Fatherhood as Gift, Choice, and Lens
What birth and adoption taught one dad about fatherhood, both his and God’s
On Oct. 26, 2008, I became a father for the first time when my wife, Tiffany, gave birth to our son, Reese. I became a father a second and third time on Dec. 9, 2016, when a Greene County, Missouri, judge granted our petition to adopt our foster daughters, Cynthia and Allison.
These experiences — of birth and adoption — have taught me three lessons about fatherhood, namely, that it is a gift, a choice, and a lens.
Fatherhood as Gift
Around Valentine’s Day 2008, I received a call from Tiffany. I was in my office at the church we pastored, and she was in the parsonage. She was out of my breath, her voice was stressed and high pitched, and her message sounded panicky.
“Come home right now!” Tiffany screamed. I literally ran home across the church parking lot fearing that something awful had happened to her.
I burst through the front door and discovered that the situation was the exact opposite of an emergency. My wife had taken a pregnancy test that morning, and it had come back positive. What sounded like panic to me on the phone was actually a joyous riot of excited emotions that she could barely contain. I joined in the revelry. I was going to be a father.
What heightened our joy in that moment was the difficulty we had experienced trying to conceive. Tiffany and I married late. When we seriously began trying to conceive, we were in our mid- to late-30s, respectively.
Sex is fun, but when you’re married and want children and can’t seem to conceive, sex stops being fun and becomes a frustrating chore. It gets laborious due to all the doctor visits, medication, ovulation schedules and the like.
Which is why I experienced Reese’s conception as a gift. We wanted to conceive, we intended to conceive, we tried to conceive, but nothing, nothing, nothing … then, out of the blue, something!
For the next eight months, my wife did all the heavy lifting, including 19 hours of painful labor. Perhaps that’s also why I experienced fatherhood as a gift. I made my contribution in a moment, but my wife’s work lasted months.
When the doctor delivered Reese and handed him to me, I knew I had just received the greatest gift I would ever receive from Tiffany.
Fatherhood as Choice
The gift came with a lot of responsibilities, however. From the time Tiffany revealed she was pregnant, my life began to change. Even though I was 39 years old when my son was born, I realized how much I still had to grow up.
I was responsible for the health and well-being of my wife and son, the weight of which responsibility I had never felt before. My choices had consequences.
The choice-nature of fatherhood came home to me most clearly when my wife and I adopted our two foster daughters, Cynthia and Allison. It was a choice I almost didn’t make.
On Dec. 13, 2013, Tiffany, Reese and I were at a party at the home of some friends when I received a call from the state of Missouri asking if we would be able to take a foster care placement. We had trained for several months to do this, and this was our first call. We had asked for boys out of diapers but younger than Reese, who was about to turn 5.
As a father, I understood the Father’s power, love and authority in a new way.
The woman on the other end of the line told me that two sisters, ages 19 months and 2 months, needed a home. The girls were not within our parameters.
I said “no.”
The next day — a snowy Saturday — the state called again. That foster placement hadn’t worked, the girls still needed a home, and our names were at the top of the list. My wife suggested that perhaps, just perhaps, we ought to say “yes.” So we did.
Over the next 19 months, we experienced all the highs and lows of being foster parents. In July 2015, we reunited the girls with their biological parents and resolved to take a break for a few months before accepting a new placement.
Then, in February 2016, the state called to inform us that the girls had come back into the system and that it would be pursuing termination of the biological father and mother’s parental rights. If we said “yes” to foster care, the state would turn to us first for adoption.
We said “yes.”
And so, on Dec. 9, 2016, we sat before a family court judge. A lawyer asked 20 or so questions about our intentions to adopt. When Reese was born, I had no idea what fatherhood entailed. When we adopted Cynthia and Allison, I knew exactly what I was getting into. With each question the lawyer asked, I felt the full weight of our decision.
Fatherhood as Lens
My son was a gift. My daughters were a choice. Becoming a father to the three of them is a lens.
It is first and foremost a lens through which I see God in a new way. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven.” But what does it mean for God to be a Father? God often uses analogies to teach us about himself, and so it is here.
Conceiving a child is like creating a world. Caring for that child is like providence. Leading that child is akin to God’s authority over us, His image. As a father, I understood the Father’s power, love and authority in a new way.
But there’s always a danger that analogies become idols, that we project human ideas onto God. This is why our understanding of God the Father must be understood ultimately in light of Scripture, not in terms of human experience. God’s Fatherhood in Scripture becomes a lens that helps us see our roles as human fathers clearly.
Jesus once said: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
Two things stand out to me about this comparison: First, as a human father, I am conflicted. I get some things right as a dad; I give “good gifts.” Even so, there is still “evil” within me, a sinfulness that distorts the way I exercise my power, love and authority over my children.
That means, second, I need correction. This happens when I see my Heavenly Father in action on the pages of Scripture. Three words — how much more — remind me that even at my best, God is so much better. I must always look to Him for how I should treat my kids, because He is the only perfect Father.
This is urgent because fatherhood is a lens in a third sense: how my fatherhood is my children’s lens onto God’s Fatherhood. I am either helping them see Him more clearly through my actions, or I am distorting their vision of Him.
I, as a father, want my kids to grow up strong and smart and sociable. But more than anything else, I want them to have a vital spiritual connection to God. How I father them either helps or hinders the accomplishment of that desire.
As we see our lives through God’s lens, may we fathers receive the gift of our children with ever-increasing joy and embrace the choice of fatherhood with solemn determination.
Happy Father’s Day!