Every parent either knows – or feels – by heart the words to the “Sunrise, Sunset” song in “Fiddler on the Roof”:
Is this the little girl I carried,
is this the little boy at play?
When I hear this the memory that flashes in my mind is not that of carrying either of my two daughters up to bed, or of piggyback rides. Instead I think of a family photo a few years ago. In it my girls – then about 10 and 5 – and I have been wrestling. I am standing and in each hand I’ve got an ankle of one of the girls and I’m holding them both upside down and off the ground, not unlike a proud poulterer holding up a couple of prizewinners at the State Fair. Imagining the picture now I can still hear the shrieks and giggles.
At this point in their lives – and for this moment now permanently frozen on film – I am Dad the Undefeated and, in their eyes, larger than life. Meanwhile, in the moments that I write this, the next line from that song is passing through my mind: “I don’t remember getting older, when did they?” If asked to reenact the scene today my response would have to be, “One at a time.”
As I flip through my mental photo album the girls seem to grow suddenly in a series of jerks and jumps. Of course I know they are really changing everyday, judging by the continuous trips to the shoe store and cries of, “But I just bought you those pants!” I also can’t help noticing in this album that as they are getting bigger, I seem to be getting – perhaps ever-so-slightly – smaller.
Once when my oldest was very little and concerned that we might be imminently attacked by bears in our own front yard, she was greatly comforted when I assured her that if any bears came near her I’d grab them and twist their noses. Today the same promise still stands regarding boys, not bears, but it’s clear that my powers are coming more into perspective. While there are times when it may seem, in my daughters’ eyes, that I can still rise up and blot out the sun, I cannot stop it from moving across the sky. I am shade, however, standing between them and the heat of the world. I will continue to do so as long as I can stand.
Of course, brute force has always been of limited application. To be a proper protector my defenses have had to be – and must remain – more subtle. Jesus once told his disciples that it was better for them that he go away. His meaning was that his power both in their lives and in the world would ultimately be much greater by his living in them rather than with them. I don’t construe this to mean my girls are better off without me, but rather that I must devote my time with them to preparing them to live on fruitfully, just as Jesus did in his three years with the disciples. The time together already seems all too short.
When they were little, their well-being depended on instant obedience to my authority and that of their mother. It was not expected or accepted of them to ponder whether or not we meant what we said or whether our instructions supported their personhood or hurt their self-esteem. “No,” “stop” and “don’t” could keep them from a boiling pot, a busy street or a strange dog. As they get older they are still at risk from natural forces, careless strangers and unpredictable human animals interested only in their own gratification. “No,” “stop” and “don’t” might still have an effect, but it’s better to teach them the underlying reasons and standards for moral conduct so they can also work out the “Yeses,” “do’s” and “go-for-its.” In that way my influence can carry on a lot further than my authority will ever be able to.
For my influence to be effective, however, I have to keep learning and examining myself both for my own benefit as well as theirs. Like it or not, my life will be a standard that my daughters will use to judge men on in the future and I want to set the bar pretty high with no apologies to the young fellas coming along. Perfect or not, it is mine to carry. On one level my girls may see me as “Dad of Dads, Keeper of the Remote and King of Rude Noises,” but they should also know at a deeper level that I have laid and will lay down my life for them. As they grow older I hope that they will not settle for any man who will not do the same, even though the kind interested only in the “lay down” part may be all too common.
If you have daughters I think you know what I mean, and I hope you, too, are preparing yourself and them to live by your influence and that of Jesus while submitting to the authority of God. If you have sons, I pray that you are preparing them to a similar standard and helping them grow into their own responsibilities.
And if you have sons that may be hanging around my daughters, you might want to warn them about that nose thing.