It’s Saturday morning, and Ann and I have just returned from shopping at Trader Joe’s. I like going on Saturdays, because it is then I get to see dads—daddies, actually—shopping with their children. One little guy was sitting in his cart seat singing, “Daddy O, O my daddy.” I hope daddy noticed. This old daddy certainly did, but I wonder if I noticed more today than I did when I was the daddy.
I think I did, but it is more certain that I now more understand and with stronger conviction borne of both rewarding experience and enlightening observation. I pray retroactively (however dubious the theology) that I was faithful as a father as our Father always is. I learned most by how he worked out his fathership through my father, who was himself father indeed.
Changing planes at O’Hare some years ago, I ran into my former Wheaton College professor Kenneth Kantzer at baggage claim. Any number of esoteric theological questions rushed into mind. As I was deciding which to risk asking at this opportune moment, he preempted me: “Wally, how old are your children?” When I told him all in grade school, he shot back: “Spend time with them while you have them!” Then he was off, leaving me to ponder why this world-class theologian should lay just this advice on his former student. Although I knew him as an academic, he had also allowed me to know him as a person, as a daddy. The Lord chose the right voice for me at the right time.
John Calvin wrote of a sensus divinitatis (“sense of deity”), and I wonder if there isn’t also something of a sense of fathership, inherent within our souls. I have seen it in some who never experienced actual fathership. It was there ready to be activated. In the most deeply felt crises, it expresses itself as daddy, “Abba Father.” Already a father is but a start; we must grow into being daddy. The children will already know, and they will never forget if we are.
I was, as a police chaplain, called to a Tacoma KFC following an armed robbery. As the policeman unlocked the door to admit me to the crime scene, he motioned to a booth where sat a grandmother and a two-year-old boy. The young boy was sobbing deeply trying to “be a man,” as his grandmother was demanding. Tragically, when the little one had begun to cry, one of the robbers pushed a gun in the boy’s face and then turned and shot the clerk before the boy’s eyes.
I slid in beside them and held my arms out to the boy. He flew into them and buried his face in my shoulder. As I hugged him, he kept crying, “Daddy! Daddy!” He knew.
I am grateful to those daddies who remind me on Saturday mornings. But, when we have grown up recognizing what a daddy is, why is it we don’t pay attention when we are?