Article Sep 14, 2015

The brothers who have helped me parent a son

When my wife and I reconciled after our separation, I told her that I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids.  

It wasn’t that I didn’t like kids. It was more about not being sure I could be a good dad. My long-time struggle with same-sex attraction, which was the cause of our marital separation, had drawn me to a place of wondering where I fit in the world of men.  I knew too much about myself, and I was so uncomfortable in my masculinity that I feared my ability to lead my future kids well.

My wife, although she deeply desired children, told me, “I didn’t marry you for kids. I married you for you. I trust that God will change one of our hearts.” God did indeed change mine. As I grew in understanding of what it really meant to be a man, God began stirring in my own heart a desire to be a parent.  

While God showed me that He would equip and enable me to be the dad he was calling me to be, I still feared having a boy.  Fathering my a boy’s heart didn’t cause me fear, but I was concerned that I knew nothing about more “typical” boy things. If I had a boy who liked design and art and architecture, who organized his closet by type and color, and who kept a record of what he wore to school so that he didn’t wear the same thing too frequently, then I could relate.  

But if I had a rambunctious or a sports-oriented boy, I felt I’d be completely ill equipped. I was mild-mannered and had never even played a basketball, football or baseball game (except one time in junior high when I was forced to play an end-of-year softball game, and I sat in right field praying the ball would not come to me). Team sports petrified me.

A community of brothers steps in

In the three years following our reconciliation, my wife and I had been part of a church plant and publicly shared our testimony of my struggle with same-sex attraction and our marital journey. Our church had also hired me away from my law practice and into full-time ministry. My rag-tag group of fellow pastors became brothers to me, along with many men in our church. Our mutually honest relationships allowed me to express struggles, fears and doubts about all aspects of being a Christian, pastor,  husband, friend and a future parent.  

As we prepared for our first child (we ended up with three kids and did not find out the gender of any before they were born), I expressed my fear of having a boy and my complete lack of knowledge about sports.  My friends agreed that should I have a boy who was interested in sports, they would step in and help me help him.  Two girls came within two years. Then, just over a year after our second daughter was born, Peter was born.

My buddies showed up at the hospital with a sack of athletic equipment, much of which has ended up being well used over the years.  Today, Peter is a fun, easy-going kid. He hates clothes and is no fan of the arts. He once leaned over halfway through The Nutcracker and said “Dad. Where are the words?” For the most part, Peter has not a lick of interest in most everything that interests me.

Peter does, however, love sports and being a part of a team. His initial forays into soccer and basketball were easy — there was a coach who ran practices and taught him the games.  I tried to do my part to engage in those sports with him. I once went to a professional basketball game with a friend and had him explain all the chaos to me just so I could at least know what the positions were supposed to do.  But with soccer and basketball, I didn’t really have to do anything.  

Learning t-ball from my best friend at 44

T-ball, however, was different. At the pre-season parent meeting, the coach explained that he expected the dads to help run drills at practice and to actually be on the field during the games, helping coach and guide the kids.  On the way home, Peter asked me “Dad, why do some boys get to have their dad as their coach?” I felt a lump in my throat and a healthy wave of “I stink as a father” fill my gut.  

The following day, I stepped into the office of my best friend (who was also my boss and the lead pastor of our church), Patrick, and shared about the practice and Peter’s question.  I told him that I had never even played catch before and had no idea what to do. That night, Patrick called me and told me to bring my glove (which he had given me for my birthday a couple of months earlier and which I had never even put on) and meet him in the youth room the next morning.  I felt the same nervousness I had felt every recess of elementary school.  

I showed up, and Patrick began to teach me, just like he taught his own sons, the basic mechanics of throwing and catching a ball. I was 44 years old.  

He taught me how to rotate my arm and how to start and stop a throw.  He taught me how to step and how to aim, and he taught me how to do “the alligator” to field a grounder. He was kind and gentle but didn’t hesitate to poke fun at me when my wild throws warranted it. I felt like a little kid myself when he told me, “Bro, you are good!”

I ran back to my office and filled a note card with all the tips and instruction he had given me.  That night, I took Peter out to our backyard and, while stealing glances at my notecard, I showed him how to throw and taught him “the alligator,” too.

Peter — for that moment at least —had a coach in his dad.

The next day, I got to his first practice a little late.  As I had been forewarned, several dads were on the field running drills with little groups of boys.  Peter was with a dad and a couple of boys near the fence, fielding grounders and doing “the alligator” perfectly.  I was facing a wave of fear at the thought of walking out on that field to help, lingering at the fence and watching Peter, when I heard the dad helping his group say, “Everybody, do it like Peter.”  I was so proud . . . of myself! I walked out on that field, found a place to help and enjoyed a great season of T-ball with Peter.

I am forever grateful to Patrick and men like him who have accepted me as I am and have been faithful parts of my ongoing journey of manhood.  I’m grateful that they, too, have seen my strengths and asked me for help in areas where they were weak. I have never felt like a ‘project,’ but simply know they are my friends.

Those mutual relationships — full of fun, laughter, challenge and, at times, conflict — have showed me the real power of community and what it means to have brothers who love at all times, who are there in times of joy and adversity, and who sharpen each other and call each other to never settle but to always be better men.