The world is wide…and cold: Advice to dads from one who loves being one

I don’t know where the line originates.  Maybe it comes from one of my children, who spoke to another of my children because they miss each other as they live their lives in Seattle, Germany, and soon, Rwanda.  Wherever it comes from, it found its way into this little exchange between two of them, and is at the core of an element in their intertwined lives that brings me great joy.

“Why are you so far away?” writes one.

“Because the world is wide and cold,” writes the other.  “Alas.”

“That is sad…”

“Indeed.”

As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve much to boast about, in my opinion (and I’m not prone to boasting).  I love my three children fiercely, and have good relationships with each of them.  They’re all different, all beautiful, each displaying different facets of character – unique in their loves, joys, ways of living.  I’m proud of them and as this particular Father’s Day approaches, for reasons I can’t understand, I’m celebrating their lives and am mindful of the great privilege I’ve had to share my life with them for the past 26, 25, 21 years respectively.

But the dialogue that opened this piece is no doubt the matter in which I take perhaps the greatest pride, and joy because it tells me something very significant:  My children love each other; love each other enough that they long to be with each other, so much so that separation creates a hole.  It’s not tolerance, admiration, respect… it’s love.  And this brings me great joy.

I wish I could explain how this happened, wish their were a formula pass on to dads everywhere, but there’s not.  The best I can do is look back retrospectively for markers that, only now, stand out as significant:

1. Live instead of watch. We didn’t do much TV when the children were small, living as we did, out of range of any signal at all.  There were forts in the forest, and books by the fire, and picnics by the river.  But we were never able to get in Seinfeld until we watched the series as reruns, in Seattle.  I’m convinced that, by accident, we stumbled on to something valuable, for our kids didn’t know much about what they were supposed to wear, or see, or experience.  They didn’t get that sense of inadequacy that is invariably nurtured by advertising because they were too busy actually living life.  This, I think, has helped.

2. Nurture Adventure. It doesn’t need to be climbing, God knows.  But it needs to be something, because life is lived in a context – it’s lived milking cows, or planting fields, or going to museums, or sailing, or hiking, or … whatever.  The thing is less important than the shared sense of adventure, but the shared adventure’s non-negotiable.  When I think about all the stupid stories I made up as the five of us lay in tents, in the woods, I realize that the adventure was the context for weaving our lives together into what’s become a very tight chord.  To this day, I cherish climbs, hikes, Sounder games… because it’s in those contexts that I feel most fully present with my now adult children.  Knowing that they still want such a presence is the greatest gift I’ll receive this father’s day.

3. It’s their world AND yours. Yes, it’s important to go to Suzuki violin concerts and listen to all the young children play delightfully out of tune.  After all, the trip ‘downriver’ for lessons was a cumulative 120 miles – I’d better hear the recital!  I’d better coach the little league team.  I’d better go to the musical, whether I’m into musicals or not.  These, after all, are their worlds, what gives their lives joy and meaning.

I ought, though, to have a world of my own that I delight to share with them.  “Tennis anyone?” led to volleys, and conversations, with my son.  The climbing wall on the side of the house led being roped together with each child, in more ways than one.  Mountains, stars, snow, campfires - I want to share my loves with my children.  That many of my joys are now theirs is deeply satisfying.  Having children, after all, is not the end of yourself; it’s a new companion with whom to share yourself.

I’ve reserved a climbing date with Noah at the end of July.  I’ll put Holly on a plane to Rwanda for the summer in a few days.  One week from today I’ll fly to Germany with my wife to visit Kristi.  That each of them love us, and each other is…

beyond words.

This week, I’m happy to share some guest posts on my blog, from these very children – I know you’ll enjoy them!

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Mark Brault

    I have attended Bethany a number of times over the past few years with my daughter and son-in-law who have been at UW. I couldn’t agree more with your comments on your children’s love for each other. My wife and I have been blessed in a similar fashion and it has extended to the three, soon to be four, spouses that have joined our family. Watching the way they truly enjoy being together is a great joy.

  • Mark Brault

    I have attended Bethany a number of times over the past few years with my daughter and son-in-law who have been at UW. I couldn’t agree more with your comments on your children’s love for each other. My wife and I have been blessed in a similar fashion and it has extended to the three, soon to be four, spouses that have joined our family. Watching the way they truly enjoy being together is a great joy.

  • http://kristidahlstrom.wordpress.com Kristi

    The wide, cold world is made smaller and warmer with the aid of blog posts, phone calls and international flights. Love you, Dad. Thanks, as always, for the kind words. And thanks for the 26 years of brilliant fatherhood. We’re blessed, every day, to be your children.

  • http://kristidahlstrom.wordpress.com Kristi

    The wide, cold world is made smaller and warmer with the aid of blog posts, phone calls and international flights. Love you, Dad. Thanks, as always, for the kind words. And thanks for the 26 years of brilliant fatherhood. We’re blessed, every day, to be your children.

  • Jim A.

    We have one child living in London and one in Seattle. they are 20 months apart in age and love each other dearly. They are very close.

    Our family connection was sports: baseball, soccer, and basketball. We taught them at very early ages, coached them, and particpated. As a result each played baseball/fastpitch in college and have a lifelong love of the game. Our son still plays in an adult league in Seattle and our daughter can’t seem to find the sport in England. So she has had to be content with practicing law, traveling (6 other countries now) and attending the Royal Wedding from a distance in Hyde Park.

    I wondered what I could say this Father’s Day. I have 3-ring binders full of e-mails I sent to them in college and gradute school. I intend to give the binders to them some day with the information, stories, and advice I thought was appropriate at the time. It’s kind of like a diary really. But they aren’t ready just yet. So this year I thought I would send your “Advice to dads” to them; hope you don’t mind.

    I pray that before the snows come we can go to London and visit.We all really miss her.

  • Jim A.

    We have one child living in London and one in Seattle. they are 20 months apart in age and love each other dearly. They are very close.

    Our family connection was sports: baseball, soccer, and basketball. We taught them at very early ages, coached them, and particpated. As a result each played baseball/fastpitch in college and have a lifelong love of the game. Our son still plays in an adult league in Seattle and our daughter can’t seem to find the sport in England. So she has had to be content with practicing law, traveling (6 other countries now) and attending the Royal Wedding from a distance in Hyde Park.

    I wondered what I could say this Father’s Day. I have 3-ring binders full of e-mails I sent to them in college and gradute school. I intend to give the binders to them some day with the information, stories, and advice I thought was appropriate at the time. It’s kind of like a diary really. But they aren’t ready just yet. So this year I thought I would send your “Advice to dads” to them; hope you don’t mind.

    I pray that before the snows come we can go to London and visit.We all really miss her.

  • http://www.stuffofwonder.com Bo

    I really enjoyed this post. At times, the world does seem quite wide and quite cold, and the only word on our lips is, essentially, “Alas.” One of the things that keeps me from despairing is looking into my one-year-old’s face. I wonder how it is going to change in the years to come. I wonder how these peculiar expressions she makes at every little thing will become part of her “look.” I hope for as many years as possible to watch her grow.

  • http://www.stuffofwonder.com Bo

    I really enjoyed this post. At times, the world does seem quite wide and quite cold, and the only word on our lips is, essentially, “Alas.” One of the things that keeps me from despairing is looking into my one-year-old’s face. I wonder how it is going to change in the years to come. I wonder how these peculiar expressions she makes at every little thing will become part of her “look.” I hope for as many years as possible to watch her grow.


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