homemade trailer that had been attached to the side of the motorcycle.
As I watched this scene unfold, I could imagine all that had gone on before this day. The father had loved riding motorcycles and longed for the opportunity for his son to ride with him, but that wasn’t possible given his reliance on the wheelchair. I could imagine the hours they spent together designing and building this unique trailer/sidecar that would work just right for their adventure.
Months of work, creating what they had envisioned would finally allow them to ride together. I imagined the excitement that morning as they strapped the son into his wheelchair and then the chair to the trailer. So much anticipation, so many hours of effort and waiting. And this was it, their moment of glory together. And I got the privilege of watching them come down the entrance ramp in victory, together. It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen between a father and son.
I exited the highway to run an errand, tears running down my face. Oh, the love of a father! How powerful it can be! A few minutes later we were back on the highway. About a mile down the road we saw the father and son again. This time they were sitting off to the side of the road as a police officer was writing them a ticket.
Let’s be honest, there was NO way that sidecar contraption was legal. But do you know how sad they looked getting a ticket? Do you think they were disappointed that their adventure had led to a citation? They were still giving high-fives, still beaming from ear-to-ear, still laughing with all the joy they had coming down the entrance ramp. Their delight was exactly the same, because their adventure was an act of love. A symbolic conquering of limitations, declaring that love overcomes. And sometimes love has to break the rules to do it.
Now, I’m not advocating lawlessness. I don’t want any police officers to think they need to watch me more closely while driving. But here’s what I know to be true… The love of the Father breaks the rules. It breaks the rules of our culture that define who’s lovable and who’s not. It breaks the rules of religious subculture that is always trying to define who should be in and who shouldn’t. The Father is love. It’s the only way he knows to interact with His children. With reckless abandon and what can appear foolish. He risks it all to show us His love.
In that spirit, Dostoevsky penned these words in Crime & Punishment:
“Come, you also! Come, drunkards! Come, weaklings!, Come, children of shame!” And he will say to us: “Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well.” And the wise and prudent will say, “Lord, why do you welcome them?” And He will say: “If I welcome them, you wise men, if I welcome them, you prudent men, it is because not one of them has ever been judged worthy.” And He will stretch out His arms, and we will fall at his feet, and we will cry out sobbing, and then we will understand all, we will understand the Gospel of grace! Love, your Kingdom come!
Whether you’ve never believed you are good enough, or have always thought you were, come into my family, the Father declares. Whether your sins are too many to count or your sin is that you don’t believe you need forgiveness, come into the family. Come to the family those of you who steal and lie, cheat on your marriage in thought or deed, are selfish and greedy, who stand in judgement of others or believe you’ll never be enough. Come into the family, as it is for us all.
The love of the Father awaits with reckless abandon! May we love as He does, today.
Founder, Better Good Group