One of the first times my husband (then boyfriend) made my heart skip a beat was on our third “date.” He’d offered to help me out in the church nursery where I taught the two-year olds on Sundays, and I remember being surprised by his calm response to the total chaos of a room full of toddlers. I watched in awe as he expertly managed to comfort a sobbing little boy who struggled with separation anxiety and typically cried the entire class until his mom took him home. But that day, as Brian held him on his lap and whispered in his ear, the little boy stopped crying. As I’ve written before, that was the moment my heart began to soften towards him—when I thought, “He will be a great father someday.” Fast forward 15 years and two kids later, and I can honestly say that my husband has exceeded my expectations in the amazing father he is to our daughter and son.
Brian is the kind of dad who changed every diaper when our kids were newborns, and got up with me every night to wake them so I could nurse even though he had to be up early for work. He’s that dad who puts together a complicated matchbox car garage set for our son’s 4th birthday in the middle of a University of Georgia football game (for those who know him, this is a BIG deal). He gets down on the floor with our temperamental son and wrestles the pent-up energy out of him until he’s giggling instead of pouting. He somehow manages to learn (and remember) the name of each of my daughter’s 39 and counting “Shopkins,” when I can’t even remember one! And he’s the kind of dad that all the kids in the neighborhood adore because he’s not too proud to be silly or chase them around the yard.
Even as I marvel at his fathering abilities, I have to admit that watching Brian father our children has been a bit of a double-edged sword for me—painful because of the memories of father-loss it triggers, but also comforting, because he is giving our kids what I did not have growing up. My parents divorced when I was two, so my first real memories of my father are watching in tears from the living room window as he drove away from my mom’s house after one of our weekend visits. Due to the their divorce and remarriages—and a job that took my father overseas when I was about 13—I spent the majority of my life longing for more of my father’s time, attention, and presence than he was able to give.
Growing up without my father left me with a sense of loss and longing that I still experience in varying degrees today. Because of the father hunger I suffered, it was extremely important to me to find a man who would be an involved, gentle, and faithful father to our future children. And I am so thankful to have that in Brian! But what I did not expect is how God would use Brian’s relationship with our children to help highlight my own struggles with father hunger, and to set me on a path to acceptance—and healing.
- My husband’s relationship with our kids has caused me to remember. Watching my husband interact with our children has triggered memories of how much I adored my father, and how deeply I missed him when he was gone. This is especially true when it comes to our daughter. The two of them have such a special relationship, and it warms my heart to watch it develop. She will often say to me, “Baba smells the best, doesn’t he?” or during homework, “Let me ask Baba—he knows everything!” She naturally adores him, the same way I adored (and still adore) my father. As I watch them together, I can’t help but think of all I missed out on as a child. While these memories sometimes hurt, remembering also has given me the opportunity to think through my loss, and acknowledge that pain. I spent a lot of years denying that I needed my father, which caused a lot of unnecessary suffering. Since my children were born, I have been able to think through and process how father loss impacted my life, which has been empowering because acknowledgment is a first step to overcoming.
- My husband’s relationship with our kids has made me thankful. Since our kids were born, I have developed a deeper appreciation for the unique and necessary role fathers play in the lives of children. Brian is the other necessary half of the parenting package—that half I missed so much growing up. Seeing how he positively impacts their lives, even in the little interactions, is inspiring. I know what it feels like to not have my father in my daily life—to long for him to be there, or to just be able to hear his voice or smell his special smell. Because I’ve experienced that loss, it gives me a deeper appreciation for how fathers impact child development. I am so grateful my daughter has the affirmation and protection from Brian that she naturally desires and needs to thrive. I am thankful that my son has Brian to help shape his wild nature and to teach him what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father. When I observe him being those things to our children, I know how much that will mean to them in their lives, and I can’t help but whisper a prayer of thanksgiving.
- My husband’s relationship with our kids has helped me to heal. Having Brian love our children on a daily basis, and knowing he is in it for the long haul, feels like a healing balm on the gaping hole in my heart that was created by my parents’ divorce. It is often physically painful for me to see a child or even adult who struggles with some kind of father hunger. Knowing my kids are not experiencing that pain, and hopefully never will, brings me tremendous comfort.
What I wanted most when we got married was to build with a life with Brian for our kids that would give them the one thing we never had growing up: their own father married to their own mother. Although we do not have the biggest house, or fancy cars, and we can’t always buy them what they want, we are committed to giving them what matters most: an intact family. Being able to give them that family has been a gift to us as much as to them, and through that gift, I have found healing.