The good father: work with the grain...

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As soon as your first son or daughter is born, you'll be faced with work you don't like and don't really want to do. Diapers aren't real bad at first. A milk-only diet makes a newborn's diapers just a mild nuisance. But once your baby starts solids, dirty diapers get nasty. My brother Nathan always used a World War I gas mask. This isn't Nathan—my granddaughter Bayly standing next to me says it's her uncle Ben with his daughter Clementine. It does look just like Nathan. I'd watch him and wonder why none of his kids died of fright.

Not all the work of fatherhood is bad, though. The past couple of weeks I've been reminded what a joy it is to give hugs and kisses to your children when you...

get home from work. We've had lots of grandchildren in our house, recently, and I love beating the grandkids' Dad getting home because I get to steal his pleasures. Grandson Nathan is reading this as I write and he smiles and says "that's what it's like when I get home from working at Mr. Costa's and see Caroline." (Nathan's 13 and Caroline is his six-month old cute-as-a-button baby sister.)

If you're splitting wood, it's hard to work against the grain. Try splitting a piece of elm and you'll learn it's almost impossible to split even with the grain. It helps to have a wedge and do it when it's ten or twenty degrees below zero. But even then, it's a messy, sinewy job.

Categorize the work of fatherhood this way. Some of it is with, and some against, the grain. Dirty diapers are against the grain. Hugs and kisses when you get up in the morning or get home from work are with the grain. Spankings are against the grain and feeding baby her first ice cream and watching her face are with the grain. As the children grow up, against and with the grain change. And what's against and with the grain is not the same for the mother and father, which is one of God's kindnesses and another reason a man should marry a woman instead of another man.

When I was a young pastor, my older sister, Deborah, was listening to me talk about how much time my work took me away from my children. I had two congregations so twice the evening meetings other pastors had, and twice the worship services—usually three to five each Lord's Day. Then, like every pastor, we couldn't get away during the week because the kids had school and we couldn't get away weekends because the pastor had church.

Deborah listened and then said something as helpful as anything anyone ever said to me about fatherhood: "Do the things you like with them. Take them along when you work."

It freed me up completely. From then on, spending time with the kids wasn't a guilt trip, but a joy. I took them to the nursing home—and that was constantly because my town church was filled with older people. I took them on trips to the hospital in Portage and Madison, and when it was Madison, we had an hour in the car going and coming as well as a side trip for just-out-of-the-oven-moist-and-hot cinnamon and raisin bagels at Bagels Forever.

I took Joseph and Michal to conferences, to presbytery meetings, and to Presbyterian general assemblies each year. They'd spend the day playing in the pool or running up the down and down the up escalators, laughing and listening respectfully to all the Presbyterian fuddy-duddies who scolded them because of the terrible threat their actions posed to "decently and in order."

We had so much fun on all those trips. I got my work done and the nursing home residents had the joy of running their fingers and hands through little childrens' hair. No children ever go into nursing homes, so walking down the nursing home hallways, my kids were rock stars.

Don't expect fatherhood to be a pain and wake up each morning committing yourself to beating your forehead against the bricks. Find what you enjoy doing with your kids and do it. Work with the grain.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!