As I was growing up, the idea of fatherhood haunted me. I don’t remember my own father—he died when I was only three. I’ve been told that I resemble him more than my siblings do, so I felt that I was carrying on the legacy of someone I didn’t know. I would often imagine what it would be like to have him around. Would he have been strict or gentle? Would he have approved of my art career or rejected it as inappropriate? I had a sense that if I could be a father to someone else, then I could do it for myself at the same time. I would finally be present for the father-son relationship, even though I would be cast in the father role.
So I was finally a father. Now what? What wisdom and answers would I have to offer my son? What could I say to him when his huge eyes met mine?
We traveled out of state and waited impatiently for the birth. Finally, my wife was ushered into the hospital room where our long-awaited child was about to emerge into the world. I felt as if I’d been slapped as well when I heard his first muffled cry through the door. I’d been jolted into the present moment. All the pieces of my personal history flew up into the air to fall back down into a new pattern, but there was no time to sort through it again. I needed to warm up the bottles and change the diapers, and I couldn’t worry about anything else.
So I was finally a father. Now what? What wisdom and answers would I have to offer my son? What could I say to him when his huge eyes met mine? To answer those questions, I thought about the many times in the Old Testament when God appears to the prophets. In response to that undoubtedly thunderous voice, they almost always muster the same response, and it seems almost comically simple: “Here I am.”
So simple and obvious: There isn’t anything more important to offer than your own presence echoing back to your child. It’s everything you can give. My work as a father is to be there in the life of my son, to confirm and support his presence in the world, to offer that all-important “Here I am.”