An Empty-Nester’s Honest Father’s Day Reflection

Did I do enough? I’ll always wonder that. Did I do enough with my four children to help shape them into the adults that they should be? I did the “normal” stuff: diapers, baby food, soccer practices, basketball games, volleyball games, track meets, football games, dentist appointments, school performances, heart-to-heart talks, book-reading, punishments, movies, bedtime prayers, game nights, road trips—you get the picture!

I was tired at points. I recall the line that Steve Martin’s character gives in the movie Parenthood. When his wife reminds him of something that he has to do, he responds, “My whole life is ‘have to.’” I confess there were times I felt that way. I was a young dad, just 19 days shy of my 23rd birthday when my first son was born. My wife and I were just 17 days shy of our first anniversary! I felt heavy with obligation because of so many things tugging at me as a husband, dad, worker, etc. But I was so thrilled to see my healthy baby boy! I didn’t want to mess up anything. I wanted to be everything I could be for him.

And each subsequent child brought a new sense of joy and profound sense of increasing responsibility.

Daddy1995My own father, Thomas Oscar Edwards, wrote me a letter on my 37th birthday telling me, among other things, that I had just reached the age he was when I was born. He confessed in that letter that because his own father died while he was an infant, he did not really learn how to be a father.

Yet my dad taught me so many things. It’s easy to list what he didn’t do, but I am amazed at how much he did do. He grew up a Black man in America during a miserable time in our country’s history, but still had hope for the future. He served in the army during WWII. He took care of his mother, a widow all of his life, up until she died—a month before I was born. My father raised the five of us siblings plus our two older half-brothers. My dad worked crazy hours at the Post Office in NYC—often leaving our house in Queens well before the sun rose. He was the one, contrary to stereotypes, who dragged us to church while my mother stayed home. He did the best he could with us when my mother died of cancer at just 52 years old, the age that I am right now.

My dad was a brilliant man—especially with numbers—who graduated from the famous Stuyvesant High School in NYC, but never got to finish college. But I only found out where he attended high school after I announced to him that I was planning to take the entrance exam to Stuy. When I told him my plans, he asked, “What made you want to go to Stuyvesant?” I told him my answer and then he told me that he had graduated from there! Later on he showed me his diploma from the class of 1940! He graduated before his 17th birthday.

My dad wasn’t perfect, but he was great. When he died in 1999 I preached his funeral. My youngest sister testified at the service. She was only 11 when our mother died and at the funeral she commented, “Mommy taught us how to be strong, and daddy taught us how to love.” I can only hope that my children will one day say such things about me.

The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, says this:

Children are a heritage from the LORD,

offspring a reward from him.

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior

are children born in one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

whose quiver is full of them.

They will not be put to shame

when they contend with their opponents in court (Psalm 127:3-5)

I have indeed been blessed by Jonathan, Jason, Joanna, and Jessica. I trust that despite my limitations, God has been at work to make them into the great people that they presently are and even greater yet to become.

I have worn many hats. But two big hats have been those signifying “husband” and “father.” I don’t think I’ll ever feel that I did enough in either job. But I have faith that God has honored my efforts.

I wish all the dads out there who have been learning as they’ve been going along a Happy Father’s Day, and the peace to know that God is pleased as we try to do our best.


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