Fidelity, Fatherhood and Prayer

When Ashley and our daughter Maria performed the other week at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, as part of the Al Copeland Foundation’s “Chicken Jam” fundraiser which supports new local cancer research, education and patient programs, it was for me, my wife and our other children a blended experience of joy, nerves and pride. This was their largest venue thus far, with nearly an hour to fill with music.

They soared.

There was even a friend of mine, herself a musician (and a theologian), who flew all the way from Chicago to New Orleans just to see and hear them. I told her that all of us were overwhelmed by her show of support, but she quipped back, “Support? Are you kidding? They don’t need my support! I just wanted to hear them perform live!”

Growing up, I passed by so many opportunities to try new things that involved the vulnerability of risk. I lived with a certain fear of failure, of being shamed by peers, and so mostly chose to blend in and pick the low-hanging fruit, playing it safe. This is not a ‘woe is me,’ simply a statement of fact.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand (aka grace), after my faith conversion in 1987, I rapidly shed a large portion of those fears and began to venture out into new and uncharted territories. I am exceedingly grateful to God for this, as so much of what I have been able to do in my life would never have been had I remained in the prison of fear.

Raising our own children, Patti and I, encouraged by so many extraordinary parents, families and friends we came to know, worked mightily to offer them an environment and opportunities to spread their wings, to risk new adventures, to discover the gifts God has placed in them.

Innumerable times over the years, the ghosts of my past would haunt me in the night, warning me of grave dangers that awaited my children were they to step out into the unknown. These shadows, bearing weapons of fear and despair, knew well my weaknesses. Without prayer, which I clung to in those nights, I don’t know how I could have pressed on with confidence for our children.

This is where my vocation as father saved me, the knowledge that my children needed me to be something far larger than those constricted spaces of my soul circumscribed by my own limits. Fatherhood called me to transcend those limits for them, to remove my gaze from my own issues and choose instead to focus on the potential of their God-given greatness. As a Confessor once said to me, “They are God’s children, only yours on loan. Help them seek His vision for them, not yours. His is much bigger and better.”

I recall a very specific time when I was bogged down by a “Tom-limit” in dealing with one of our children who was facing a very difficult time. My wife, who detected my struggle, directly confronted me on it. It was an important epiphany for me. She said,

I know what you’re thinking and what you’re afraid of, but you’ve got to remember that it’s your issue. You can’t let it get in the way of letting [our child] learn for himself how much he can handle. You have to set aside your own stuff, step out of yourself and challenge him to see just how far he can go. God knows and I know what you want to protect him from, but he doesn’t need to know.

Wow, when someone knows you that well there’s just no hiding. What a grace! I am convinced that those who lack such vulnerability in a friendship simply cannot grow. That day, I grew. As did my son.

All of our children have vastly transcended my limits, by God’s grace, each discovering their signature uniqueness, going places I would never have dreamed of going. It’s awesome to see. While they have and will always face the hardships life brings, and fail along the way, to see their wings spread, their hearts swell, their gifts blossom, their characters solidify, their faith come alive in a way wholly unique to each … well, there are few greater joys I can imagine sharing in life with my wife.

One of my favorite prayers has become sharing with God my constant amazement over the miracle that is each of our children. I am grateful when I see my own good qualities in them, exceedingly grateful when I see them surpass my limits, and overwhelmed with gratitude when I see God draw out good for them from my own failures as a father.

Ashley and Maria sang that night a song I had never heard before, Fidelity by Regina Spector. As they sang, I was awash in gratitude while standing with my family and my friend from Chicago. Copious tears streamed down my face, at those words…

I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds
I hear in my mind
All these voices
I hear in my mind
All of these words
I hear in mind
All this music
And it breaks my heart…

That’s it. Love has broken my heart. May it never recover.

I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds
I hear in my mind
All these voices
I hear in my mind
All of these words
I hear in mind
All this music
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
Well, it breaks my heart
Suppose I never ever met you
Suppose we never fell in love
Suppose I never ever let you
Kiss me so sweet and so soft
Suppose I never ever saw you
Suppose you never ever called
Suppose I kept on singing love songs
Just to break my own fall
Just to break my fall
Just to break my fall
Just to break my fall
Break my fall
Break my fall
All my friends say
That of course it’s
Gonna get better
Gonna get better
Better
Better
Better
Better
Better
Better
Better
I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds
I hear in my mind
All of these voices
I hear in my mind
All of these words
I hear in mind
All this music
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
I hear in my mind
All of these voices
I hear in my mind
All of these words
I hear in my mind
All of this music
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
Breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart
And it breaks my heart

11 comments on “Fidelity, Fatherhood and Prayer

  1. Jennifer says:

    This is awesome! And wow, Patti, wow!
    Praise God for your beautiful wife and children and your fatherhood!! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. One view says:

    Patti’s words are what I needed to hear today…

  3. Nos says:

    And the people say “+ + + AMEN + + + + ” ” Be not afraid”

  4. DismasDancing says:

    Wish we’d have known. M and I would have been there. Congrats to both. They’re simply awesome.

    Once again, one of your posts serves up a good dose of deja vu. All parents, especially fathers, are beset with a horde of difficulties that seem only to be magnified in today’s world. That’s certainly not intended in any way to denigrate or minimize the absolutely critical role Mom’s play in the parenting libretto. I stand in awe of the sometimes exquisitely personal manner in which you share the relationships and conversations you and Patti share in the rearing of your children. If men are men, we will admit to having similar conversations with each of our own spouses more often than not, especially in serious situations demanding wisdom and philosophical experiences drawn from who and what we are and were in our own growing up. In guiding our charges in making right decisions, inner fears can cause train wrecks that fail to accomplish anything but confusion for the counseled and frustration/anger/feelings of inadequacy for the counselor. Successful TEAM parenting, similar to what you describe re you and Patti, is the ONLY thing that works. It’s difficult; it’s hard; it’s scary; it’s agonizingly (at times) humbling. But, again, if men are men, they WILL NEVER insist on going it alone in such endeavors. There are obvious exceptions–we are male and female after all; and some things can prove embarrassing. Often necessary in the case of single parenthood, however.

    In any case, with your indulgence, I am forwarding under separate cover a story I wrote a few years after I retired from the Corps in 1995. Entitled “The Magic Circle, A father grows up to become…Dad!”, it memorializes a three-year period in which many of the things you and Patti are currently experiencing in your own family re potential “star performers” counseling young “men”, etc., earned their own bright “marquee lights” and accompanying conundrums, but brought into our family relationships a closeness we might never have found had we not had the good fortune to be assigned to Seoul, South Korea for a two-year period (1991–1993). What a Divine Providential gift to each of us. We talk about that experience almost every time we gather. It will probably be regurgitated by one of our kids when we gather in August for our anniversary celebration. Can’t wait. The bottom line to the story is, that with faith, prayer, deep unabashed, unconditional love literally spread around the home, and trust in God’s presence, somehow it turns out well. Often in spite of (not because of) how hard we try to mess it up. (lots of personal experience, my dear friend).

    God bless you and all of your family, my dear Professor. Cannot tell you enough how much (and why) of what you share in your posts means to me. Your posts have an extremely high “street cred” because of how honestly you bare your soul. We are blessed and appreciate much your sharing of deep faith and trust in the Lord whom we all serve. May Our Lord always grant you the courage and trust in Him to continue offering to your readers the life’s lessons that give vitality to your blog. Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filii, et Spritui Sancto. Amen. Love you, my friend.

    DD

    • <>
      Yes.
      On the day of celebration, may your children rise up and re-echo the beauty of God’s love that their parents have permitted such spacious entry into the world.
      We echo it from wherever we find ourselves, DD & M!
      Peace and joy and all good,
      tn

  5. The prolific N umber. O be S inner. . . says:

    Dearest Dismas, what a gift GOD has given this forum. With writers such as YOU and “small scale ” j and tmm and of course the head professor and others . All the virtues are touched upon and gifted to us by your humble lives , May GOD continue his gift to all of you always P.B.W.Y.A.A.

  6. DismasDancing says:

    NOS: Et cum spiritu tuo, my dear, most gracious friend!

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