I'm headed out backpacking on Friday morning and my daughters have a packed schedule this weekend, so we'll be celebrating Father's Day next week. But I wanted to list here a few of the things I've loved about being a father.
1. In my 20s (I became a dad at age 23) and 30s I delved pretty heavily into the mystical spaces of the inner life, and therefore having the everyday tasks of being a young dad kept me grounded in ways that might not otherwise have been possible. You don't succumb to the temptation of losing yourself too deeply in the interior canyon during silent contemplative prayer when diapers need changing, cute frogs have just been discovered in the yard, or junior high papers need editing.
2. Like my own dad, I really enjoyed my role as a teacher of two daughters. I loved sharing with them the joys of Nature, various philosophies, world religions, personality typologies (like the Enneagram) and many different kinds of music. And then of course there was the always-entertaining line: "Dad, when we're on a hike, why do you ALWAYS have us sit and ask what the landscape is SAYING to us? I don't hear anything. That's a weird practice. My friends and THEIR families don't do that!"
3. I especially loved getting to be a kid myself - doing silly things, making up crazy songs about each of our daughter's toys, reading a children's book in five different voices and accents (the Londoner, the crusty old codger, the Western rancher, the DJ, the used car salesman, the tentative-sounding Woody Allen voice, etc.)
4. I enjoyed very much teaching our daughters to think critically, to see the positive and negative elements in every position, to come to their own conclusions, and to realize how SMART they are.
5. It was so amazing to watch our daughters each grow into her own person, with unique interests and personality traits. Key in this was Joanne's and my conviction that our children are GOD'S WORD to us, much more important than any words written in a scripture book. After all, our children ARE a scripture, and we learn from them just as they learn from us.
6. I loved having family discussions, with no TV, radio, computer or mobile device to distract us from really listening to each other at mealtime or while sitting around the campfire.
7. I feel like the usual fatherly disciplinarian role was simply that: just a role I played in order to get our children to learn SELF-discipline. While many parents are perhaps too easy on their children while young and then suddenly clamp down once they reach adolescence, we did just the opposite. I'm guessing I was fairly strict when the girls were young. As a result, they learned good study and work habits (and to care about the feelings and views of others), and thus when they became teenagers, the strictness could be relaxed because they were ALREADY self-disciplined and self-motivated. Along with this, I learned what all good parents eventually learn: you PICK your battles. Otherwise, you become a control-freak, which is no fun for anyone.
Going forward, I think the thing I need to work on the most is ongoing communication with my daughters. There is a side to me that really IS the "hermit monk" and that can reach and commune with the core essence of people while I'm physically away from them and in solitude. Wonderful as this is, I need to learn to pick up the phone more often and simply call!
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.