I bought my son a pair of pliers the other night. Channel Locks. 10 inch. Nothing heroic, but that’s what Dads do. I cannot even begin to count the stuff my Dad did for me. So, I’m trying to pay it forward.
Navigating the terrain of Dad-hood is not easy. I’ve said things I’ve regretted. I’ve done things, if it were possible, that need to be done over. A few things turned out better than expected. Perfection is not in the cards, but the will to keep trying is strong.
People will often ask, “Did you learn that from your Dad?” Some things, absolutely. But sometimes, I really have to stop and think. It’s not clear. I’ve been me for so long that I don’t always see the connection.
My wife says to me, “Okay, John!” Which is odd, because my name is not John.
This is her way of saying, “you’re acting just like your Dad.”
It could be a compliment. Could be? Most of the time this is her gentle way of taking a jab at some trait that I exhibit without any conscious awareness, but which she sees as an exact duplication of the man who raised me. It’s a cheap shot with a smile.
The job was to repair a washing machine. Dads are experts at this sort of thing. For a moment I was 12 years old again and holding the flashlight on a freezing cold night on the back porch in Hampton, GA. In reality, I was an old guy with a sore back hunched over between the wall and a space too narrow for a mouse.
“Hold the light,” I said. “Hand me the pliers.” Thus, the trip to the store to buy pliers.
If you’re lucky, there is nothing much better in life than a father and son. Daughters, too. Fishing in a worn out boat on a small pond. Listening to good live music on a Friday night. Even working on washing machines.
Sadly, there are guys that don’t know what that’s like. I know Dads that tossed away their chance at glory like a bad tuna sandwich. I know sons that suffered through a pretty ugly childhood, but who turned out to be great Dads anyway. Nothing is guaranteed, I guess. Anything is possible. Sorrow of some kind is everywhere.
It turns out that Dads leave an imprint on their sons the size of Texas. It also turns out that sons sometimes swear that they’ll never be like their Dad. But as time passes, the resistance turns into acceptance, and eventually morphs into a sheepish grin of acknowledgement. I don’t think I look like him at all, but I’m pretty sure I have his hands and a whole lot of other John stuff beneath the skin.
I’m okay with that. I wonder if my son is aware of what is ahead. Solomon says that any son who doesn’t pay attention to his Dad is a goof ball, because Dads have some worthwhile lessons to pass along. My version of his proverb. And I wish I had paid more attention to this conventional wisdom long before it settled in on me that he was right.
Dads, don’t give up on Dad-hood. The opportunities are golden. Sons, wake up and smell the coffee. As much as any young man needs a good pair of pliers, young and old men alike need each other. It’s the way God means for it to work.