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Rivets, Flex and a Father's Faith
By Jacob Frost
Fatherhood may seem like a lofty ideal, but this new father learns a lesson grounded in everyday love.

Q U I C K S C A N

Going With the Flow
Lessons in Faith
'Do Not Be Afraid'
Fathers in Faith

© ROBERT COCQUYT/DREAMSTIME.COM

WE LEARN ABOUT the things most important to us in the oddest ways, it seems. I was once on a very long trip when a helicopter engineer, fascinated by how airplanes work (maybe it's a guy thing), caused me to consider my own sense of fatherhood.

We were on a plane to Australia. From San Francisco, it's a 14-hour flight, a long time to be suspended between the heavens and the deep blue sea. Next to me was a Canadian engineer, on his way to work on helicopters used in Outback mining. About three hours into the flight, he pointed out the window.

"Look at the wings!" the Canadian engineer said excitedly.

I looked out the window.

"See how they flex!" he said.

To my non-engineering eyes, "flex" seemed to mean a disturbing tendency to whip up and down like an antenna.

"Most people think airplane wings are stationary," he continued. "But on a plane like this they actually have a 24-foot range of motion, 12 feet on either side of the stationary axis."

As I looked, I saw he was right. I wasn't sure what the stationary axis is, or where it might be, but the wing certainly jerked up and down and twisted in ways I would not have expected.

"You don't know the kind of stresses involved in mechanical flight, especially for these big planes," he said. "It's amazing the wings can withstand it!"

He seemed genuinely enthralled with the engineering feat of modern wing construction. I was less thrilled. It was interesting, I'll admit. I didn't know airplane wings were designed for "flex."

When we ran into turbulence, I couldn't stop myself from looking out the window. The wings were shaking and gyrating vigorously and pumping up and down like a goose trying for liftoff.

Just when I most wanted to believe the little cocoon of my existence was gliding effortlessly above the vast emptiness of the Pacific thousands of feet below, I saw my survival was actually dependent on a patchwork of metal sheathing and rivets flapping wildly to stay aloft.

The lesson that the friendly engineer at my side taught me wasn't something I was eager to learn at that particular moment. It would be one thing if I were on the ground, contemplating the dynamics of aeronautical engineering in the abstract; in a plane hit by turbulence above the Pacific with a long way still to go, it was something else.

Life itself seems to work that way, though. Living is not a theoretical exercise. It's very concrete, and we have to live with circumstances that usually aren't as we might choose them. That certainly rings true for fatherhood.

Going With the Flow

Once, when our daughter was four months old, I was going to be taking care of her for the day. Before my wife left, as we ate breakfast in the morning, I started making a plan. My wife watched me scribbling activities on one side of the page, times on the other side.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Making a schedule for the day," I said.

She laughed.

"What?" I innocently asked.

"Nothing," she said with a smile. "You'll see."

See I did. Babies and schedules, I discovered, rarely converge. Our daughter ate when I had nap time scheduled. She napped when we were supposed to be going out for a walk. And big holes were punched all throughout the schedule for the constant, unplanned diaper changes. By the time the day was over, little was left of the schedule but the paper it was written on!

So now I do less scheduling and more going with the flow.

There are many circumstances I'd like to rearrange all the time. Diapers certainly rank high, but even more than that, as most fathers (and mothers!) agree, would be sleep.

At times the calling to the vocation of fatherhood feels like God's call to Samuel: a voice that woke him from his sleep (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night would be heavenly. I've forgotten what it feels like not to be tired. But the baby wakes up at night, so we do too. I tell myself I'm learning patience. It's a virtue, after all, and I shouldn't complain about the chance to acquire a virtue.

Still, if it were up to me, I wouldn't be working on patience at 2 a.m., while trying to soothe a teething baby. Personally, I really think I could make a lot more progress on patience after a good night's sleep, a leisurely breakfast and a few cups of coffee.

But we don't get to choose our circumstances. We just get the call. All that's left up to us is the way we respond.

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Learning how to respond is where the Bible can help. Scripture is full of people called by God. They were engaged in all sorts of works, at times when embarking on a mission from God was less than convenient. They didn't think they were ready.

Consider people like Jeremiah, Sarah, Zechariah, Jonah and Moses. When God called Jeremiah, he attempted to demur, saying, "I am too young" (Jeremiah 1:4-10). Sarah thought she was too old (Genesis 17:17ff) as did Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:5ff). Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-3). Moses didn't think he was worthy of the mission to Egypt (Exodus 3:4-14). None of them thought circumstances were right when God called, but God thought differently!

There is an amazing thing common to each of these stories. It's the wonder God works when people are faithful, when they carry through with the work God has given them. That's true even if they need a little prompting or a second chance.

God worked through Abraham and Sarah for the birth of Isaac, Zechariah and Elizabeth for the birth of John the Baptist, Jonah for the repentance of Nineveh. Through Moses, God worked many miracles and delivered Israel from bondage. Great things happen when people are faithful to God's call.

It's reassuring. Those of us called to fatherhood have important work to do. When the angel visited Zechariah, it was to deliver a message: You will be a father. That's when Zechariah questioned the call he was receiving, saying, "I am an old man" (Luke 1:18). The angel said to Zechariah in reply: "I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news" (see Luke 1:19).

The power of that angel's statement sends a shiver down my spine: "I am Gabriel, who stand before God." When I first read that, I thought, Better sit up and pay attention! If Gabriel's got something to say, it's probably worth listening to. Gabriel was announcing the birth of John the Baptist, about whom Jesus would say, "I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John" (Luke 7:28).

Gabriel had told Zechariah that John "will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:15), and went on to enumerate some of the things that would make John so great. One was that John would "turn the hearts of fathers toward children" (Luke 1:17).

Fathers turn their hearts toward their children. That is important enough for Gabriel to care about, important enough for Gabriel to be sent to come and announce, important enough that it made John great in the sight of God. That points to how much fatherhood matters.

So we fathers have been given a special task, a task that ranks high in the concerns of the likes of Gabriel, John the Baptist and, as Scripture tells us, the One who sent them both.

We know that fatherhood matters, maybe more than anything else we fathers will ever be given to do in this life. We know, too, from living the calling, that it's hard work.

Sometimes I'm tempted to think that, if I could just change the circumstances of my life, I could do a lot better as a father. That's the sort of wishful thinking I have when I wake up to get our daughter at night: I'm sure I could be a lot more patient if she would just conform her sleeping to my schedule!

Sometimes, like Jeremiah, I think I'm too young for the task God's called me to—and to the responsibility that goes with it. But then sometimes I feel like Zechariah, thinking I'm too old for the demands of a high-energy baby.

Sometimes, looking at another messy diaper, I feel like Jonah: I just don't want to tackle this one! And sometimes I feel like Moses, thinking God could have surely found someone more worthy to nurture the amazing young soul entrusted to my care.

Those are times when it's good to take a step back and listen to Jesus.

Fathering can be tough. Worries and frustrations pile up, but Jesus tells us: "Do not be afraid." God loves us, and God is watching over us. "Even the hairs of your head have all been counted," Jesus said, so "Do not be afraid." As Jesus reminds us, "Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?" (see Luke 12). He advised us to "seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things [food, clothes, a roof over our heads and our other material needs] will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself" (Matthew 6:33-34).

God made us, in this time and this place. Living is now. It was God who calls dads to our vocation of fatherhood, even with all the obstacles we face, and God will help and sustain us in our work.

It's good to remember that, amid all the difficulties we face, it's no accident that we were put here and charged with raising our kids. It's good to remember that we are not alone in our work.

We have also the examples of our fathers in the faith to show us how to be steadfast in our mission, fathers such as Zechariah, Jonah, Moses. As hard as the road may be at times, each of our fathers in the faith teaches us again and again one of the constant messages of Scripture: We can make this journey if we go with faith. All of the people in Scripture faced their own challenges, just as we face ours.

So, too, our fathers in the faith show us that there is a purpose to our trials, even if we can't always see that purpose. Just look at the obstacles Moses faced: They were a key part of his mission, whether he knew it or not! It was through the hardness of Pharaoh's heart, along with all the other difficult and perilous situations Moses faced, that God revealed God's nature and strength, the reality of our absolute reliance on God—and so many other lessons.

Through the witness of how he lived and responded to God's call, Moses has passed on the faith and taught countless generations of people about God.

Often when we face difficulties, we wonder, What am I supposed to learn from this? There can be many things we're supposed to learn, but sometimes the lessons aren't for us alone. Maybe other people are supposed to be learning something from our example, just as we all learn from Moses. Those other people may just be the ones who watch us most closely, for example, our children.

It's one of the great opportunities of fatherhood: to bring the faith alive for our children through how we live day by day. By handing on the treasure of faith to our children, we can be fathers of faith.

I've been blessed to know the power of that example in my own life. My parents say the Rosary twice daily, once in the morning before Dad goes to work, and again in the evening before Mom and Dad go to bed. When my parents face tough situations, they reach for their well-worn rosary beads. They reach for God through prayer.

For example, in all the economic tumult of the past few years, Dad was informed his job was being phased out. Facing unemployment, Mom and Dad started a novena. The day the novena was completed, Dad got a call and had a job! Then Mom and Dad started a novena of thanks. Whether or not they learned anything new through that whole experience, I certainly did. When children—grown or not—see their parents put their trust in God, especially when the chips are down, it makes an impact.

It's a small example, maybe, but life is made of small moments. These are when faith and character are formed. Each act of faith is like a stone dropped in a pool of water, sending out ripples that touch many lives.

If we fathers can live with faith, in moments great and small, we can hope that our acts of faith will touch our children, inspiring them toward their own acts of faith. Twisting and turning as we soar through our more difficult moments, we are held aloft by the grace of God, by the faith of our fathers. For dads, it's a guy thing.


Jacob Frost is a lawyer and freelance writer who comes from a large family in a small Midwest town. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his wife and two children.


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