Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fathering after your nest is empty

(Submitted as articles for The Springfield Paper and Xenia Gazette)
     We stood with hearts pounding just outside the rear sanctuary doors on June 21, 2008. She was clinging to my right arm, my little girl-turned-beautiful-bride about to make the journey of her lifetime down the center aisle. As her father, I realized that the thirty some steps before us would forever change the nature of our relationship. I would no longer be her chief protector and provider. That mantle would soon be worn by a young man who had steadily won her heart and her affection.
     But I will still be her father.
     It is quiet now at home. Several times a day I walk past three large portraits representing our three grown children, no longer in our “nest”. Sometimes my heart catches a bit as I realize that some of my fondest memories of them as children are in the past, only to be relived through photographs and home videos. They no longer need my help with getting dressed, meal preparation, completing homework, driving them to events or being tucked in at night.

     But I will still be their father.
     What does fathering look like after children leave home? Are a father’s providing and protecting instincts now obsolete and unneeded? Following are some tangible ways I have found fathering to continue even after the nest is empty.
     Entrust them to THE Father of all. Even though my children are no longer under my direct fatherly supervision, they ARE under God’s. My children still face challenges, fears, temptations and failures. What better way to serve them than to hold them up daily to their heavenly Father for blessing and protection.
     Share counsel (with permission) and release. As children reach majority age and acquire more independent decision-making skills, the dynamics of fatherly instruction changes. If I have red flags, I can ask them if they are open to my input, share it honestly, but then release them to make their own decisions.
     Continue blessing and encouraging. We never outgrow the emotional need of having a dad who is simply there as our main supporter in life. Although it may not be a daily dose—as it was when living at home, my children still need the validation and support of their dad.
     Father the fatherless. There are many children, youth and adults who have never experienced healthy fathering. Perhaps through abuse, absence or negligence they simply missed out on the precious bond with a firm, loving father that influences all of life. In the absence of the many demands that at-home children can generate, I can invest in children, youth or adults that would benefit from a healthy father influence. Mentoring opportunities abound in our community, and empty nest fathers may simply need a gentle nudge to continue fathering in this manner.
     As I look back over these few reflections, my eyes have become a bit misty. I deeply love my three children--Jessica, Josh and Kristen--and what they have become in both character and achievements. The father in me just never wants to quit.
     But just because they are no longer living at home does not mean that fathering is done for me. Yes, it has changed in structure and intensity. Some days may go by with very little conscious thought of their well-being or activities.
     But I will always be their father.

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