Writing by Faith

Thoughts of a Father for Father's Day


The oldest kid moved out this spring, the first of our offspring to leave the nest. It took a day to pack up the U-Haul and then unload it at their new place. After one last sweep of our house, I offered a few words of fatherly encouragement, and then they hopped in the trusty Honda and drove off into the big world.

I confess, there were tears shed on my part. After they left, I found myself alone in the house, so I rummaged through some boxes and pulled out a few baby pictures, shots of a much younger me holding my infant daughter while she laughed and smiled a toothless grin. I may have spun up a recording of the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces,” that hopeful and heart-wrenching paean to progeny moving away, to mark the moment.

Time is a funny thing. There are moments it seems to stand still, moments it meanders slowly like a placid stream, and yet, in a flash, decades pass. All those kids that showed up to kindergarten at Evergreen Elementary with this child of mine are now young adults. Some are married, some are parents, some are serving in the armed forces, and some are finishing college. Meanwhile, the parents are trying to figure out what just happened.

Parenting is one long journey of having your heart broken. Yes, there are many joyful moments, but then these little ones who snuggle and giggle and depend on you for their very life suddenly decide their friends are more interesting, that the latest TikTok trend is more important than the lesson you’re trying to teach, and that you are not worth their time and attention.

Then, they move away, leaving for college or the Job Corps or moving out with friends, and you are left with a box of memories and a sentimental country song for solace. If you are lucky, you might get an occasional text letting you know they are still alive out there, living their best life without you. It makes you proud to see them adulting; it breaks your heart to not be a part of it.

As I watched the kid drive away, I was mindful of just how scary letting them go can be. We release these children of ours into a world of crime and addiction, of random attacks and intimate partner violence. Our freeways are crowded with angry and distracted drivers. There are people in our neighborhoods who won’t hesitate to do harm if it suits their needs.

The jump to adult life is complicated. Finding a job with decent pay and necessary benefits is difficult. Wages remain stagnant while the cost of housing skyrockets. I look at my daughters and worry for their future in a country where politics and religion are working to roll back their hard-won rights as equal citizens. Sometimes, the winds of change portend troubled days ahead, and I worry.

We wish we could protect our sons and daughters from the troubles of life. We long for the days when we could tuck them into bed and promise to protect them from scary things. We wish we could go back to the days when the worst tragedy was a skinned knee or a lack of ice cream in the freezer. We remember the childhood moments that go by in a flash. Then, we watch our kids walk out the door into an uncertain future. They want their wide-open spaces while we pray for their safety from the evil in the world and their own naiveté.

Being a parent tears your heart apart. It leaves you lying awake deep into the night waiting to hear their car in the driveway so you know that, at least on this night, they are home safe. It sets you up for rejection when one day your loving kids decide you aren’t cool anymore. You are forever watching a piece of your heart walking around outside of you, and you must let it go. Being a dad is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Still, being the dad of these amazing kids is the greatest privilege of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Love those kids of yours, you parents. They’ll be gone much too soon.

Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.