Tears of a Father

Ron Swanson once said, “I have cried twice in my life. Once when I was seven and I was hit by a school bus. And then again when I heard that Li'l Sebastian had passed.”

In film as in life, no matter how many times we tell our sons that crying is ok, the message still finds it's way to their psyche that crying is a sign of weakness. And showing weakness is entrenched deeper within that psyche as an occurrence that is irreversible. When did it become a symbol of manhood to deny the release of tears?

Recently Rachel and I had the chance to go and see the new Sherwood Pictures film Courageous. In going to see this movie I did not expect their to be Oscar worthy acting or Hollywood explosions, but I did expect a very positive and Christian based message. I will say that I definitely got what I expected, but that is not the only nugget I took away from the theater that night. I came to a moving realization as I sat next to my wife and an older man whom I had never met, in that dark theater. If you have seen the movie you will remember the scenes I am going to reference. If you have not seen it, sorry if I spoil parts of it for you.

My moving realization occurred about halfway through the movie and it was prompted by the stranger sitting to my right. During a very emotional scene when the family is dealing with the aftermath of losing a 9 year old girl in a car accident this realization occurred. During this highly emotional scene I could not hold back my tears. I was crying, but it was a controlled, tears slowly rolling down my face type of cry. This was not a part of my realization. The realization came to me as this stranger to my right, who was probably in his early 60's, sat next to me and was practically sobbing. It seemed as if he was doing everything possible to refrain himself from bellowing out an all out wail. This semi-wail began to subside and over a few minutes began to slowly fade into a gentle whimper. As I sat next to this stranger it came to me what type of cry I was hearing and what tears I was seeing. These were the cries and tears of a father. A father of many years with many hours and days invested into the lives of his children and probably grandchildren. My moving realization is that there is no mistaking the cry of a father.

I have vividly seen this cry in several firsthand situations. The most moving experience in which I have encountered the cry of a father came a few weeks ago from my own father. In this occurrence I saw not only the cry of a father, but the cry of a grandfather. As those reading this probably already know, my family and had been living close to my family for the past year. In the middle of August I took a job that would move my family over 500 miles away. My parents knew that we were following the direction we thought God was leading, but that doesn't take away the hurt that still encompasses your grandchildren moving away.

Very few times in my life have I seen my dad cry. I have never viewed him as unemotional or distant, there have simply not been many instances in our lives together where he has felt the need. He has been a great example to me through the years, and I highly respect and admire the way he has conducted himself as a father and grandfather.

On the morning we were leaving to move back to Indiana was the time in my life where I have truly seen the cry of a father in the eyes of my father. As we were gathering up everything to make the drive, I could see that he was getting emotional. I expected this from my mom, but was somewhat taken back when I saw the tears rolling down my dad's cheeks. He kept it pretty controlled until he picked up my son to say goodbye. Christian gave him a hug and kiss, and at that point I wasn't sure if my dad was going to let go. The tears broke out in strong streams and my dad did his best to control the shaking that his body wanted to release. In reaction to this display of emotion, I started to tear up myself. But I made sure to quickly distract myself as I saw that Christian was getting a little scared and confused by the situation. On the drive to Indiana that day Christian asked me on several different occasions, “Why was Pappy crying.” This gave me the opportunity, honor, and privilege to tell him that Pappy was crying because he loved him so much and was going to miss him.

I want to take this time to say 2 things to my dad: 1. I'm sorry that I had to make you go through that. I'm sorry that you had a glimpse of living close to all of your grandchildren and then we took that away. 2. Thank you for showing me your care and love. Thank you for loving my children as much as I do. Thank you for desiring to be a lasting influence on their lives. I know they love you deeply, and I am so thankful they get to call YOU Pappy!**

Learning to be a father:
Over the past 3+ years of my personal journey into fatherhood I have slowly realized that as I watch movies, read books, and hear stories my own propensity to dispense tears has become much more relaxed. It no longer takes a story of an extreme, emotional journey of a boy achieving his dream of becoming a professional baseball player to bring tears to my eyes. It simply takes one short scene, paragraph, or moment of a father losing a child for the tears to roll. Here are some clips or scenes that would not allow me to hold back the tears:

(In Field of Dreams Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a man who never had closure with his father. He builds a baseball field in his corn field that magically allows past players to appear and play baseball again. Through these events, Ray finally gets to play catch with his dad. This one gets me every time!)

(In The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith is playing Chris Gardner. He's a father that is doing everything he can to provide for his son and give him a better life than he ever had as a child. In this particular scene, they have no place to sleep and must spend the night in a subway bathroom.)

Our Father in Heaven:
As I have slowly started to understand these emotions that come from being a father and this cry that can only come from a father, it has helped me understand so much better the love that our heavenly Father has for His children. But it doesn't only help me understand His love, it also helps me understand His pain. How many young parents think to themselves, “I am so sorry for what I put my parents through. If I had known that they felt for me what I now feel for my children, I would have never taken their advice for granted. I would have better understood that they were looking out for me because they loved me so much.” How many times has God looked down at the children He loves and let out the cry of a father? How many times has He yearned for us to crawl back to Him, yet had to let us go and make our own mistakes as every parent must one day endure? How many times has He seen young fathers failing to provide the love and leadership that their children need? How many times has He wanted to hold us close and tell us it will be alright, but we turn and run the other direction towards our own indiscretions? 

At this point in life, there is nothing that makes me more emotional than seeing the ineptitude of so many fathers today. With that said to borrow some of the words of the movie Courageous

"Where are you men of courage?"  Where are you when you should be playing with your sons and drawing pictures with your daughters? Why are you failing in the most important role you will every play? Why are you not leading your families and showing them the example God has created you to show?

May we as fathers have soft hearts. May we be strong and courageous when needed, and may we be calm and tender when called upon. May we be an example of love and discipline to our children and lead our families as God has designed. As we go through the trials and tribulations of raising children, may we never forget the love that our heavenly Father feels for us. May we never to be too worn or calloused to allow our children to see one of the most touching displays of emotion that God has created, the cry of a father.

**It should be noted that my mom is an outstanding grandmother! I'm not referencing her emotions at this time because this article is titled “Tears of a father.” If it was “Tears of a parent” it would be a different story. Mom, thanks for being a great mom/mammaw! I'm sure sometime in the near future I will write something about mothers. 
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