Saturday, June 15, 2013

Are Fathers Really that Important?

It's the day before Father's Day and I have been so consumed with helping my first-born get back on her feet and then getting my other 750 children (who in real life belong to someone else) out the door for summer vacation, that I have not had time to buy a Father's Day card for any of the fathers whom I hold dear.  So I guess at this point, other than Fed Ex, what choice do I have but to blog.

I am the mother of three amazing adult children.  We have had our difficult years.  There have been years when I knew not one of them really wanted to honor me on Mother's Day because in the moment, they actually wanted to give me the title "Bitch of the Year and Why Don't You Get Out of my Business." To them, and to others who viewed me from the outside, I probably appeared to be a mom who really didn't think fathers were important but that is so far from the truth.  I knew as I was raising my children alone how important fathers were but I often was forced to describe my parenting experience as dragging my kids up a very steep mountain with their birth father at the top, throwing boulders down at us.  For whatever reasons or circumstances, I'm sad to say that as a mom, I was frequently disappointed with the quality of fathering that my children got from the one man who was supposed to be their nurturer, protector and their knight in shining armor, especially my girls.  And one of the reasons was most likely because of the high expectations I had thanks to my own knight in shining armor, my father.

My father was the one who got all the love and honor and respect and CREDIT from a little girl even when he might not have deserved it.  My poor mother who really did most of the work of raising us, frequently was standing there in the dust while he strolled in as the hero.  But in the eyes of this little girl, he did deserve it.  He was handsome, strong, smart, funny, silly, wise, and I would jump through any hoop for his attention.  He had his flaws but it was all outweighed by those times that he stopped to hug me or call me punkin' or teach me how to do something.  He was my encourager.  He set the highest standards for me in every area of existence and if I disappointed him, it was like a knife to my heart.

He transferred many gifts and talents to me and I see them living on today in my children.  These are some of the things he modeled for me when I was a little girl.

  • He could always talk to anyone and no one was a stranger.  He had the gift of gab and blarney as my Scots-Irish grandmother said.  We sat at a restaurant table many times without my father because he was walking around the room saying hello to everyone - not that he knew everyone, but he made new friends and acquaintances everywhere.  My mother's consistent statement at a restaurant was always, "Where's your dad?"
  • He was a writer and an amazing improv speaker.  He spoke in front of the church and 40+ years worth of middle school students and never had a moment where he looked nervous.  
  • He was a helper.  He was the original Good Samaritan and he would stop and help anyone along the road who looked like they might have qualified for the verse in Matthew that says, " whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  
  • He genuinely cared about people and I always watched him asking more questions than he did telling people about himself.  Even in his 80s, he still works with kids at the juvenile delinquency facility in our hometown.  He told me not long ago, "there are no juvenile delinquents, only delinquent parents."  He has always been appalled at people who don't take parenting seriously. 
  • He loved traveling and discovering new things.  We had the most fantastic family vacations every year that any kid could want.  He wasn't afraid to take the "scenic routes" even though my mother was afraid of two-lane highways.  And there was usually some far away family member that was included in our trip.  Sunday mornings, no matter where we were, included church.  
  • He was a singer and loved music.  He was always in the church choir and many of those family vacations involved listening to him sing "This Is My Father's World" (over and over again). He (and my mother) provided me with lessons on the piano, the organ, the accordion, the guitar and then set up impromptu recitals whenever friends and family arrived.  He always encouraged me and my best friend, Jayne, to sing in church - until we started rewriting the lyrics to popular music.  "Listen, Why Don't You Listen," seemed to curbed his enthusiasm for our talent shows in church....LOL.
  • He played and romped with us.  I'm sure he has some back problems today, simply because of the horse back rides we insisted on as children.
  • He was a daredevil and a bit impulsive. I remember seeing him swing on the rafters of a barn when I was in college and the next words out of his mouth were, "don't you dare tell your mother."
  • He read, usually religious books and his Bible, and he prayed.  My dad is one of the most eloquent prayer givers I know.  His prayers are sincere and instructional and as a little girl, I understood humbling yourself before God, simply because of my dad.
Most of these things, with the exception of the last, made my mother really mad and yet we knew that these things endeared him to her just as they did to me and my siblings.

When I was three, my father wrote a short essay for a college class entitled  A Life with Value.  He really had it figured out when I was a little girl, and his dedication to fathering me has rarely disappointed me.  He wrote:

"In considering some of the things that make my life good to live, I find it difficult to limit to a few specific points.  However, if I consider first things first, I cannot overlook my happy childhood and family relationships.  To me, there could be no more ideal childhood than growing up with four brothers on a farm.  Although we suffered from many fears and material wants, I can see that it may have been good for all of us.  A part of this happy life was the role of the church and Sunday School which is now an essential part of all our lives.  To bring this up to my present day living is of course my own little family.  I could never before have been made to believe that a little curly-haired girl would have taken so big a place in my life and heart as that of our three-year-old daughter.  Parents who set out thoughtfully to guide a child toward useful ways of living and toward ever deepening and enriching values, have embarked on a great adventure.  Nothing could be more rewarding."

So back to my original question . . . are fathers really that important?  In today's world, you hear so many answers and excuses to this question.  From a little girl who had one of the greatest and a mom who climbed the mountain dodging the boulders, my opinion is that they are....if they figure out their own importance early on as mine did. But if a father doesn't recognize the true importance of his role of leading, guiding, and modeling early in his children's lives, so much is lost. They are the first man a little girl falls in love with.  They are the role models that little boys want to grow up to be.  They are something that moms cannot be no matter how hard they try.  What an amazing job if a father chooses to do it.

So this Father's Day, I want to honor some very special fathers in my life who do understand their importance and who take their jobs seriously.  
  • To my own father, Richard Wyant: I could say thank you for being my father a million times over and it would never express what is in my heart.  Thank you for taking on the "adventure" and for being so serious about it. I am so blessed and my life has been so enriched. Whether you realize it or not, you are so woven into the tapestry that is me, that I often don't know where you end and I start.
A Dad's tenderness with his first-born

Richard and Betty Wyant with the curly-haired girl.

My dad always told me, "he who laughs, lasts" and so this is one of my favorite pictures.  It embodies the "fun" that my dad has always had with kids.  Here, he and Logan are yucking it up about something that was probably very silly in content but created a great grandfather/grandson moment.
  • To my husband, Greg Jansen: You are the father to my children that I dreamed of.  You stepped in at the most difficult time of their lives, the teen years, and you earned your stripes.  You wished that you would have known what it was like to raise twins with me and darn it if God didn't grant you your wish!  You are the most amazing grandfather and you are living proof that DNA frequently has nothing to do with being a father or grandfather.
BopBop with Lulu

BopBop and Logan rowing in Central Park

The picture says it all.
  •  To our son, Tyson Wyant:  One of my biggest joys in life is watching you as you father Alexander and Adaryn.  When you were a little boy, you told me that you weren’t sure you really wanted to be a father (this was after Torie broke up with you because of your disagreement on the number of children you should have.)  I’m so happy that you took my advice on this matter.  You are an amazing father.  You are calm, assured, strong, funny, consistent, and dedicated.  But most of all, you are a man of faith and you are teaching your children daily about the most important father of all.  I’m so proud of you and of the way you have grown and matured into someone who can be counted on for the most important things in life.

On the porch swing, just chillin' with Xander

Two dads enjoying the cousin love 
Adaryn already knows her Papa is the best

  •   To my brother, Andrew:  You are the poster boy for second chances.  You owe Jill a debt of gratitude for much of the parenting that happened while you were in med school and after because you have some amazing children in Levi, Haviland and Zoe.  Now, you can truly be proud because you have stepped up to the plate and are a serious dad.  You are an amazing example of the restorative powers of our heavenly father – he can build so much from the ground up.  I am so proud of you and the family you have created with Krystal.
Andy and Jude

Andy with two of his girls
·      To my sons-in-law, Don Chenault and Matthew Taylor:  I’m so proud of you both.  Don, you made a conscious decision to be a father to that first set of twins and Matt, becoming a father was probably the farthest thing from your mind at the time, but look at how both of you have become amazing fathers and parenting partners.  I know that you both are supportive of my daughters and that this support and respect will go far as your children grow to adulthood.  One of the most important things a father can give his children is respect for their mother and I see this in your relationships.  Thank you for that and so much more.  I love you both.

New Daddy, Matt with Amelie

Matt and Amie at the Lake
Don with the boys

·        To our co-grandparent in Michigan, Gary Zmuda:  I’ve known from the first time you set foot in my  KinderCare office with your darling little Natalie on your knee until the day we watched our children unite in marriage, that you took your vocation as a father most seriously.  How blessed we are to have known each other for such a long time.  Thank you for raising such an amazing daughter and mother to our grandchildren.  Thank you for welcoming our son into the Zmuda family. But most of all, thank you for the love, care and “grandparent awe” that you bestow on our little Buster and Birdie on such a regular basis.  Greg and I know that you are there when we can not be and that when you hug them, you are hugging them for us too.  That’s pretty rare and such a gift.
The wonder of childhood

·        To our other co-grandparent in Atlanta, Bill Chenault:  Bill, because of the recent house fire, I’ve was reminded of what a constant presence and protector you have been for our daughter over the years since she moved to Atlanta.  I’m so thankful for the love and care and surefootedness you provide for her and our grandchildren.  Knowing that they are all cared for so tenderly makes being away from them all just a little easier.

These are all important fathers . . . not just because they are in my family but because they have as my father said, “set out thoughtfully to guide a child.”  They have embraced the adventure and they show up everyday.  I'm thankful for you all as are the children you father.  My prayer is that all fathers everywhere discover their importance and sign up for the adventure.  Happy Father’s Day!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And When You Walk Through the Fire . . .

I remember the first time I said to myself, "Life just doesn't get any better than this."  It was an autumn afternoon and I was curled up on the ugliest green plaid sofa in the world, napping with my newborn, Brittany Elizabeth.  We were the only ones in the house and I remember whispering those words.  It's one of those mom moments that never go away and for me, they are always right there on the tip of my brain even as I am looking at my fully grown children.  Last Thursday, Brittany and I were spooned up together on the sofa just like that autumn afternoon and I still whispered,  "Life just doesn't get any better than this."  Can life get better than holding your 32-year-old daughter after she's escaped a horrible house fire?  I certainly believed when I held her infant self that life couldn't get any better, but seven days ago, I fully realized that it can. How thankful I am for her safety (and the safety of my grandchildren).

I've always been afraid of fire.  When I was in elementary school, I woke up one morning and joined my father in our "family" bathroom (the one without an electrical outlet - family story) and he told me that the little boy I sat next to at school had died when his house caught on fire the night before.  I was mortified that things like that could happen to children.  To make matters worse, I went to school and our teacher handily "announced" that Marshall wouldn't be coming to school anymore because he died in a house fire. Then she asked me to clean out his desk.  These are not the imaginings of a woman many years from the fourth grade....this is how our teacher handled the loss of one of our classmates.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I became a school counselor - blunt trauma in the fourth grade.

Add to this, the stories of my father and his brothers who reminisced about the house fires that they lived through as children. My Grandmother Wyant lived through watching two of her houses burn to the ground because the "bucket brigade" couldn't get to their home in the Indiana Beech Hills fast enough.  The Wyant brothers have turned the house fires into a family joke about my Uncle Denny.  The story is that my Grandmother told Denny to run to the neighbor's to tell them that "the house is on fire."  As he ran out of the house toward the neighbor's house, he looked back and yelled at my Grandmother saying,  "Hey mom....our house is on fire too!"

Fast forward to the late 80's when my parents lost their house to a fire.  This was the time that I thought my mom would surely divorce my dad.  He had been draining the gasoline out of one of his antique tractors on a chilly May evening when he received a phone call from a neighbor to return a borrowed coffee pot.  It had to be returned immediately.  I'm sure my dad thought that this woman was a complete nag at the moment, but in reality, returning the coffee pot saved his life.  Shortly after he left, the fumes combusted and a fireball shot through the house.  I got a middle of the night phone call from my mom telling me "the house burned down." The week following was full of emotion and working sifting through the rubble that used to be our home.

Now I'm helping my daughter live through the same sadness and loss that my mother and grandmother lived through and I'm realizing that twins are not the only thing that "runs" in our family.  And I'm not talking about fires.  I'm talking about circumstances that are recognized as small miracles, not coincidence.  And strength, tenacity, and an optimistic attitude that nurtures gratitude and the ability to see the glass as half full....not half empty. My Grandmother told me that something good always comes out of every circumstance, even house fires. 

In the last week, I've watched my daughter move from a near fetal position on the sofa of her neighbor to an upright position that involves moving forward one step at a time - and the world is much brighter than it was one week ago tonight.  She's thinking about all of the good things that will come from this loss and all of the strength and character she will have as a result of it.  She feels she's changed forever, and I'm sure she is.

After three days of making an inventory of everything that was in the house, the last place to sift through were the family picture albums.  Not many were left, but I walked out with a picture of one of the first ultrasounds of the little twins.  I was reminded that my daughter brought these little ones to this house and created a wonderful childhood for them.  I know she'll do it again with the same style and grace as the first time.....but with a little more wisdom and knowledge of what it means to fight for your family with the help and support of friends, family, and God.

When thou shalt pass through the waters, I will be with thee, and the rivers shall not cover thee: when thou shalt walk in the fire, thou shalt not be burnt, and the flames shall not burn in thee.
Isaiah 43:2

God, and family, and friends aren't waiting for us at the END of the waters, but walking through it with us. What a beautiful promise. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped my daughter and grandchildren whether it is with prayers offered up, food, clothes, transportation, money, time, smiles, hugs, or words of encouragement.  The last week was manageable because of your support.  It will be paid forward.

“Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”
― Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home
Dylan, Logan and Carson at the zoo

Lindsey and Carson

Brittany with Dylan and Carson

Dylan with his best bear

Lindsey at her recital on the Saturday after the fire

Lindsey seems to live to dance

Chillin' Dylan at the hotel swimming pool