Pass it on

By Mark McDonald

When we had our first child, I still remember the overwhelming sense of awe that I had. The pregnancy seemed surreal to me, with the strongest feelings focused on being able to pay the bills and take care of another person. Then, when my son was born, my wife, who was exhausted, gave me a gift: They handed my son to me first, and love was completely redefined for me in a moment.

I was raised in a gracious, loving home, had a great relationship with my parents, and always knew I was loved. I was deeply in love with my wife, and we had waited a few years to have children just so we could focus on each other and deepen our love. The day the nurse placed my son into my arms, I experienced a love that was deeper and wider than any I had known, a love that was truly unconditional that I can only describe as a perfect love. I didn’t think I was worthy of being a father, but in that moment, I felt love like I never had before. It made sense of all the love I had experienced previously and pushed me to new limits.

About a year later, the birth of my second child, my daughter, was growing near. I simply could not imagine how I was going to love her fully and continue to love my son like I did. How could I share that incredible feeling with another child and maintain what I already had?

When my daughter was born and the nurse handed her to me, love was redefined yet again. In an instant, I was reminded that no matter how I thought I understood love, there is always more that I can understand about it. Once again, I found a whole new breadth and depth of love than I’d ever experienced before. I knew at that moment that love was boundless, and loving my daughter in no way took from my love for my son. 

If anything, that love grew even greater, which I thought was impossible. It has grown with every child we have, and it has grown in and through every high and every low. I’ve now been challenged like this over and over again, including through my son-in-law, daughters-in-laws, grandchildren, and even their families! Every new person that I welcome into my life reminds me how boundless love truly is.

To be clear: I have not been the perfect father. We have six children, and we’ve been through plenty of tests and trials. I’ve parented through illnesses and stupidity – both mine and my children’s – and I have failed many times. I’ve faced trials and tribulations that have made me ask myself if I’d lost that loving feeling. However, that love never left, and I have always learned that love is stronger than anything else if we don’t turn away from it.

Every high and every low made me realize that the love of a father is a love that knows no bounds except the ones we put on them. One of my biggest challenges came with the loss of my own father. I woke up the next day realizing that I was now a father by myself (not even close to true), and my kids would look to me like I always looked to my father (already true). Our children have had broken bones, high fevers, meningitis, bicycle and car wrecks, and so much more! All of these showed me a different level of a quote you’ve heard: “Love never ends” (I Cor. 13:8).

That same passage also has some definitions of love that seem impossible for dads: It’s patient, kind, never boastful, arrogant, or rude. Really? There have been plenty of times that I’ve failed that definition. Truthfully, that passage is not about fatherhood or even marriage (even though that’s when we refer to it the most). It’s about perfect love, God’s love. And while we aren’t perfect, we are called to try to be! Father’s Day is not about celebrating the perfect father (thank goodness), but about naming the perfect love that every father figure in our life has shared with us. Fatherhood is not about being perfect, but about growing in perfect love. Being a father – or a father figure – is the chance to experience perfect love, to learn from our mistakes, and be more Godly in the way we pass that amazing love to the next generation.

This month as we celebrate Father’s Day in the 501, I hope you can appreciate the love that is passed on through father figures in our lives.

Mark McDonald
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