A Disney generation ago, when my oldest daughter was three-years-old, “The Little Mermaid” was all the rage in our house. In that tale, Triton, the emperor of an underwater kingdom, flew into a rage when he discovered his daughter’s secret treasure-room filled with scavenged human artifacts. When Triton saw this evidence of his daughter’s forbidden proximity to the human world, his fear got the better of him.
According to this movie, when it comes to emotions, it would seem that mermen are similar creatures to the males of our own species. Triton channeled his fear into anger. In his rage, he smashed many of his daughter’s treasures. When the tantrum was over, the king appeared to be contrite. His weeping daughter was unaware of her father’s sorrow because he played it strong and aloof. This apparent lack of emotional intelligence led to all kinds of mischief in his daughter’s life.
When my youngest daughter (now twelve years-old) was three-years old, King Triton, Ariel, Sebastian and all the rest had passed into retirement. “Dora” was the new diva. And so, on a sunny, summer’s Tuesday morning, I thought nothing of it when Lizzie asked me if she could watch another episode of “Dora the Explorer” before we attended swimming lessons. In her request, I saw an opportunity to clean the kitchen without interruptions. This, I was to learn, was my mid-summer’s morning mistake.
An episode of “Dora” takes precisely thirty minutes with commercial interruptions. To make it to Tuesday’s swim lessons on time, we would need to leave the house in precisely twenty-five minutes. That five-minute miscalculation proved to be the equivalent of leaving the tent door unzipped in a mosquito-infested woods. It opened Lizzie and me up to getting stung.
When it came time to pack up for our lessons, the episode failed to conclude. A smarter man than I would have recognized his mistake, cut his losses, and shown up late to the lessons. I insisted upon turning off the show, and attempting to pull Lizzie’s swim-suit on over the top of her outraged, writhing body.
Lizzie’s recalcitrance invited the tantrum-ing King Triton within me to assert his authority. The trident-toting tyrant whipped up a weather system within me that hopped over to my daughter, and followed us in the car to swim lessons. By the time we arrived at the pool, Lizzie was too upset to get into the water and take directions. For all intents and purposes, we missed the swim lessons.
Eventually the storms subsided as Lizzie and I drowned our sorrows over coffee cake at our favorite diner. Together, we reviewed the game tape of our conflict. We settled upon the appropriate consequences and amends. When we arrived home, I discussed what had happened with my two older kids, and apologized for my King Triton behavior. Having gotten Lizzie down for her nap, I sat at my word processor to write an article much the same as this article for the upcoming Sunday.
Staring at my blank computer screen, it occurred to me that the upcoming Sunday that year, was Father’s Day. Given my performance that morning, I felt like calling in a guest author. Fresh off of a less than stellar dad day, I didn’t feel like I had the bona fides to write a reflection on fatherhood. That’s when I cracked open my Bible, and read about a flawed king who was sorry for his failings (2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13).
It then occurred to me that the imperfect King David was in good company when placed within the pantheon of other male figures of both the Old and New Testaments. With the exceptions of the New Testament Joseph, and his son, Jesus, (and his cousin, John) every other male lead character of the Bible displayed significant flaws that became evident somewhere within the course of his respective story. Perfection, it would seem, is not the prerequisite for God’s calling.
Mercifully, perfection is also not the pre-requisite for Christian fatherhood. Based upon everything that I have learned about the spiritual life and masculinity, it would seem that a man’s ability to own up to his flaws is an essential characteristic of Christian leadership…including fatherhood.
As a Christian dad, the best in me is never more on display than when I acknowledge the worst in me. To deny that my inner King Triton exists, is to give that tyrant the steering wheel to the ship of my psyche and behavior. Owning up to this part of myself gives me the ability to more intelligently study it, understand it, and direct it.
Real authority for a Christian dad rests, not in perfection or bluster. Authentic Christian fatherhood rests upon the firm foundation of self-reflective, compassionate, humble love that covers a multitude of fatherly imperfections.