Intimate Wounds: The Awful Truth about Fatherhood

kneeI have just realized something awful about fatherhood. It’s something I’ve read about, but have always thought was one of those things that didn’t apply to me. But I was wrong. It’s something I hoped to avoid, something that will cause much pain, for my children and for myself.

About a year ago my boys came in from playing in the woods. It was raining outside, and they were covered in mud. I didn’t want them slogging dirt through the house, so I told them to strip down to their Underoos on the porch while I ran to get a towel. We live in the country, so our nearest neighbor is seventy yards away—besides, it was raining pretty hard. No one was outside. Moments later I wrapped them in the towel and sent them straight to the bath.

A few nights ago as I tucked my sons into bed, I was trying to understand why one of them was so embarrassed to change into his pajamas. Something about it struck me as odd, so things got serious. “Did something happen? Did someone make fun of you?” I asked. My other son started crying and told me, “Yes.” I was horrified. I imagined the worst, and I was prepared to do terrible things to the person who had wounded my boys in this way. Then they lowered the boom.

“It was you.”

They reminded me of the previous year’s incident with the muddy clothes and the front porch and the Underoos. They said the girl next door informed them a few days later she had looked out her window and seen them all but naked. They cried and cried. They were shamed, their little boy hearts were wounded–and I did the wounding. Of course I didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t matter. My carelessness led to their shame. It’s something they’ll always remember, and it will shape them in ways that it’s impossible to foresee.

The thing I’ve realized about fatherhood is this: I will fail. No matter how hard I try to be a perfect father, I will fail. Miserably. I will love my children imperfectly. Their malleable hearts will be shaped not just by my successes, but by my failures, and they’ll bear those intimate wounds all their lives. Praise God, He somehow makes good of our worst. As a friend recently told me, my realization that I will fail is a great success on this long journey of becoming like my Father in Heaven.

*This was first published in Homelife magazine in 2009.