Father's Day, Tattoos, and Comparative Parenting

When it comes to church culture there is a twisted irony in the patriarchal and matriarchal holidays. On Mother’s Day the worship video and sermon centers on the awesomeness of every woman who is currently living, has lived, or will ever live. Mother’s Day carries with it a strong message to every man in the room, “You should thank God for women and mothers. You are useless without them.” Father’s Day is not much different. Father’s Day comes with a nice pair of shorts, a cool shirt your wife thinks is slimming on you and then it’s off to church for your annual beating. I am a pastor. I know the rules. On Mother’s Day you beat the men into greater appreciation for the ladies in their life. On Father’s Day you beat the men, again, and the ladies appreciate it. In the words of Patsy Cline, “After all he’s just a man.

This Father’s Day I was on vacation so I would not be dishing out the patriarchal lashing, I would have the rare privilege of actually going to church as just another helpless victim. The beating came in the form of a well crafted video featuring a little boy whose tiny words were like daggers designed to carve male hearts. He would say things like, “Dad I’m watching you everyday, I want to be like you dad, I learn so much from you.” And there would be split shots of the little boy mowing with his little plastic mower behind his daddy, of him learning to hit a ball from his daddy, of him walking with his daddy. I looked around the room and every man knew what was happening, we were all crumbling under the pressure of raising the little boy. The little boy was in effect saying to all the dads in the room, “If you don’t get it together you are sowing so many subconscious flaws into my life I will probably spend the greater part of my adult life in prison mowing highway medians on the weekend.”

Every woman in the room loved the video. At the end of the video I wanted to confess all my male sin and adopt the little boy.

So I left church on Father’s Day wondering how I could, within an hour or two, save the lives of my helpless daughters from the tyranny of my failing attempt at fatherhood. I did what every good father would do; I took them to the sanctuary of morality. I took my daughters to the beach. When I was a kid the beach was fun. Now that I am thirty-four with two daughters and have been severely beaten on most Father’s Days, the beach scares me to death. The beach makes you realize why men need to be beaten every Father’s Day. At the beach boys are sharks and girls are very attractive to sharks. It is a dad with daughters nightmare. The beach helps you realize that when you are raising daughters you should move to Canada, vacation in Colorado and keep your girls in very thick, heavy jackets for the rest of their lives. The beach helps me realize that the dermatologist is my friend. If I can make quarterly appointments for my daughters with the dermatologist maybe she (my dermatologist is a woman very afraid of the sun) can instill in them a healthy paranoia of melanoma. If I can brainwash my daughters into equating bikinis with ultraviolet suicide I will be a good father.

So while at the beach contemplating the rigors of being a good father I did what every healthy, holy male would do in a situation like this. One, I tried to shield my eyes from massive amounts of sun-burning flesh. Two, I began looking around at the other families on the beach and making shallow comparisons of myself to the other dads. Women habitually compare shoes. The next time you are at a restaurant waiting for a table, or in church, anywhere a bunch of women are standing around, watch their eyes. When another woman walks into the room, they all look down. They are comparing shoes. Men are much more insecure, much more competitive, and buy far less shoes than women. We compare other things and pretend to get over defeat quickly. So I figure if I could keep score, maybe I could make a comeback on this Father’s Day and pull out a victory. I would practice comparative parenting at the beach.

Of most men my age – I have more hair on my head, less on my back.

1 – 0

Of most men my age – I have less belly.

2 – 0

Of most men my age - my swimsuit is out of style.

2 – 1

Of most men my age – I am scared to go that far out in the ocean with only a blow up float.

2 – 2

Of most men my age – I enjoy reading books at the beach which is very womanly of me.

2 – 3

I was losing. I do not have a very healthy self-esteem, I am somewhat insecure, so I play the comparison game a lot to try to boost my ego – but somehow I always find a reason to lose by a point or two, which goes back to my incessant insecurity.

But on this day, I would win.

In between chapters I would enter the ocean with my girls. During my chapter 3 swim a man entered the water holding a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I was sober and could probably outrun him, 3 – 3. He was lit and was also trying desperately to keep his cigarette lit. He cut through the waves like a man who had just scored a touchdown, beer in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, holding them high above the angry waves. He was badly sunburned; I was wearing a sunscreen that was the equivalent to defrost, 4 – 3. Not far behind him came his daughter. She was about 16, wearing a bikini which exposed a tattoo of a standard 110 outlet on the side of her stomach. 158 – 3. My daughters, eight and four, have no tattoos.

I am a great father.

At this point I am not going to rehearse my theology of tattoos, but in any event I would surmise that a standard 110 outlet tattooed on the side of your stomach is not cool in any context. At some point in her life that tattoo will degrade the image of a standard 220 outlet, like the one you use for your dryer. Some years later it will probably morph into the symbol for nuclear power. When it comes to tattoos I would not think anything electrical (from appliances to parts) is a very cool choice. I guess you get tattoos of flames that say “momma” at the customary biker type tattoo parlors; you probably get tattoos of electrical outlets at Lowes. At the very least your tattoo artist must have some background in construction. But dad was lit on this day and probably even more so the day his daughter went to the hardware store/tattoo parlor.

I exited the beach on Father’s Day feeling like a winner.

Later in the week we went to the water park. The water park is another realization that Florida is grossly depleted of fabric. No one wears clothes in Florida. Tons of people have tattoos, but not the Branams. We hate needles and avoid pain. I start Thursday 1 – 0. We end the day with me somehow losing my wife’s wallet as I haphazardly in true man fashion rip all of our stuff out of a tiny locker that we rented for eleven bucks. A one by one cube in Florida costs eleven bucks. That’s why a condo in Florida will run you about a million and a half bucks. Losing my wife’s wallet put my comparative man tally for the day at about 5 to 37.

The girls went to the car, I went stomping off toward the park office an angry loser. My mind was tattooed with unholy man chatter. To make a long story short, the wallet beat me to the lost and found. It was all there, nothing missing.

As the girls swung by and picked me up in the car their faces were tattooed with smiles. While my mind was filled with unholy man chatter they were praying. My wife told me that she prayed God would do something to show my daughters that He cares about us, even in the small things, and hears and answers our prayer. My wife is a great father. She would never disappoint the little boy in the video.

On Thursday I lost the game of comparative manhood 5 to 582 to my wife and daughters.

Sometimes it is hard to deal with the reality of self. Some people deal with the reality of self by getting drunk. Some people deal with the reality of self by comparatively judging other people. Either way, both are grotesque ways to handle life. The reality is that all of us, the tattooed and the needle paranoid, are all comparatively unholy, unjust, and unfulfilled on our own. All of us are in desperate need of rescue. It is only by the most gracious act of the Heavenly Father that we will find life, release, and forgiveness. And He accomplished our rescue in what seems to be the most un-fatherly of ways – He gave His Son to die for us – the lit, the insecure, the judgmental. . .

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:6-11


Joe Kelly said…
You are not a loser in your daughter's eyes--and in this "competition," they are the only scorekeepers who matter.
I know it's hard for us guys to break out of the competition mode, though. Still, many, many guys are surprised to find that another dad really IS willing to help and support them when asked...tapping into his own encyclopedia of fathering knowledge and wisdom.
May every dad have the courage to give support to--and accept support from--our fellow dads and stepdads!

Joe Kelly
President, Dads & Daughters (www.DadsandDaughters.org)
Blogging @ www.dadsanddaughters.org/blog/index.html

Popular Posts