Tonight I have been thinking about fathers as I work at Wet Paint. A friend of mine told me that he was struggling to decide what to give his son for Christmas. He is behind on child support payments, probably way behind. He wants the child to be excited at Christmas, but he worries that if he tries to give his son the expensive item that he wants most, he will demonstrate an ability to pay that is far beyond his means. My friend is homeless and in recovery from years of drug abuse. He works at a restaurant my family often enjoys on the Eastside of Spartanburg. He lives in a tool shed behind a former lover's home. I know there are probably many ways to understand his story. None of them leave him looking like a sympathetic character. Tonight, I am prayerfully considering the tension he must feel inside. I pray that the stress in this situation will lead him to better places than it has so often in his recent past.
I gave him a small Guardian on a piece of old chair molding when he told me his story. Beside it I had written, "While I breathe, I hope." I told him the painting was to help decorate the tool shed for Christmas. We laughed together. I told him I thought that the most important gift he could ever give his son was to stay clean and sober. We cried together. He is trying to win a very difficult battle. It will never be easy.
I have noticed from my recliner in the living room that it is often the father figure who needs a lot of work. It is the paternal character who most needs to recapture the Christmas spirit in almost every TV holiday special. At the commercials, I am reminded of those fathers who work extra hours to pay for added expenses that are associated with that commercial Christmas spirit.
Tonight I am also remembering another dad with a new born child in the NICU, surely wishing he could fix what is hurting her tiny body. Ironically to protect his child, this father must keep a distance. How helpless that must feel to watch from afar, behind the glass-- trying to keep her safe.
Tonight I am also thinking about fathers who go to great lengths to guard their families, even when it often seems like so much is beyond their control. Parents of adult children in crisis must surely feel this tension. How do we love correctly when words do not seem to help anything?
And then I remember the story of Joseph-- trying to pay his taxes, trying to find shelter, trying to provide a crib and clothes for a new born. What did his mother-in-law think?
Tonight as I paint, I pray for fathers. May Guardian angels protect those who work or watch or weep this night. Give the angels charge over those who sleep.
In my family, the dads tend to be okay with just about any gift at Christmas. Sometimes things are given that are not all that exciting. Socks, deodorant, and another tape measure are pretty good gifts. My daughter Allie gave me a gift today-- a quarter from my own coin dish. She was so sweet and excited. It was a special moment.
Sometimes what we give our dads is really probably about all they deserve. Like most dads we do not always get it right-- maybe almost never. This Christmas don't overlook Joseph silently watching the baby Jesus. Remember a father figure who is living by faith and doing all he knows to do to provide for his child. By most standards, he was failing miserably.
My dad used to quip that he believed in the Immaculate Conception because Joseph believed it. Imagine the tension. Imagine the faith. Imagine the trust.
This Christmas, don't forget about the guy who spent most of his life in the tool shed. God can use him to help change the world.