As I was sitting in church this morning, I looked over at the pew across the aisle. I noticed a cute little baby girl standing up in her father’s lap. She was not more than a few months old. Of course he was supporting her so that she didn’t go tumbling over into the pew in front of them. She was having the time of her life, laughing and giggling while her father was singing.
My mind drifted in thought as it often does. Pretty soon I was no longer concentrating on the song we were singing, but instead was lost in thought while staring at this young family across from me. I thought about how basic the father’s role was at that point in his daughter’s life. At that moment, his was almost entirely a physical role – he was supporting her upright and keeping her from falling and hurting herself. Of course he has other roles: food giver, diaper changer, bread winner. But as the years progress, his role will evolve dramatically in her life. Soon, he’ll be filling a much more emotional need for her. She’ll actively realize and appreciate the security he provides in her young life. But, as she grows and matures, reaching her teen and young adult years, his role will continue to evolve, becoming that of advice giver and an ear to listen to her problems as well as her joys. As she becomes a mature woman, perhaps with a family of her own, he will no longer provide much if any physical protection for her, but will support her almost entirely in an emotional role.
I thought about my own life at that point. Both of my children are teenagers, my son in his late teen years, and my daughter in her early teens. When my son was about 17 or so, it seems I more or less checked out of being an active parent to him. Perhaps deep down I thought that he was close enough to being an adult that he was capable of making his own decisions – I don’t know what the reason was. If that was all that would be enough. However, I also unconsciously stepped back from the father role with my daughter as well. I figured, I believe, that if one child had made it this far, then surely the other one must be ready as well. For the last couple of years I’ve been on autopilot. I’ve felt like a father not so much of teenagers, but of young adults who don’t need me as much.
I realize now how wrong I’ve been.