Outstretched Hands

2 Dec

She comes to me every afternoon when I walk through the door, a smiling little metronome, each day asking the same thing.

“Play with me Daddy?”

Normally, my hands are full with my jacket, my laptop bag, maybe some books, and my answer is always the same.

“Not right now, honey. Daddy needs to change.”

Her face falls. Her shoulders slump. She recedes back into living room, a disappointed tide going back out into the sea of solitude for at least another ten or fifteen minutes. And I make my way down the hall and into my bedroom, exasperated by the unending need of an almost four year old daughter for my attention. The laptop bag slams into the bed. The tie comes off with a snap then gets thrown into the closet with my pants, shirt and shoes. I grab a pair of jeans, maybe my house shoes, and trudge back to where she sits.

“Okay, Ella. I’m ready now.”

She lights up, but now without the intensity with which she greeted me. We piddle with markers or crayons, we go on adventures with her Disney Princess dolls, we take care of her 100 babies. And fifteen minutes later my attention is diverted by some other need: dinner needs to be cooked; my son’s diaper needs changing; my wife needs me to run an errand or fix some problem for her.

I get up and fulfill my fatherly duties. I leave my daughter behind without looking back. This is just the way life goes. She understands.

Or so I think.

The truth is I don’t know if she gets it, and even if she does, I’m not sure I get it.

Isn’t there supposed to be more to the father-child relationship than just a scattered bit of love and attention here and there? Aren’t I supposed to be more attentive to her needs, more giving of my time, in order to help her grow into the type of woman who will be successful and happy and normal?

Right now, I’m a shadow constantly moving about in my own house, occasionally falling across the path of my daughter to remind her that I am real. This is not relationship. This is mutually beneficial arrangement whereby she gets food and shelter and a father-figure to help her be well balanced and I get the joys of her laughter and funny antics. But she doesn’t know me, and honestly, I don’t know her.

I long for more. I want to offer her something better. But the dictates of reality and life just don’t allow for that to happen. I come home everyday to a face full of anticipation at my arrival and everyday I crush her hopes because I can’t play on the floor in my good pants.

The sentimentalist in me wants to tell you that there’s an easy solution; that in three simple steps you and me and anyone struggling with the demands of life can have all things straightened out and prioritized in a way to make us all happy. But there is no such solution. There is only the mix and muddle of life.

I write this and think about my relationship with God, only in that context I am my daughter, He is me. I find myself everyday holding out my hand, wanting some real time with Him, tangible time wherein I know that I am the focus of His world. I want His universe to revolve around me for just an instant. I want my Daddy to play with me.

In this scene, He does as I do: lets me know that He doesn’t have time, isn’t ready, needs some space and a chance to get Himself together. I know full well that this is my projection of my own ineptitude onto Him, but it’s how I feel. He breezes past me into His room, shuts His door, and doesn’t emerge until He’s ready.

Do you see how easily the line blurs? How my strained relationship with God, my need for Him, colors how I see my relationship with my daughter? I want to give her what I feel God isn’t giving me, and yet life keeps getting in the way. So I pile on the guilt. I pile on the neuroses. I break my heart in two everyday because I want to do more than God. I want to be God to my little girl.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?

If, for the sake of argument, I could be all that my little girl wanted, if I could lavish her with unending attention and play, what would be the result? Would she be well balanced or spoiled? Would she appreciate the time or take it for granted? Would she, could she, love me anymore than she already does?

Of course I can ask the same questions of my relationship with God and actually provide answers. I know in my heart I would be spoiled. I would take the time for granted. I would not be able to love Him more than I already do. The only thing that would change if God granted me my constant plea for His attention would be me.

And it wouldn’t be a change for the better. I find, in this realization, quite a bit of peace as an earthly father. My daughter needs me, but she also needs to find herself. The time I spend with her helps shape her, but growth comes through those times of aloneness, those times when all she gets is the shadow of her father passing by. I will continue to give my daughter as much time as I can spare because I love her. But I won’t feel guilty about the times that I can’t spare my time. Because by watching my heavenly Father, I understand that a good relationship needs space as well as presence and that the two can coexist.

Like my daughter, my hand is continually outstretched, inviting interaction and time together; like me, God sometimes has to say no. But in saying no, I am still aware of His presence, just as my daughter is aware of mine: she can look at the closed door to my room, or see me walk by in the hall and know that even if I can’t stop for her, at least I’m there. In the same way, I can read the Word or sit in the silence and know the same is true of God.

I hope my daughter never stops offering me her hand. I think God hopes the same from us.

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2 Responses to “Outstretched Hands”

  1. gypsyjonga December 9, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    My God, this is beautiful. And helpful – as a working mom, I feel very much the same. Thanks, Jason. I’m facebooking this.

  2. Georgian April 22, 2010 at 6:38 pm #

    If I may, sir…

    To the author, and all of those who, like me, stumble upon this admirable piece and wonder about the same things as fathers and parents, i’ll just say this:

    With all due respect, if you want to get closer to the Almighty, then I suggest you spend the greater part of an afternoon ruining a perfectly good pair of pants. May i suggest you begin with a nice, pronounced rip, followed by some deeply ground in grass stains on the kneecaps, then perhaps some mud on the posterior, with a savory Ice Cream finish about the tops of the thighs. Screw em dude. They’re just pants. Metaphorical they may be, but still, they are just pants. To you, it is just an hour of your otherwise dimly lit life, which comes off as more than a bit sad. It occurs to me that’s exactly the prescription for that gloomy and introverted view of the world you’re toting around. Waste a day and make it so that one day will echo thru her entire lifetime, so much so that it might even comfort her as an old woman on her deathbed. Seriously, you’d be amazed at what a warm, long, awesome day spent just flying a kite with dad can do. Think about that and then think about how silly and stupid your pair of $100.00 pants seem now. I respect your position friend, we’ve all been there. But from one southern gentleman to another, i believe you get the point, and i’m hoping everyone else who reads this gets it too.

    From one Southern Gentleman to Another.

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