Naturally, the first thing his dad and I did was take a close look to make sure TJ was still alive. (Has any parent ever completely trusted even the most skilled surgeon not to accidentally kill his child?) TJ looked pale and groggy, disheveled and confused. A sheet covered most of his body. Pushing the gurney into a corner, a cheerful and chatty male nurse carefully lifted TJ to his feet and settled him onto the bed.
We gently touched his face and spoke to him reassuringly to make sure he knew we were there, and that it was all over. Then we sat down to wait, our parental anxiety gradually receding into the background. Glancing out the window, I watched the usual rush hour traffic flow silently by many floors below.
An hour went by. TJ was becoming more wakeful and feeling some pain. The surgeon came in to check him and announce that our son was ready to go home. Brent stood up and pulled shut a curtain designed to swing in a U-shape around the bed to provide a bit of privacy. I sat and listened.
I heard the rustle of clothing and gentle words of encouragement. It was evident my husband was dressing TJ-something he had not done since our six-foot teenager was a six-year-old child.
My gaze traveled downward, attracted by movement. Beneath the abbreviated curtain, I saw my husband's khaki-covered knees appear. He was kneeling on the floor in order to put on TJ's socks and sneakers.
I was suddenly reminded of Christ getting down on His knees to wash the feet of His disciples, illustrating, through soap, water, and a rough towel, that a true leader is a servant. I was overwhelmed with love for my husband-love and gratitude.
In his new book, Genesis, Leon Kass says that much of what we read in the stories of the Old Testament patriarchs is about what it means to be a father-about a man joining with a woman in the hard work of rearing children. While most men are capable of sacrifice, willing to go out in a blaze of glory, it's much tougher to accept domestication, teaching and serving one's children.
After all, if you forfeit your life in one glorious act, statues will be erected in your memory, poems will be written about you, songs will be composed in your honor. But devote yourself to caring for your children-showing up for daily doses of nose-wiping, diaper-changing and T-shirt washing (on top of trudging off to work each day)-well, statues for men who do these things are few and far between.
Yes, domestic life is hard-which, perhaps, is why Jesus gave men two examples: The glorious, sacrificial example, and the humble, down-to-earth example.
Most of the time, God doesn't ask fathers to throw themselves in front of speeding bullets-or trains, or cars-to save their children. Instead, He asks fathers to serve their children in thousands of mundane, day-to-day ways. Most of the time, fatherhood is a series of little gestures-such as getting down on one's knees on a hospital floor to put sneakers on a child in pain.
I knew before we had kids that my husband, who spent many years as an Army officer, would have had no trouble doing the heroic, jump-on-a-live-grenade stuff, if duty required it. But he's also really good at the servanthood stuff on the home front.
In similar small but meaningful ways, he serves our children. When it's his turn to fix dinner, he always cooks two different vegetables, so neither child has to choke down a fiber-filled horror he loathes; he recently sacrificed many an evening and weekend building sets for TJ's school play; and he always invites the boys out to shoot baskets rather than wait for them to track him down.
TJ is fully recovered now, but I still think about that October morning in the hospital, especially the moment I watched my husband get down on his knees to serve our son. It's not the kind of thing boys brag about when they talk about their fathers, but it's the sort of thing a son will likely remember when he becomes a father himself, and is tempted, out of tiredness or busyness or boredom, to settle for doing the selfish thing instead of the sacrificial thing. And that, too-setting a manly example-is part of being a good and godly father.
Jesus told his disciples: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Though I'm a devout Christian, I'm tempted to contradict the Lord on this point. As a wife and mother, I can't help thinking that sometimes, the greatest love of all-for a dad-is a willingness to sacrifice all the days and months and years of his life in service to his family.
On his eighteenth Father's Day, I want to say to my own husband: Thank you. And I love you.