Years ago, I went to vote in a run-off election and took our then, six-year-old daughter, Natalie, along for the educational experience. Natalie was impressed; we had voting at our house that night. She kept passing out ballots to me, Sheri and our son, Tyler (so many ballots that I thought maybe we were in Louisiana, where the motto is “vote early and often”).
Anyway, we all got several ballots and when we asked what we were voting for, we got no good answer. “We are just voting,” she said. We were instructed to vote for someone in our immediate family. I voted for Sheri and Tyler, and though I never saw a vote tally, I’m sure that I finished dead last among the four of us. And if we had a pet, I would have finished fifth.
Winning a popularity contest at home is not really important to me. I know Natalie loves me, at least she did until she turned thirteen. Now that she’s seventeen, she loves me again. By now, she knows me, warts and all. When she was six, she told someone at church that her dad was “perfect.” Do you think maybe we need a vocabulary lesson on the meaning of that word? Surely she knows better. When I spend way too much time glued to a TV or iPhone instead of doing things that need attention, that means I am not perfect.
I wonder if she thought her dad was perfect because my picture is in the paper every week or because I am the pastor of the church, and I preach sermons every week. I don’t want her to think that I am famous or perfect; rather, that I am an imperfect, not very famous dad, who loves her very much. I do want her to respect me, and I would be honored if, as she grows up, she thinks that the work I do as a minister is good and noble. But famous? Or perfect? Not hardly.
I came across a poem, “Famous,” by Naomi Shihab Nyethat, that expresses my feelings on the subject: “The best photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.” I am honored that Natalie carries pictures of me on her phone and, I think, she is proud to do so. But not because she thinks I am famous, but because she thinks I’m a good dad. (I hope your recent Father’s Day was as good as mine!)
The poem continues: “I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.” As far as I know, I have never done anything spectacular (unless you consider having three hole-in-ones spectacular or having a child at the age of fifty). I have a pretty good understanding of what I do well as a minister and father and what I can’t do. Maybe that will be enough to garner the respect of my daughter and maybe even get me a vote in her in-house polling.
“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).