The little girl, perhaps five years old, happily danced around the edge of the beautiful lake high up in Rocky Mountain National Park at the end of a long and grueling hike. The family, mom, dad, a son about 13, another daughter about 10, and this little one had been right behind us on a particularly icy/slushy part of the trail. At one point, I had offered a hand, gratefully accepted, to the middle child for a moment of balance while she negotiated a particularly icy spot.
The youngest, though, captured my heart. I had seen the father tenderly carry her over the worst patches of what had turned out to be a far more treacherous hike than any of us had anticipated. The Rangers had warned of a few snow “patches.” Ummm . . . stretches were more like it, and over some of the steepest parts of the climb. Snow that had melted and refrozen. Ice.
I was with two other clergywomen on this hike. One, an experienced hiker who knew the trail well had already slipped once and nearly slid down a steep mountain side. Only quick action by two other hikers stopped what would have been a nasty accident. The second had never hiked before or ever been at this altitude. And while I’m a semi-experienced hiker, it had been years since I’d been this high up and I was feeling it. And then there was the vertigo, something I rarely think about under normal circumstances.
So, as we slowly made our way up, often waving other younger, stronger, faster (or more foolish) hikers ahead of us, this particular family was pretty well following our more cautious pace.
When we did reach that gloriously beautiful lake, I realized that this little girl, so carefully cared for by her dad and so happily dancing around us, is a Downs Syndrome child.
In the last couple of months, I’ve been privileged to get to know a couple of men who are in their 50’s but still have grade-school aged children. Both are divorced, both deeply involved in the lives of their offspring. I’ve watched their faces light up with joy when they speak of these children, and their deep connection and delight in them.
It’s so easy to rail against dead-beat dads, absentee fathers, and “baby-daddies” who refuse to be involved in the lives of the offspring they have helped conceive.
But I think many men, some fathers by biology, some fathers simply because they care so much about the next generation, actively and sacrificially model the love of God to the children around them. Two of my three sons are also now fathers. I see them, both with demanding and draining careers, intentionally set work down and play with their children. They take them places, give them experiences, show them the wider world, encourage the children to stretch their minds and bodies into new and unexplored possibilities.
This is real manhood. And it is all around us, but generally hidden, not trumpeted or an object of boasting. This is the kingdom of heaven that works like leaven–slowly growing inside the kneaded bread until it rises into something totally changed–and full of life.
Let’s celebrate these men. They deserve our thanks and our appreciation. And most will be too modest to understand why we need to celebrate them and will be totally embarrassed by any public displays. But do it anyway. They’ve earned it.