In Praise of Fatherhood

Today I honor the beauty and grace of fatherhood. I am recently graduated from law school, and getting ready to start a job at my dad’s firm in August. Dia and I have very little money. Yet we have just made a down payment on our first house. I am studying for the bar exam in July and occasionally relieving Dia from the sole care of two girls under the age of two. We have very little time. Yet we have just returned from a ten-day Hawaii vacation.

The house was a little miracle. Aside from preliminary examinations of various neighborhoods, we never so much as walked through any house before purchasing this one. We moved from Utah straight into our newly purchased house, and set foot in it for the first time as its owners. My parents are friends with some realtors, and apprised them that we were interested in a house in the area. They placed perhaps more emphasis than we would have on the specification that the closer to grandma and grandpa the better. Within a week or two our realtors contacted them to contact us about a lovely fix-it-upper barely a mile from my parents’ home. Lots of video conferences ensued, providing us with virtual tours of the house and lots of advice on the pros and cons. Dia just felt good about the house, in a way she hadn’t about any of the houses we’d considered on Zillow. She’s a lot more discriminating than I am when it comes to aesthetics, decorations, and living space. So I largely left the decision to her, seeing my role as that of counselor and sounding board. Ultimately, we decided to go for it.

My father-in-law offered to lend us the entire amount of our down payment. My parents offered to lend us the earnest money. Citing our parents’ committed support, our realtors helped us rise to the top of the list of potential buyers. A short bidding war later, and within ten days of hearing about the place, we were under contract with the sellers. Through my father’s brother’s wife, we were able to locate a mortgage company that was willing to lend us the purchase money even though I had only a job offer. At least when you are in our position, it takes a village to buy a house.

As mentioned, this was a fix-it-upper. We are both oldest children, so all of our siblings are still in school and were on summer vacation by the time we had lived in our new house for a month. Two sets of parents soon orchestrated the convergence of two families on our house, packing power tools and work gloves.[1] The Darceys arrived first from Oklahoma, with Ian driving from Provo. We spent an intensive half-week removing and replacing sub-flooring, knocking out superfluous façades in the kitchen and living room, shopping for paint and supplies, replacing deck foundations, putting in an entire fence and texturing, sanding, priming and painting the entire living room and much of the rest of the main floor. My brothers and sisters-in-law arrived next from Nashville, Raleigh, and Provo, and picked up where the Darceys had left off.

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And then, before the dust had settled, we were off to Hawaii for a much-needed break: an all-inclusive Hawaii adventure with the Darcey clan. My in-laws invited their parents as well.

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I promised to talk about the beauty and grace of fatherhood. So far I have paid tribute mainly to the amazing generosity of our parents. Certainly, generosity is itself a beautiful form of grace. But the most beautiful and graceful part is the springing willingness with which the gifts flow. What have we ever done for them, except to receive and receive and receive? Perhaps we occasionally expressed gratitude; perhaps we helped around the house. But, in terms of benefits conferred and received, the relationship has been grossly imbalanced. Kids are a bottomless drain on resources. Yet the resources flow in and in and unflaggingly in.

This total asymmetry of the relationship is one of the ways in which, according to my religious beliefs, fatherhood is closely analogous to God’s relationship to us: all neediness on our side and all grace and abundance on his. From a traditional business perspective, it is a very poor arrangement for him. Yet not from his perspective. Giving to us is his work—and also his glory.

We are needy, selfish creatures. Our days are spent largely in acquiring and guarding material resources. Our spiritual and mental reserves are small enough to exclude any deep and abiding interest in other people, except where long practice (and usually necessity) has made such an interest in some few other persons habitual. And so the market furnishes the basic model for our interaction with most people.

It is our glory as well, and our salvation—the wellspring of our spiritual lives—to overcome (within certain spheres, at least) the self-interested, tit-for-tat, arms-length exchange of the market in favor of the communal, grace-driven, embracive exchange of family. Christ once said to fathers, “[Y]e then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children[.]” Ye fathers, whose primary attunement to others is self-interested, know how to abide a higher law with your children. In place of the business-like handshake is the caress. And in place of at-will employment and contracts is holistic belonging and covenant. Gratuity (in latin, “graciousness”) replaces bargained-for exchange. “To give good gifts unto your children” is the formula for fulfilment: for it is only in this thick belonging of families that we find home—and rest for our souls. As children of God, our natural element is grace.

Interestingly, though, the self-interested mode of decision-making and the grace-driven mode of decision-making do not conflict for children. Self-interest and love both bind them to their parents. It is only with parenthood that the conflict arises—the opportunity to abolish the lower motivations in favor of the higher. That is why I believe the ultimate coming of age has always been the advent of children: with them we are finally enabled to assume the bestowing end of the parent-child relationship.

My tribute to my father and my father-in-law, then, is that, within their families at least, they have completed the transition from the market-model to the grace-model. They know how to give good gifts to their children, and it has become their nature to do so without pause. And that is a beautiful thing.

To put all this another way, my fathers have begun to grow up within the Fatherhood of God—they have become good under-fathers, thriving in his graciousness. I love and praise them for this.

To thee, Father, all praise and glory.

[1] Entire families minus my sister Rachel who, for good reasons, was unable to come, and my youngest brother Daniel who is serving an LDS mission in South Korea.

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