By Paul Koch –
This Sunday is Father’s Day. Unfortunately, it’s not so much a day to honor our fathers and highlight their unique qualities. No, this sad little day hiding in the shadow of Mother’s Day has been engulfed by cheap gifts, tacky ties, and “Word’s Best Dad” mugs. So, do I show my dad how thankful I am for a lifetime of sacrifice and hard work by getting him some new golf balls? Or perhaps a new wallet would better demonstrate my appreciation for all he has done. Fortunately, just as there are gift buying guides for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, so also there are guides for Father’s Day. So, I can rest assured that I will pick the perfect thing that has the most cleverly devised marketing strategy for my demographic to finally be able to say to my dad, “I love you.”
It has become a common habit for me to make a bridge in my thinking from my father to my children. When I consider my dad and the qualities that set him apart and helped to form me into the man I’ve become, I easily turn then to my own children and the intentional actions that I take to impact their character as I try to provide, protect, and equip them for their lives. In some ways, it is not by pondering my father that I learn about the best gift of Father’s Day. Rather, it is when I consider my children that it becomes clear.
When I think of my children, more than anything, I want them to live deliberate lives, not lives of happenstance which succumb to the wind and waves of the cultural pressures. I want them to live lives in which they willingly engage in their pursuits without fearing that they will fail, for they will. Rather, I want them to rise up again and again, to embrace the strain and hardship of this life. I want them to succeed where I have failed, to continue to be generous and honorable people.
I have become fascinated by Theodore Roosevelt’s great speech “Citizenship in A Republic,” which he delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France on April 23, 1910. There is a famous quote from that speech which depicts the difference between the man in the arena and the critic. Roosevelt says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
When I think of my children, my son and my daughters, I want them to be the man who is actually in the arena and not the critic who can only point out how he stumbles. Whether they become doctors, teachers, actors, wives, mothers, a pastor, or a father, I want them to engage the world and know the joys of victory and the inspiring lessons of failure. This is the great gift that I will forever cherish from my children, and it is not a thing bought at any store but a life that is lived in the arena.
Now, of course, such a gift is never completed in this age, but the real gift isn’t found in the completion. The gift is in the deliberate engagement over and again. It then is a constantly unfolding thing, shaped by experience and defined by our conversations. This Father’s Day gift thrives year-round.
So, if I turn from my own children and focus again on my father, I see much more clearly the best gift that I can give him. So here it is…
Dad, whatever you find yourself dong this Father’s Day, know that I strive to enter the arena. Though I want to win, I don’t often do so. More often than not, I err and come up short, but still I strive and press on with great devotion. I believe with all my heart that my cause is a worthy one, and so I learn from my failures and regroup and reengage. I try not to be content to only point out the failures of others, such victories are short lived and paper thin. And sure, there are many places for the critic to show you my faults, to examine my shortcomings and my missteps along the way but I offer them as a gift to you along with my victories. They are helping me become the man you demonstrated from my earliest memories: a man of action for his family and friends, a man in the arena. That is who you are to me, and that is what I strive to be for my children. Happy Father’s Day!