When I was fifteen, my dad took me to Russia and Europe to fulfill a promise he had made to each of us kids: we could each have one trip of our choice to anywhere in the world.
At the time, Dad in his work organizing global prayer initiatives with World Vision International had been racking up frequent flyer mileage like it was going out of style, traveling to all the most dangerous places on the State Department’s travel warning list. (Or, at least that was the joke.)
Russia, in those years, seemed pretty tame by comparison. Glasnost had just begun, and Westerners had begun to stream in like it was the 1849 Gold Rush. The country seemed both exotic and safe enough for a teenager, sans parents, to visit and explore.
I’ll never forget that first night in Moscow, though. The plan was that Dad would drop me off before continuing on with his work itinerary to somewhere in the middle of Siberia or the likes. I would be meeting up the next morning at the hotel with my tour group.
And it was the first time I can remember seeing Dad cry. Because there we were in my room at the Interpol hotel, a bustling tourist locale, just minutes before Dad was to make his next travel connection, when the phone in my room rang. I had picked it up to hear a man with a thick German accent making obscene comments.
When the phone rang again, Dad picked it up to hear the same man on the line. He angrily reprimanded the man and told him not to call again. And then to me: “Don’t pick it up again,” Dad had instructed, his anxiety palpable in the sternness of his tone; and, “whatever you do, do not open your door for anyone!”
Then, this seasoned world traveler who had narrowly escaped death- on winding roads in the Himalayas and from food poisoning in Pakistan, who had lost his passport somewhere in Asia and would be airlifted out of Sierra Leone, began to cry, just a bit.
Now, as a mother myself, I can appreciate those tears: to have to leave my teenaged daughter in a foreign city in a hotel room with a sick German man badgering her on the telephone would be scary, to say the least. I would feel helpless, maybe even guilty.
With a hug, Dad was off. The phone did not ring the rest of the night, and I fell asleep all aflutter with the pride and excitement of being all grown up and on my own.
When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tells us to go to God with the words, “Our Father in heaven.” And, I don’t think this is a coincidence. God as a father is available and attentive to us, and most fundamentally provides for us and protects us, Jesus seems to be saying.
Today as we celebrate our earthly fathers, I’m grateful that when they- like all of us who parent- come up against their limitations, we can know that we have a heavenly father who is perfect in every way.