I have only had one father. For most of my life I had neither the lens nor the critical distance to see my father. When people asked, "What's it like being Desmond Tutu's daughter?" I really had no answer. I didn't know.
Now there is Joe, my husband. For 13 years I have watched him navigate the joys, woes and worries of fatherhood. I have seen him delight in our girls. I have seen him goaded into ire by the children's attitudes or antics. I've seen him poised on the edge of despair. I have seen him wrestle with the complicated emotions that attend a father's love. I have seen him struggle to do the right thing. I have seen that, in some ways, it is the child who makes the father, even as I know that the father shapes the child. Seeing Joe with our girls has helped me see who and how my father has been with me.
My earliest vivid memory is that my father was proud of me. It's just a fragment of memory. I must have been three or four years old. I was kneeling on a padded chair, my arms supported by a desk. I remember the roughness of the seat fabric under my knees. My father and an uncle were coaching me through the labor of writing my name. I remember my father's delighted pride in my accomplishment.
He was always ready with delight and pride, perhaps because I am the youngest of four, and because by the time I came along he had relaxed into parenting. My brother and sisters had filed smooth some of the rougher edges of his fathering. And my father was easy with me. My mother says that he was so easy with me that she knew I would be their last child.
My father took me seriously. When I watch Joe settle down to listen to the complicated details of our teenager's day, there is an expression I remember from my father's face. When I see Joe's grave attention to the stories our four-year-old constructs, I glimpse something I saw in my father before. My heart remembers how important it was to be important enough to make my dad pause and listen. I remember feeling myself grow 10 inches taller as I saw my father pause for intrigued thought before he could respond to my comments and queries.
The high school I attended was a multi-ethnic boarding school. I had friends of many faiths. I knew enough to know that we believed differently but, with my Muslim and Jewish friends, I seemed to get lost on the way to defending my faith. I don't remember my questions or the shape of my confusion. I don't even really remember asking my father to explain. I do remember the long, thoughtful letter that came in response, not the words but the tone. I felt invited into a deeper understanding of my faith as an invitation to a beautiful place.
Later, much later, when I began to discern a call to ordained ministry, it seemed that he faced into a cascade. Delight and pride met that grave thoughtfulness. He took this oh-so-seriously, too. He did what he always does: he prayed. It was just a short, simple prayer that reached out to me across the miles. I was in Massachusetts clutching my phone; he was at home in South Africa grasping this new piece of news.
If he wasn't my father, he might have been my pastor, marking my transitions. He baptized me. He married Joe and me. He baptized our adorable girls. He preached when I was ordained deacon. He anointed my palms with oil and blessed me into the priesthood. He knelt to receive my first priestly blessing.
But he is not my pastor; he is my father.
I am proud of my father. It is not for the awards and the accolades that I am proud of him. I am proud of him for his courage. I am proud of him for his integrity. Courage speaks truth to power. But the courageous usually speak on behalf of themselves or of their own communities. Integrity speaks the uncomfortable truth to the beloved power with love. My father speaks as the voice of the voiceless. No matter who they are and no matter where they live. Yet even his integrity has laughter in it. He is not the joyless prophet haranguing a nation. Often the bitter medicine of his indignation slides past our guard with the sweet sound of our own delighted laughter.
I take my father seriously. I delight in his agile mind. He has read a library. He has seen the world. He has spoken with the powerful and the powerless. He has written books. He has preached. He has prayed. When I was in high school he was invited to speak at my school. I cowered in the back of the assembly hall so I could make my escape if he was too painfully embarrassing. He was not. Now I sit on the edge of my seat listening to him say things that I have heard him say before. Each time it is as though I am hearing for the first time. Each time I walk away with my spirit renewed.
I love my father. I love the father whose love has shaped me. And I love the father of my children whose love shapes me now.
Happy Father's Day, Daddy. Happy Father's Day, Joe.